Sphere (1998) Barry Levinson
Production Budget: $80 million
Worldwide Gross: $50 million
Michael Crichton adaptations are generally not very good. Jurassic Park is probably the best you are ever gonna get out of an adaptation and it is a great movie. Andromeda Strain and 13th Warrior are alright movies. The farther you go the crappier it gets: Disclosure, Congo, (haven’t seen Rising Sun), Timeline, and finally to our shit de jour Sphere.
Oh wow, how I hate Sphere. Now I have not read Sphere (or any other Crichton book) but like his other books I’m sure there will be people saying the book was obviously much better. Clearly I am no expert so I have to focus on the book.
The movie (which was mostly ruined by the trailer) is about a spacecraft which was found at the bottom of the ocean. A team of scientists is brought as a response to the team including a psychologist, a mathematician, an astrophysicist, and a biologist. The crew finds a sphere which holds many different mysteries inside of it.
To start with I hate the characters. Norman (Dustin Hoffman) is what Jabootu would classify as a “designated hero”. He is not anyone we like or think is heroic, but only a hero because the script says so. Norman is supposed to be the logical grounding the crew needs. He may not be brilliant like all the Phd’s that come on the expedition, but he brings common sense and he is the voice of reason among the crew who is becoming increasingly more paranoid. In the movie he is an incompetent dipshit who freaks out the most and is terrible at his profession. For being the best psychologist for crises situations, his idea of comforting people is condescending and talking to them like they are infants. For being someone grounded in logical thinking, whenever he is put in a dangerous situation he is practically running around the room flailing his arms going “BLLLAAAARGH WHAT DO WE DO? WHAT DO WE DO? WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE!!!!!”
It doesn’t help we get one of the worst performances by Dustin Hoffman ever. It is like he is channeling Rain Man again but through the David Duchovny style of acting method of mumbling. He is so hyper yet at the same time so annoying with his mumbly line reads you will find yourself driven to madness. The sphere is not to blame for all the death, destruction, and paranoia; it’s freaking Norman.
The rest of the movie you feel that it would be interesting fleshed out in book form but not in its current state. Many of the ideas and themes are explorations of life on other planets, the nature of fear, and the chaotic mess underneath our intellectual disguise we show to the rest of society. In a book, you can have lengthy discussions and debates and it is engrossing. In a movie that is hard to do, so many of the discussions are paired down to bald assertions and rather stupid guesswork. It gets rather childish at some points in the movie that I can pick apart these supposed “geniuses” with my high school science education. Take for instance when the astrophysicist hits the hull of the ship with a hammer and goes “HA! Here is basic physics ladies and gentlemen! If this ship were so super strong then why does my hammer chip the paint. This proves something!” Um, no. Strength is not something that is always attributed to rigid inflexibility. It all depends on what you need the material to do. Many materials are incredibly pliable yet strong at the same time. Kevlar (for example) is strong to ballistic forces but not to others. You can’t just lump in hard=good and hand me this crap as basic physics. That is just one example; I could go on the whole movie where they are making these bullshit assertions and illogical leaps.
The rest of the movie tries to be the Thing where everyone turns on one another from fear and paranoia and it just doesn’t work. Again, this is due to the characters. Norman is an irrational douchebag, Beth is a psycho allowed to work on a top secret mission (literally, she attempted suicide, is on medications, and was given shock therapy!), and Harry is too inconsistent a character to really get behind. Watching these characters bicker with the terribly written dialog is like having someone hit your head with a carnival clown hammer.
The action is also laughable. I personally love that during the climactic scene where a giant squid attacks the station, they seemingly ran out of money (I can’t confirm that) and they don’t show the squid at all. That’s like in King Kong if we had some onlookers going “By George! That giant ape is climbing up the Empire State Building! Something should be done about it. Oh look, there are planes shooting it down aaaaaaannnnd yup. Dead.” It is a scene so embarrassing I almost feel ashamed and I didn’t make this movie.
This is a movie that tries to be intellectual sci fi but is so intellectually frustrating you spend most of the movie pissed off. The characters are unlikable and horribly written and there is a general air of incompetence all over the project. This movie pisses me off and unlike the characters in the movie, I don’t have the power to forget.