Deep Rising (1998) Review
You can’t watch Deep Rising without accepting it as a director’s wet-dream as he wallows in overt homage to the action and horror films he loves. Indeed, you can’t watch Stephen Sommers' film without acknowledging every cliché in the proverbial horror director’s manual, in so far you simply accept you’re watching a film constructed from other movie’s more prominent parts. Yet despite the lack of any sense of originality, in fact, originality would be nothing more than a hindrance here, Deep Rising is the filmic equivalent of all your favourite sweets thrown into one bag. It’s a self-referential movie that knows what it is and tries to do no more, and with its glowing-satiric humour, b-movie styling, and Treat Williams hamming it up, you’ve got a recipe for something very sweet.
John Finnegan (Williams) runs a ‘if the money’s there, we don’t care’ boat company and is hired by a mysterious man named Hanover (Wes Studi) and his short-tempered team of renegades. They head out to the middle of nowhere in the Pacific Ocean, Finnegan not knowing where they are going or what Hanover’s convictions are, but as they near a luxurious cruise liner, Hanover and his team take control of the boat holding Finnegan and his crew, Pantucci (Kevin O’Connor) and Leila (Una Damon), hostage. Hanover and his team, armed to the teeth, take Finnegan and Pantucci on-board the ship, seemingly to rob it of its riches but they find it desolate and deserted. Eventually they find some survivors – the ship’s captain (Derek O’Connor), the owner (Anthony Heald), and femme-fatale beauty Trillion (Famke Janssen). The owner, Simon Canton is babbling about sea-monsters and that they have infested the ship, but while they don’t believe him at first, some strange events that soon take place change their minds.
Part of the joy of watching Deep Rising is the recognition of what eighties or nineties films have been ‘borrowed from’ (read: ‘ripped off’) like the subtle action sequence elements such as Treat Williams clearly taking cues from Arnie in Terminator II when it comes to opening gates whilst riding a bike. Then you’ve got the not so subtle references to Cameron’s Aliens like the elevator – the fact it has a female voice mothering its operation, and the descent the characters take into the ‘lion’s den’, and of course the commando’s themselves – the notion of military superiority. There’s even a very similar underwater scene to the one found in Jeunet’s Alien: Resurrection. That said, like the ‘Where’s Wally’ cartoon’s you find yourself trying to spot the obvious movie homage only these are much easier to find, but the lack of originality rarely grates as this film knows itself and its genre – it knows what the audience wants and delivers it. Character’s going down corridors alone in the dark are asking to be killed, it’s an old cliché, but one that hardly loses its appeal in Deep Rising because the film so knowingly celebrates that lack of wisdom within the conventional horror movie, its tongue firmly in cheek and its proverbial eye continually winking at the audience.
Of course the film has its fair share of flaws, partly an inexperienced Stephen Sommers whose creative talent would be rather more cohesive and defined in The Mummy and The Mummy Returns, and the CGI effects would have been better served had they not seen so much screen time. Additionally, the stereotypical characters may be an extension of the film’s gleeful retread of genre conventions but their cardboard exteriors and at times dreadful dialogue can stifle the film’s appeal somewhat. Nevertheless, Sommers maintains a good level of humour, hiding his lack of quality ‘scares’, and it’s this that glues all the component parts together.
Deep Rising is easy entertainment for the easily entertained. Treat Williams in the lead role and Kevin O’Connor as the annoying sidekick are well-suited to their roles, and while the film strips itself of any intellectual musings and inventive posturing, it keeps the thrills and laughs coming at quite a pace. Its lack of originality is less a hindrance, more just a reminder of the notion: if it isn’t broke don’t fix it, and it’s in this that Sommers obliges with aplomb.
The picture quality is excellent but the drawback of this release is that while the region 2 U.K DVD gets a 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer, it loses the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack on the American region 1 release. For some unknown reason, Buena Vista released the region 1 without anamorphic enhancement but gave it a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. It’s probably due to the fact this DVD was one of the earlier DVDs released during the early days of the format so Buena Vista were probably trying different things within the market but it does show that there still remains a definitive version of the film to be released.
The image is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and anamorphic enhanced. The picture does look great, handling the fast-paced action scenes superbly well and given that the film is predominatly quite dark with night time shots and dark interiors, the DVD displays solid blacks with depth and clarity.
The sound is only Dolby Surround with three active channels so what you're listening to is Dolby Pro-Logic, yet it still sounds very good. It’s a shame we don’t get the Dolby Digital 5.1 as the film really lends itself to such a soundtrack but the track on the region 2 DVD does do a great job. Dialogue is clear and the separation is good. The rears may not be stereo but still provide a good enveloping sound, and the sub-woofer gets its work in throughout the film.
The only added features are a making-of featurette which has to be one of the shortest I’ve ever seen clocking in at under two minutes. There’s also a trailer.
Deep Rising is a wonderful trip over well-pastured ground, a film that knowingly borrows from other films and gleefully parodies the conventions that it's based on. It’s funny, thrilling and has a few scary moments, but most importantly it doesn’t take itself too seriously. At a budget price this DVD is a must-have.