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Movie Review: Deep Rising and the Death of the Cinematic Behemoth

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Bewail the annals of colossal monstrosity, as they are all that we have left. The great Kong and the “King of Lizards” are apparitions now, haunting the realms of TCM and Bravo. Sure, Hollywood will continue to revamp the classics (in charity to each successive generation deprived of the movie experiences from the 1960s to the 1990s). It is not lost on this viewer that a mere four years ago Peter Jackson breathed new life into King Kong, or that Godzilla was resurrected at the turn of the millennium (nearly killing Ferris Bueller in the process).

As much as the next guy, I love to see my favorite beasties re-envisioned. But sadly, for all their cutting-edge CGI and special effects, said efforts fall flat at the feet of their great predecessors. The heart and soul has been taken out of these monster films and replaced with shallow, graphic ornament.

It’s safe to say that the turn of the 21st century brought with it the demise of a cinematic era. We have seen all but the last of these behemoths and we can now hope only to spot, on occasion, their wandering malformed progeny (i.e. the stars of 2008’s Cloverfield or 2006’s South Korean horror film The Host).

Just as the ape marked the early days of giant horror pictures and the legendary Clash of the Titans its pinnacle, so the final blaring death note of the cinematic colossi may very well have come from a rather unknown source: a flick from 1998 called Deep Rising.

In this cheese-ridden exploit, an assortment of mercenaries is hired to raid then destroy a luxury cruise liner at sea. Upon arrival, however, the motley crew quickly find themselves struggling to survive an unspeakable deep-sea horror already onboard. If you want a traditional monster movie plot, you’ve got one.

I can’t say enough about Treat Williams’ (The Deep End of the Ocean) performance as the lead. Every line the man utters is a cliché, and this viewer simply could not get his fill of it. Unlike any B-movie performance I’ve seen to date (and as a B-movie junkie, I’ve seen a lot of them), an actor somehow took a very poorly written script and produced a relatable, even endearing character.

Famke Janssen (Love & Sex) and Williams have both seen better days. Kevin J. O’Connor (The Mummy) is actually known for goofy, low-grade sidekick roles like the one he plays here. The entire crew of mercenaries, including Djimon Hounsou, should just be thrown overboard. In fact, the only passable performance in the entire film comes from Hannibal Lecter’s former doctor, Anthony Heald, as the luxury cruise ship’s designer.

All considered, the ensemble gives a straight-up awful performance, and strangely enough, that’s just what made Deep Rising pop. This is Stephen Sommers’ bread and butter. Time and time again this director has taken a lowbrow concept and gone over it with a magnifying glass to pick off any extraneous originality. He then puts together a spot on cast, throws in some cheesy dialogue, and voila: out comes a traditional monster movie. The man was born to direct these popcorn flicks.

Was Deep Rising as unforgettable as the great ape or the “King of Lizards?” No. Did it provide a cinematic landmark comparable to Perseus’ 1981 deliverance of Andromeda? Probably not. But it was created in the same spirit. It did induce an awe and stunning wonderment faithful to its origins. It is for these reasons that I recommend a viewing of this monstrous tale, this final chapter in the book of film’s mammoth horrors (and don’t hesitate to watch it with the kiddies, if they want a taste of classic terror done right).

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About Jon Erbar

  • I really like Deep Rising. It provides a great dose of dumb fun. I also find tht it is almost an exact copy of James Cameron’s classic Aliens.

  • Jon

    Yeah, it’s a great bad movie. And I never saw all of Aliens, but I wouldn’t doubt that one bit.