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Blu-ray Review: The Deep (1977)

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In 1975, the film Jaws opened.  It was, as you may already know, a huge hit.  In fact, some argue that Jaws helped bring about the current "blockbuster" era of filmmaking, but that's neither here nor there.  Whether or not Jaws reshaped the film industry (personally, I'd argue that it did), it certainly gave way to a lot of imitators.  It is a truism of any form of media that upon witnessing the success of something, someone else will try and duplicate that success with a similar item.  Thus, 1977 brought filmgoers the Peter Yates (Bullitt) helmed film, The Deep.

As with Jaws, The Deep is based on a novel by Peter Benchley (this time out Benchley got to write the screenplay alongside Tracy Keenan Wynn), stars Robert Shaw,  and much of the film revolves around the water.  However, it is there that the similarities end.  Where Jaws was an edge-of-your-seat, at times scary, thriller that takes in a sleepy New England town, The Deep is a much more lackadaisical film which uses Bermuda as its setting.  Rather than thrills, The Deep attempts to get audiences on the edge of their seat with shots of Jacqueline Bisset scuba diving in a white shirt. 

In brief, the deep finds a couple, David Sanders (Nick Nolte) and Gail Berke (Bisset), getting accidentally involved in the drug trade and sunken ships after scuba diving where they shouldn't have been on a Bermudan vacation.  Local trafficker Henri Cloche (Louis Gossett Jr.) is desperate to get his hands on a stash of morphine the couple found, and treasure hunter Romer Treece (Shaw), already having glory, helps the couple in order to get his hands on a possible fortune in sunken treasure.

Watching The Deep, one can't help but get the sense that there are two very different films at work – one a superbly shot film focusing on underwater exploration and sunken treasure, and the other a terribly dull drug-based thriller.  Simply put, though Gossett tries, Cloche is an uninteresting villain and the drug story fails to take off.  Cloche relies on Sanders and company to do his scuba diving for him, putting him at their mercy, when he could just as easily hire a couple of divers and not have to worry about being double-crossed.  Why Cloche thinks he's better off with scare tactics is never made clear and is not believable.

The other film, the underwater film about naval history and sunken ships, is wonderfully exciting and interesting.  The footage shot underwater is brilliant.  It's mostly silent and it uses that silence and isolation to draw the viewer in.  We're told in a behind-the-scenes featurette that not only did the cast do the scuba sequences, but also that none of the cast had ever dove before.  An incredible amount of effort had to have taken place to make those underwater scenes work, and it really comes across in the finished piece.  It's just a shame that the treasure-hunting story have to be tied to the drug one, if it hadn't been, The Deep could have been an excellent film.

As with the plot itself, the Blu-ray release of The Deep is kind of a tale of two films.  The print is, for the most part, a clean one, and much of the definition and detail is good.  However, and this is a major problem (though it may be one related to the film's shooting and not the Blu-ray), dark scenes lose all detail, becoming murky, muddy, at times almost indecipherable messes.  The audio presentation is somewhat better, mainly due to its representation of scuba diving.  There are definitely moments in the TrueHD 5.1 track where the audience actually gets the sense of being underwater via the muffled sounds that accompany such a trip.

The special features on the release of The Deep are rather weak.  There is the aforementioned behind-the-scenes making of piece which seems to have simply been lifted from a television special and is narrated by Robert Shaw, and select scenes from a three hour special edition of the movie.  The former is somewhat informative and interesting in bits and pieces, and the latter rather flabbergasting.  With a runtime of just over two hours, one gets the sense that the film is about 15 or 20 minutes too long already, a three hour edition would have to significantly deepen some plots to make it worthwhile, but even that may be a tough sell.  These select scenes are also odd in that while they are in high definition, one can't actually watch the entirety of the three hour special edition on this Blu-ray.  Thus, if one loved the movie enough to spend the time with the special features, they will be instantly disappointed upon realizing that a special edition release seems to be just around the corner and the money spent on this Blu-ray was wasted.

Though it certainly has some very good moments, in the end, The Deep never quite shakes the feeling that it only exists to try and capitalize on the success of Jaws.  Maybe that sense will be corrected if the three hour special edition gets released, we'll just have to wait and see.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.