Happy (super conveniently timed) Shark Week, fiends! If you’ve been watching the specials on the Discovery Channel this week you may be wondering to yourself what an 8-thousand pound mako shark with a brain the size of a flat head V8 engine and no natural predators thinks about. No? Well, the scientists aboard a sea-stationed laboratory were certainly curious in Renny Harlin’s 1999 aquatic thriller, Deep Blue Sea.
When we think about shark movies, most of our minds immediately turn to Steven Spielburg’s Jaws. For obvious reason, of course. If we think to a more recent release, we conjure up Jaume Collet-Serra’s The Shallows. Some of you might even reflect on Sci-Fi’s whacky Sharknado series. Millennium found footage fan? You’ll probably think of Chris Kentis’ Open Water. Those of us old enough to appreciate the prime of the 90’s will think of Deep Blue Sea, one of the better shark films released since the Orca set out to reel in the world’s oldest, meanest eating machine.
Shark films are essential to the horror genre for two reasons: 1. They all share the same villain but each has very different plots and storylines, unlike our typical slasher or possession story. 2. They’re all semi-family friendly, or as family friendly as horror can get. I don’t know about your families, but the months of July through September basically run on a Jaws loop in our home.
Looking back at these films really makes you appreciate what these storytellers have done with limited source material and a predator that is, mostly, avoidable. Don’t like sharks? Don’t go into the water. In general, horror filmmakers easily bring the evil to their characters, but the writers of shark movies find logical ways to bring their characters to evil all on their own.
Deep Blue Sea follows a team of researchers and scientists to a remote underwater facility. In the lab, the researchers are busy augmenting the brains of mako sharks in order to find a cellular cure for Alzheimer’s Disease. An unexpected storm causes havoc within the facility and the sharks, now with a stronger intellect, begin ferociously attacking the team. The sharks begin killing the members one by on, as they make their final escape into the open sea water.
So, what makes Deep Blue Sea one of the best shark films out there? Quite a few things, actually…
A Strong, But Flawed Female Role
Dr. Susan McAlester is a very determined medical researcher on the verge of curing Alzheimer’s Disease, a condition that killed her father. We would typically see a male placed in the role of lead doctor in a film like this, but we were lucky enough to get Saffron Burrows (Troy, Mozart in the Jungle) instead.
In many ways, she admires the Makos as she identifies with the creatures. They’re intelligent, adaptable, strong, insatiable, and unstoppable. It is that determination in them that is their ultimate downfall. At first glance it is easy to be annoyed by Dr. McAlester‘s perseverance as she is responsible for most of the lives lost, but in a genre (and a world) where we need the encouragement to be unstoppable, she’s ideal. Over time we can appreciate her imperfections and her strive to achieve humanitarian nobility, no matter the cost.
Also, check that love story floating at the surface! There is a lot of chemistry between Dr. McAlester and Thomas Jane’s (The Mist, The Punisher) Carter. The relationship between the biologist and the shark expert moves no further than that for more than one reason. It would have been typical for all of the flirty banter and sexual tension between them to consummate in the end. Deep Blue Sea spares us of that eye roll moment and gives us another more satisfying surprise in the end for Dr. McAlester.
Of course there has to be a gratuitous shot of her perfectly toned body, but we’re gonna chalk that up as a necessary action of survival. Rubber wet suit = no electric charge.
Under The Sea
What better way to bring your characters to carnivorous evil than by dropping them in the middle of the ocean? How about a good couple hundred feet below the surface in a facility made unstable by an unsuspected storm. It’s perfect simply because so much can (and so much does) go wrong. Again, for sharks to be a threat there needs to be water which could be a limiting factor as far as setting goes. Deep Blue Sea not only utilizes its environment, but raises it to a high standard.
Despite a lot of shark mythology being completely debunked or proven false in Deep Blue Sea, the plot itself is pretty believable. Researching mammal evolution to apply that knowledge to further medical treatment is a common scientific practice. There is no irrational tornado blowing through town harvesting a group of mega-sharks. There is no character surviving supremely dangerous events without succumbing to her doom while a shark circles her in the middle of the sea. And there is no supernatural occurrence the writers will have to prove is possible to the audience.
Franklin Russell Is Sick And Tired Of These Mother (CENSORED) Sharks!
As us Tarantino fans are sinking into our seats watching Samuel L. Jackson’s (Unbreakable, Snakes On A Plane) Russell Franklin slowly turn into Jules from Pulp Fiction, delivering a powerful monologue to motivate the crew to push onward. We’re captivated once again by Jackson’s incredible ability to command a room. When the crew are at each other’s throats he interrupts their arguing, but just as he’s about to pull the trigger, I mean pull everyone together, a shark jumps out from the pool beside him, turning one of the most recognized actors of cinema into a happy meal. One Royale with cheese coming right up!
It is the greatest scene in Deep Blue Sea, one of the craziest scenes in any shark film, and easily one of horror’s best “Oh shit!” moments.
Any movie that has James Todd Smith aka LL Cool J (Last Holiday, Mindhunters) is an automatic watch (and rewatch) for me. He’s such a dreamy scene-stealer, bringing comic relief to any situation including the extreme peril his character Preacher faces in Deep Blue Sea. And who could forget him as Ronnie in Halloween H20? LL Cool J has joked about playing the character that the audience expects to bite it, most comedic tropes are killed off in the horror genre, but both Preacher and Ronnie wind up surviving their predators’ attack.
Preacher and his bird, Bird, are responsible for half of the witty dialogue of this film making it a little more lighthearted when necessary, yet realistic in the sense that we too would think “Hell no!” when cornered by a ferocious Mako shark. In a lot of ways Preacher is the voice of reason, always keeping it real.
Did you know that LL Cool J filmed a music video for Deep Blue Sea? If you didn’t, prepare for your eyes and ears to be blessed as Preacher himself, LL Cool J, breaks it down for us. The song called ‘Deepest Bluest (Shark’s Fin)’ almost knocks Jaws down a notch on my list of favorite shark films. Almost. It has synchronized swimming, scenes from the film, and a very wet LL Cool J. I beg you to google the lyrics as there are too many good ones to quote here. I’ll give you a taste: My world’s deep blue/ Killers gotta eat too/ Looking for human flesh to rip my teeth through.
Cheesy, but a gem nonetheless. Why don’t we have movie music videos and songs anymore? The 90’s were too good to us.
Deep Blue Sea Stays Afloat
To answer that earlier question about what an 8000 pound shark thinks about with that big brain it has, it thinks of one thing: Freedom. All mammals think about freedom. The ‘playing god’ motif is definitely present as well as intelligence vs. morale but there is also a battle of the wills between man and animal. This may seem like just another summer shark flick with little below the surface but what Deep Blue Sea really sets out to do is plunge into the grandeur of deeper themes, incorporating a more meaningful and scientific story. It’s deep, man.
Deep Blue Sea is one of those films you can watch right now without seeing dated technology, fashion, or dialogue. You may see a lot of dated CGI, but that will be the case with most films made after 2009. Until a real cure for Alzheimers Disease is discovered, God willing, Deep Blue Sea will continue to hold up. Sci-Fi films are less than likely to be watchable as soon as even a few years following their release. Our advances in technology are so rapid, it makes the material irrelevant quickly. However, shark films seem to be as timeless as the monstrous species itself.
As The Meg hits theaters August 10th and we’re bound to add another successful shark film to our docket. If Samuel L. Jackson or LL Cool J make a cameo it immediately gets 5 stars in my book. Now that sharks have become a staple of summer villains, we need remember just how rooted in cinema history these mean machines are. Deep Blue Sea is a prime example of an underrated film combining horror, science, humor, and suspense.