Deep Blue Sea (1999) #SharkWeak2 Review

Fittingly, we open #SharkWeak2 not with a terrible shark movie, but with a surprisingly seminal one with many of the modern sharksploitation tropes finding their roots in this turn of the millennium action adventure.

When rogue scientist Dr Susan McAlester (Saffron Burrows) makes a last-ditch appeal to her corporate sponsor Russell Franklin (Samuel L Jackson) not to pull her funding, the stage is set for spectacular showdown as a skeleton crew of scientists race to escape a sinking aquatic laboratory and avoid becoming lunch to one of the genetically enhanced sharks.

Action director Renny Harlin brings a sly, subversive wit to this fantastic adventure, from the opening tease of red wine spilling into the sea, turning the view incarnadine to the abruptly thwarted early kill (that so many shark movies lean on), there’s a mischievous playfulness at work which allows the movie to enjoy its moments of silliness safe in the knowledge the audience is never quite comfortable enough to relax and dismiss the movie outright.

There’s a real Spielbergian feel to “Deep Blue Sea”, albeit a very trashy B-movie one. There’s more than a hint of “Jurassic Park” in the idea of unexpectedly intelligent animals testing their captors and cage for weakness and plotting their own escape, never mind the set-up of the research station reducing down to a skeleton staff just as there’s a storm a-coming. Of course, “Jaws” gets the clearest homage as each of the sharks of “Deep Blue Sea” are offed in the same way and the same order as the sharks of “Jaws” (gas explosion), “Jaws 2” (electrocution) and “Jaws 3D” (explosives). From the ‘intelligent’ sharks raised up by science in order to provide a cure for something to the WTF?! kill moments, “Deep Blue Sea” set the template for the new millennium’s aquatic monster movie renaissance.

Apart from Saffron Burrows, who’s so wooden, it’s a wonder the rest of the cast didn’t just use her as a flotation device to escape, the cast on offer is pretty damn impressive. Thomas Jane is resolutely square-jawed as the hero, convincing enough to make the job of ‘shark wrangler’ stay just the right side of ridiculous while LL Cool J, Michael Rappaport and Jacqueline McKenzie are good fun as the potential chum. Future Marvel heavyweights Stellan Skarsgård and Samuel L Jackson bring some gravitas and cool – despite Skarsgård having to endure one of cinema’s most humiliatingly drawn-out death scenes ever. Hell, this is a film so confident in its cast it can afford to fritter away the great Ronny Cox in a one-minute wordless cameo.

The special effects are pretty good too, especially the impressive animatronic and practical effects which comprise the majority of the shark scenes. The physical sets look great too, built atop the vast water tanks used by James Cameron to film “Titanic” and all in all there’s a polish to the production values that most of the other films I’m about to dive into can only dream of. It’s also the only shark film from which I learned an omelette recipe I still use to this day.

This may prove to be one of the rare highlights of Shark Weak 2. To paraphrase a line from the film itself, beneath this glossy surface, a world of grindhouse monsters awaits.

7/10 

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