Deep Blue Sea

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If you lived through the nineties you may never have seen Deep Blue Sea (1999) but you undoubtedly heard Deepest Bluest (Shark’s Fin) by LL Cool J. This theme song got a lot of radio play for a couple of weeks while the trailer was all over television. Unfortunately LL Cool J’s song makes about as much sense as the movie itself.

Deep Blue Sea was helmed by veteran action film director Renny Harlin. Harlin had some considerable success with the films Cliffhanger (1993) and Die Hard 2 (1990); both affective action spectacles. Harlin brings the same high octane stunts, visuals and special effects to Deep Blue Sea even when the script can’t support the characters in whom the audience is asked to invest.

The biggest flaw in the film is that the shooting script cannot find a pace that allows for both suspense and comic levity. LL Cool J and Michael Rapaport are both endearing characters designated for comic relief that have no humorous dialogue at all. In the moments where they are vulnerable and relatable the scene is cut off by either exposition or a shark attack. Samuel L. Jackson, the most charismatic of the performers in Deep Blue Sea, dies relatively early on. This robs the film of its dramatic center, casting it adrift in the goofy antics of LL Cool J and the overly serious posturing of Saffron Burrows.

As a piece of escapist fluff Deep Blue Sea has some appeal. Those viewers with a predilection for aquatic terrors will be highly entertained by a handful of people’s fight to escape three super intelligent sharks. The more seasoned viewer will immediately recognize the velociraptors of Jurassic Park (1993) in these sharks, and the overall narrative as a lazy reworking of Crichton’s novel.

Since the audience isn’t likely to remember the plot of Deep Blue Sea (breeding super intelligent sharks to harvest their brain proteins to cure neurological diseases) what’s left is a series of unique set pieces. The first truly memorable moment is when the sharks thrust a drowning Stellan Skarsgård into the underwater window of the observatory. Stellan Skarsgård’s face cracks the glass and our survivors all go running. It isn’t just an absurd idea, Harlin executes it with an unwarranted gravitas as if it’s meant to be ironically humorous. The next great moment is when LL Cool J gets chased into an oven and the shark turns it on, forcing our hero to dig his way into the oven above. Then there’s the most famous sequence where Saffron Burrows strips down to her underwear to stand on her wet suit and electrocute one of the sharks she has created.

These moments, for all of their stupidity, are wonderfully enjoyable. The degree of camp and sleaze contained within these sequences almost suggests that on some level Harlin understood that, contrary to the script, Deep Blue Sea could never be taken seriously. After all it is Harlin who chose to shoot these scenes to exaggerate the uncanniness of it all.