Did you enter the sphere? I think she entered the sphere.
Back in my film school days in the late 90’s, movie geeks intentionally throwing any number of ridiculously repetitive dialogue from director Barry Levinson’s $100 million sci-fi movie “Sphere” immediately triggered a hilarious chorus of “I saw you enter the sphere” jokes.
This, of course, was a reference to the mysterious golden orb discovered in the derelict underwater spacecraft that takes center stage in Michael Crichton’s bestselling 1987 novel “Sphere,” which became a star-studded Hollywood blockbuster dumped unceremoniously into an unloved box office abyss.
Today marks the 25th anniversary of “Sphere,” which debuted in theaters on Warner Bros. on February 13, 1998, riding a decade-long tsunami of sci-fi movies like “The Abyss”, “Stargate”, “Independence Day”, “Starship Troopers”, “Mars Attacks”, “The Fifth Element”, “Contact” and “Event Horizon”.
Related: HBO is developing a sci-fi drama series based on the 1998 film ‘Sphere’
“Sphere” isn’t exactly Crichton’s best book in his catalog, but it’s a fun read with enough big ideas and psychological nuggets to draw top talent like director Barry Levinson and actors Dustin Hoffman, Sharon Stone, Samuel L. Jackson, Liev Schreiber and Peter Coyote when Tinseltown appeared.
Filmed from a queasy script adapted by Stephen Hauser, Paul Attanasio and Kurt Wimmer, “Sphere” was a critical and commercial failure that barely took in $70 million at the worldwide box office. Disastrous reshoots and test screenings resulted in budget overruns and a delay of its Christmas 1997 release and the Lost Lands of February.
Crichton began writing “Sphere” in 1967 as a sequel to his “The Andromeda Strain”, crafting a plot that chronicled a team of American scientists finding a 300-year-old spacecraft underwater that contained markings written in English. Unable to come up with a balanced plot, Crichton shelved the project until he could come up with a compelling story that fit the premise.
The finished novel was published in 1987 and the film follows roughly the same trajectory as the plot. It’s the story of a well-known psychologist who years ago wrote a paper detailing protocols for first extraterrestrial contact. He is asked by the US Navy to join scientists assembled by a secret faction of our government to examine a massive alien craft discovered at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.
A human contact team is formed to investigate this unknown interstellar vehicle that crashed three centuries ago some 1,000 feet (305 meters) below the surface and is now buried by extensive coral growth. The expedition consists of a psychologist (Hoffman), a biochemist (Stone), a mathematician (Jackson) and an astrophysicist (Schreiber) who seem ill-equipped for the dangerous mission on the high seas, but carry on for nearly two hours with incessant accusations. fighting.
At the beginning of the film, it is revealed that this spacecraft is a futuristic American ship that jumped through a black hole and traveled back in time to the 18th century with its cargo intact.
Later, the central story takes an intriguing turn when it is discovered that the glowing cosmic globe inside the ship has the power to manifest human thoughts, dreams and nightmares, which results in some unintentionally funny scenes with a swarm of slimy jellyfish, vicious sea snakes, and even a Jules Verne-inspired monster squid (or at least the electronic outline on a radar screen).
The concept of an alien relic influencing or manifesting human thought is nothing new in science fiction circles and is best represented in director Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” or even the sentient planet found in the filmmaker’s 1972 masterpiece. Russian Andrei Tarkovsky, “Solaris”. It was also used in a similar way for director Paul WS Anderson’s “Event Horizon” a year earlier.
The film stumbles with plot logic and character motivations seemingly tossed in the rough ocean, but it’s not enough to take your suspension of disbelief into uncharted waters. If anyone can see this as a B-movie gem and let it wash over you, it’s worth a watch.
Most notable in the expensive production is the futuristic American spacecraft possibly designed to penetrate a black hole and return with a valuable alien artifact that contains an extraterrestrial presence named Jerry (later Harry). The ship is inexplicably huge and measures half a mile long (0.8 km), with a colossal fin that juts out into the water like a submerged skyscraper.
The miniature special effects for “Sphere” are top notch and were performed by Grant McCune Design. Clark Schaffer acted as a miniature set designer with the skills of head modeler Monty Shook. David Stump was the director of photography for the miniatures and Jeffrey A. Okun was the production’s visual effects supervisor.
The underwater environment was built in 1/16 scale and measured 40 feet by 20 feet (12m x 6m). It included OSSA’s habitat base, the ocean floor, the surrounding coral reef and a multi-engine spacecraft equipped with a 16-foot-tall (4.9 m) fin.
Elliott Goldenthal composed the ominous classical score infused with menacing overtones that elicit a Saturday matinee’s combined sense of wonder and awe. Goldenthal is a master film scorer and his work on films such as “Alien 3”, “Interview With The Vampire”, “Batman Forever”, “Heat” and “Frida” have earned the musician numerous awards and accolades.
In many ways, “Sphere” feels like the middle act plucked out of a three-part story. What’s missing are the futuristic mission parameters and the initial capture of the orb to open, then a final act revealing what occurs when that strange telepathic orb is released upon the world.
Crichton’s provocative source material and Levinson’s adapted feature film still have enough cerebral pleasures and hardcore concepts to warrant a new “Sphere” TV series being developed by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy of “Westworld” for HBO, with the duties of showrunner falling to Denise Thé, who worked as a writer and executive producer on the third season of “Westworld”.
Perhaps under your care and guidance, the convoluted narrative of “Sphere” can be reworked to finally reach its full potential that I absorbed reading the novel more than 25 years ago poolside in Palm Springs while sweating in the 111-degree heat.
Did you enter the sphere? We saw you!
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