The 1998 science fiction/horror film Sphere directed by Barry Levinson, takes aspects from three of my favorite science fiction films, mixes them together and produces a disappointing film. The film features a famous cast with Dustin Hoffman, Samuel L. Jackson, and Sharon Stone the main leads.
The film begins with Dustin Hoffman being taken to the middle of the Pacific Ocean. His understanding is there was a plane crash and he’s there as a psychiatrist to help the survivors cope with the crash. When he arrives at the scene, he notices that dozens of U.S. ships are surrounding one particular area of the ocean. Once Hoffman’s character, Norman Goodman is debriefed he discovers that three of his colleagues are along with him on this mysterious mission. The plot begins to unfold at this point as we’re told that a UFO has been discovered at the bottom of the ocean with the power still on inside. The mysterious part of this is that there is 300 years of coral growth around the UFO. This team of Goodman, Jackson’s Harry Adams, and Stone’s Beth Halperin are the team assigned to have first contact with an alien life form. The team heads down to the craft and when they enter and explore, they discover human boot prints, English writing and logs of previous trips by the crew. After this exploration, raising more questions than answers, the crew finds a giant golden sphere.
Once this sphere is entered into the film, things start really moving in the film. Characters die and the safety of the entire crew is threatened as the sphere is an intelligent life form that wishes to be called Jerry. From this point, to break down the rest of the plot would really take the luster out of the spectacle of the film. Suffice it to say the ending of the film is very familiar as is much of the film.
To begin with, the beginning of the film strikes me as very similar to Jurassic Park. The helicopter trip to an unknown place where wonders abound. It’s no surprise then that both of the books turned movies were written by Michael Crichton. What’s disappointing is that so much of the film is taken from other films. As I mentioned, Jurassic Park is an influence with the two main films being taken from here are Event Horizon and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Event Horizon may be a coincidence as it was released in 1997 and Sphere is said to be delayed so the two films may have been in production at the same time. What’s not a coincidence is the blatant reproduction of the HAL character from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
As I mentioned the sphere uses the computer system to interact with the humans in the film. The way this is used is so similar to how HAL and Dave interact within 2001. The difference is the sphere named Jerry is obviously not a computer but it does seem capable of handling anything within the environment that Goodman, HALperin, and Adams interact with.
The way the film takes off from Event Horizon is towards the end of the film, one of the characters becomes part of the sphere, much like Sam Neil’s character becomes part of the entity in Event Horizon. There is nothing else to say about this other than it’s the same plot device. Event Horizon is able to make some horror out of the transformation where Sphere is simply all over the place in what it’s plot asks of the actors. The problem with the film is it takes so many pieces from other films, yet when you put all of them together, none of them really work all that well.
Another thing that doesn’t work that well in the film is the performance of Sharon Stone who I feel received more attention from what she showed in Basic Instinct than what she’s actually done as an actress. In this film, she’s simply awful with her dramatic scenes and seems to be in a different film than the rest of the actors. Much like other horror films, the deaths are part of the fun watching the movie. The deaths here are fine and fun with the exception of Queen Latifah who is killed by Jellyfish….yeah. Half horror, half science fiction, Sphere horrifies in it’s unoriginality and performances in this forgettable film.
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