Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Sphere (1998)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

WARNING:  I’m going to give away major plot points including the ending.  If you don’t like spoilers, you might want to watch the movie before reading this review.

Let’s say that you cleared away 300 years of coral growth and found a spaceship.  What would you do?  Well, you’d probably send down a team of experts to investigate.  Dustin Hoffman, Samuel L. Jackson and Sharon Stone play Doctors Norman Johnson, Harry Adams and Elizabeth Halperin, respectively.  They, along with a few other scientists, go down to said ship.  It’s so far beneath the water that it takes special equipment to get there.  Since it’s so deep, a quick rescue won’t be that easy.

What they find is a big, golden, metallic sphere.  (It’s said to be a perfect sphere despite having obvious ripples on the surface.)  Dr. Adams is the first to go in to the sphere and come back out.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t recall anything about it.  Also quite unfortunate is that strange things start happening and those strange things put the people at risk.

What’s even stranger is that the ship has signs in both English and Spanish.  Also, there are several log entries with dates like 06/21/43.  The team realizes that they’re on an American ship from the future.  Because the date is so vague, there’s no way to know if it’s from 2043 or 9943.  However, from what they can tell, someone in the future launches a ship from Earth to collect strange and unusual objects from across the galaxy.

On or around 6/21/43, it comes across a black hole and is sent back in time, where it crash lands on Earth around the year 1698, give or take a few decades.  The logs refer to it an unknown event, which leads Dr. Adams to conclude that no one makes it off the ship alive.  He reasons that if they did make it off the ship alive, they’d report it to someone.  That someone would then record that they found the ship and those in the future would know what happened to their ship.

When a storm hits the surface, the team has to spend a week on the ship or an adjacent habitat.  This gives the team a week to worry about something going drastically wrong.  Someone has to put a special code into their vehicle so that it knows someone is still down there.  If not, it goes back up to the surface with whatever data they’ve collected, presumably leaving them stranded.  At the very least, this means that someone has to leave the safety and comfort of the ship and expose themselves to whatever dangers lurk several thousand feet below.

There are also those strange things I mentioned, like a giant octopus attacking the habitat.  One of the scientists is also attacked by jellyfish.  Then there’s the alien consciousness that’s communicating through the habitat’s computers.  This whole death and destruction thing is starting to look more and more likely.  It’s definitely not a good day for any of them to be claustrophobic.

Now, you’re probably wondering if the team makes it back out alive.  Some of the people do die, leaving Adams, Halperin and Johnson to figure out what’s going on.  The thing I don’t like about Adams’s prediction is that it will likely go one of two ways.  Either he’s right or he’s wrong.  There’s no definitive proof what happens to them, which is ironically his only proof that they don’t make it out alive.  Even if they do make it out alive, there’s no reason to think that the reports won’t get buried under tons of paperwork or be forgotten about.  (The ship could have been launched 500 years from now.  How accurate are our records from 500 years ago?)

Here’s where I spoil the ending.  They do make it out alive.  They have to be put in a decompression chamber, leaving them plenty of time to ponder how lucky they were to make it out alive, which leads Adams to wonder how that happened.  He figures that they must have forgotten all about it.  Since this must have happened, they realize that they must have the powers to make themselves forget, so they make themselves forget before they can be debriefed.

I have several problems with this.  First, I can’t accept that they would be the only team to go down there.  No one in the movie explicitly states that it’s too dangerous to go back down.  Even still, you have a strange ship sitting at the bottom of the ocean with at least 40 years until the unknown event.  You can’t tell me that in all those years, not even an unmanned probe was sent down to investigate.

You’d think that they’d make up some story about how no one should go back down.  Maybe the writers figured that this was to cliché and wanted something different.  When they realized how much work this was, they went with the first thing that came to mind.

At the end of the movie, the golden sphere is seen leaving the ship and eventually the planet.  Yes, it’s possible that the sphere deleted the records, but this is something else that’s not explicitly stated.  I’d imagine that this is something that’s dealt with in Michael Crichton’s book, which served as the source material.  I would have liked some closure in that respect.  Either have someone say that no one else will be sent down or the ship was mysteriously destroyed or something.

The big oddity was that the golden sphere was the only odd thing down there.  Yes, it’s a big universe and most of it is a big void.  The future ship was a manned mission, meaning that there were people onboard.  This wasn’t some drone collecting rock samples.  We had people that could say, “Hey!  That looks interesting.  Let’s take that back with us.”

The movie was ultimately disappointing.  Yes, there was a lot of tension and suspense.  The ending was a big disappointment.  It seemed like an easy out, like they couldn’t figure out a better way to end it.  I don’t know how the movie differs from the book.  I’d imagine that there is a different ending or at least more explanation.  At least I got a review out of it.

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