Starring Treat Williams, Famke Janssen, Kevin J. O’Connor, Wes Studi
Directed by Stephen Sommers
Distributed by Kino Lorber
There was a brief period in Hollywood when director Stephen Sommers was the king of big budget b-movies, making his name – and a mint – with The Mummy (1999), The Mummy Returns (2001), and Van Helsing (2004), a film that was not hugely successful and one I wish I could enjoy. But before hitting it big, Sommers delivered a movie every bit as over-the-top and effortlessly enjoyable with Deep Rising (1998) which, unfortunately, did not do much rising at the box office; its failure also scuttled plans for a much larger universe, which I’ll touch upon later. I have fond memories of this one, since it was playing in theaters when I worked as an usher at Edwards Cinemas. In pieces, I have probably seen Deep Rising a good dozen or so times; I’ve heard Treat Williams exclaim “Now what?” twice as many. But after so many viewings so long ago it had been ages since I last gave this unsung crowd-pleaser a spin and you know what? It’s still a damn good times at the movies.
John Finnegan (Treat Williams) is a speed boat captain for hire, and on this job he’s transporting a group of mercenaries, led by Hanover (Wes Studi), to a secret location in the middle of the ocean. Finnegan’s crew consists of Joey (Kevin J. O’Connor), his right-hand man and the ship’s mechanic, and Leila (Una Damon), Joey’s girlfriend. The cargo carried by the mercs is revealed to be missiles when Joey does so snooping, and their destination is revealed as a luxury cruise ship, the Argonautica. Within the ship a party has been ongoing, led by Simon Canton (Anthony Heald), owner of the Argonautica. But a couple hours into the soiree suddenly all power is lost and the ship goes dead in the water. When the mercs storm the ship intending to ransack guests, they find… nothing; no one.
Well, one person: Trillian St. James (Famke Janssen), who was locked away after being caught stealing. Eventually, the group comes across a few more survivors including Canton, whose on interest is in self-preservation. As he and the others not-so-calmly explain, a bunch of “things” ate everyone on the ship. This is later confirmed when the group goes down in an elevator and winds up in a galley of gore, filled with half-eaten people, digested skeletons, gore, goop, pus, and slime. Yum. Turns out the passengers were eaten by massive tentacles with mouths and teeth – very sharp teeth. They can and do go anywhere in the ship. Unsurprisingly, these tentacles are connected to a mammoth, foul, Lovecraftian beast that has one sole purpose: eat everything. Finnegan and the rest need to devise a crafty plan to escape this big tin can before they wind up on the brunch menu.
When was the last time anyone saw Treat Williams headlining a studio release in theaters? This movie – and it’s a damn shame because Williams is a hoot as Finnegan, the eternally-grumpy captain with a loose sense of morality, a high standard of loyalty, unending wit, and his own signature catchphrase. All this dashing bravado can only be complemented by a man of even wilder proportions – and that’s where Joey comes in. Not that O’Connor’s character is a daredevil by any means, but Joey is a loud-mouthed wisecracker who couldn’t keep his mouth shut if it were wired that way. Everyone remembers him in The Mummy and he’s more or less the same kind of character here, only less scoundrel-y. Janssen has little to do outside of being rescued but this was back in her prime and a sterling reminder of her beauty. Claire Forlani originally had her role but dropped out after disagreements with Sommers.
The mercs have more familiar faces than not, starting with the Indian everyone loved to hate in The Last of the Mohicans (1992), Wes Studi. He’s tough and scary looking and spends most of the movie barking, remaining an asshole right up to the end. What, you thought he was going to live? Rounding out the squad are Djimon Hounsou, Cliff Curtis, and Jason Flemyng. If you don’t know their names, you’ll know their faces. These mercs aren’t just a faceless horde, either; these guys have personalities, fears, good qualities… you know, the sort of character attributes most movies would gloss over.
Our risen-up sea creature is a nasty beast, mostly brought to life via CGI. 1998 was still part of the nascent phase for big-budget CGI and it definitely shows here. The film’s budget took a nosedive when Harrison Ford passed on the role of Finnegan (and, truthfully, could he have done better than Williams?), and it’s clear corners were cut in regard to the big beast. Would some sort of massive, mucus-y monstrosity have been an improvement over this hulking heap of pixels? Maybe, but since this movie plays with a Roger Corman-esque spirit it can be cut a little slack. Sommers makes this ride fun, which makes an element like bad CGI more digestible. Plus, there are plenty of practical FX moments that occur on a smaller scale, much of which was designed by the legendary Rob Bottin.
So, about those “larger universe” plans… At one point Sommers was lobbying hard to take the reins on a reboot of King Kong (1933) and part of his plan included using this film as a backdoor to introducing Skull Island. At the end of this film, our surviving characters find themselves stranded on a desert island and as the camera pulls back we see something large is moving within the treeline and then a horrible ROAR is heard. Now, I doubt Sommers would have used the characters from this film in a Kong reboot but I do wonder how his vision would have turned out. Peter Jackson eventually got the gig and made a masterpiece, but I think Sommers could have delivered something big and fun, at the least.
Previously issued on Blu-ray by Mill Creek, Kino Lorber steps it up with this 2.35:1 1080p image that is a slight improvement. Detail levels and definition remain nearly identical, which isn’t a bad thing. Kino’s release sports darker contrast, appearing tighter than Mill Creek’s washy release. Film grain is rich and consistent throughout. Skin tones are natural and warm. Shadows eat up all the detail, though, because the image is powerfully dark in many shots. Of course, much of the 2nd unit work was shot by Dean Cundey, who is a fan of such darkness. ‘90s CGI looks like ‘90s CGI.
The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound track is a beast. Bass is responsive and rich, delivering deep, rumbling support. Dialogue is clean and expertly balanced within the mix. Rear speakers aren’t engaged as often as I would have liked, though they do supply plenty of immersion during the big finale. Anytime the creature appears it is with bombast and fury, creating explosive audible moments. Explosions, likewise, sound massive. The score by composer Jerry Goldsmith is serviceable; not one of his best, definitely not his worst. A “bad” Goldsmith score is still leagues above what most composers dream of writing. Subtitles are available in English SDH.
An audio commentary is available, featuring Director Stephen Sommers and Editor Bob Ducay.
“Interview with Actor Wes Studi” – His recollections are concise and clear, mostly remembering there was just so much water. Also, he still tweets with Treat which I found kinda cute.
“Interview with Actor Kevin J. O’Connor” – Less focused and a bit scattered, O’Connor isn’t so far removed from the characters he plays.
“Interview with Actor Anthony Heald” – The man with a knack for playing preening douchelords has plenty to say about his role here.
“Interview with Second Unit Director Dean Cundey” – The legendary Director of Photography shares stories about Carpenter films and shots he “borrowed” for this movie.
“Interview with Visual Effects Artists John Berton and Van Ling” – Hear some fantastically horrifying stories about the early days of working in CGI.
“Interview with Special Effects Make-Up Artists Brad Proctor and Doug Morrow” – Learn about the practical effects done for the film, as well as see some behind-the-scenes footage of the creation process.
There are a handful of animatics included in various stages of completion, showing off ILM’s early work, along with an Animated Image Gallery and a few trailers, including one for this movie.
A total blast from start to finish, Sommers’ ode to ‘80s action and ‘50s monster movies perfectly amalgamates the two into one helluva fun show. Kino Lorber steps up to the plate and delivers a stacked disc with strong a/v quality and a massive mound of bonus features.
- BRAND NEW 4K REMASTER struck from the original camera negative
- Audio Commentary by Director Stephen Sommers and Editor Bob Ducsay
- Interview with actor Wes Studi
- Interview with actor Kevin O’Connor
- Interview with actor Anthony Heald
- Interview with second unit director Dean Cundey
- Interview with VFX John Berton (ILM)
- Interview with VFX Van Ling (Banned from the Ranch Entertainment)
- Interview with Brad Proctor (SFX/Make-Up)
- Interview with Doug Morrow (SFX/Make-Up)
- Interview with Cinematographer Howard Atherton
- ILM Behind-the-Scenes Extras (Animatic Sequence/Creature/Tests/Etc.)
- Newly Commissioned Art by Jacob Phillips
- Animated Image Gallery (Stills and Behind-the-Scenes)
- Reversible Blu-ray Art
- Limited Edition O-Card Slipcase
- 5.1 Surround and Lossless 2.0 Stereo Audio
- Theatrical Trailer
- Optional English SDH subtitles for the main feature