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.