“What would an ocean be without a monster lurking in the dark? It would be like sleep without dreams.” Stephen Sommers’ Deep Rising is an action-horror starring Treat Williams, Kevin J. O’Connor, and Famke Janssen. Captain John Finnegan (Williams) and his crewmembers Joey (O’Connor) and Leila (Una Damon) are hired to pilot a group of mercenaries to a classified location on the South China Sea. On the way, they come across the Argonautica, a luxury liner that is suspiciously vacant of any crew or passengers. What they soon discover, however, is that a tentacled sea monster has devoured everyone aboard the ship. The remaining survivors are a woman named Trillian (Janssen) and a handful of crew members. Finnegan and his crew must escape the ship alive before they suffer the same fate. If this sounds ridiculous, it is, but it’s the execution that matters. Stephen Sommers takes what could have been a disposable Alien knock-off and turns it into an unforgettable genre thrill ride!
A film is only as good as its cast and Deep Rising is an embarrassment of riches in terms of its casting. Treat Williams, Famke Janssen, and Kevin J. O’Connor are delightfully campy, but the biggest surprise was how great the supporting characters are. Heavy hitters such as Wes Studi, Cliff Curtis, and Djimon Hounsou all play off each other well. On paper, most of these characters, especially the mercenaries, would be nothing more than generic tough guys, but due to the strength of its casting, these characters leap off the screen! The real joy of the film is watching these characters banter back and forth with each other as they’re being chased by a giant sea monster. While the main function of a majority of the characters is to die in gruesome ways, they all go out pretty memorably and their deaths add well-warranted tension.
Deep Rising began filming from June through October of 1996, but would not be released until February 1998. Much of that delay was due to the special effects, which were handled by Industrial Light and Magic and Rob Bottin, who worked on the makeup effects for The Thing and RoboCop. While the CGI is a bit of a mixed bag, the practical effects and makeup are well-made. Decomposed skeletons are decorated throughout the film which is where the film’s horror vibe hits hardest. There’s one particular sequence that blends both practical and visual effects to deliver one of the most disturbing images in the whole film. It’s moments like this when the film blends the practical effects with the CGI that it works well. The main issue is that when the CGI is front and center, it has a hard time standing on its own, which makes it look unfinished.
Steven Spielberg had the right idea in hiding the shark from Jaws until the final forty minutes. It not only worked because of practicality, but it also served as a storytelling tool to build suspense. Considering how choppy the CGI is, Deep Rising probably would have been better off not even revealing the creature at all. Before we finally meet the creature in the third act, the crew is dispatched by its tentacles, which are scary on their own terms and constantly loom large throughout the film. The scale of the creature doesn’t matter because it leaves it up to the viewers’ imagination on what it looks like. When compared to other blockbusters released within 1998, Deep Impact’s has aged the worst.
Even with its lackluster box office and critical reception at the time of its release, Deep Impact has grown to become a cult classic over the years, and for good reason too! Deep Rising is a great mixture of horror, action, and camp. It takes its many influences and proudly wears them on its sleeves. Had it been released now, it would undoubtedly be praised by genre fans, which goes to show that they just don’t make movies like this anymore. This is a film that knows its limitations and works around them. There is no pretense to it; it’s simply a fun time at the movies.