The Deep [Blu-Ray]
Director : Peter Yates
Screenplay : Peter Benchley & Tracy Keenan Wynn (based on the novel by Peter Benchley)
MPAA Rating : PG
Year of Release : 1977
Stars : Robert Shaw (Romer Treece), Jacqueline Bisset (Gail Berke), Nick Nolte (David Sanders), Louis Gossett Jr. (Henri Cloche), Eli Wallach (Adam Coffin), Dick Anthony Williams (Slake), Earl Maynard (Ronald), Bob Minor (Wiley), Teddy Tucker (The Harbor Master), Robert Tessier (Kevin), Lee McClain (Johnson)
There is no doubt that the producers of The Deep, an underwater adventure yarn about a middle-class class couple who discover sunken treasure during their Bermuda vacation, thought of their film as a sequel to Jaws (1975), the summer-movie phenomenon that had taken the world by storm two years earlier. Based on the best-selling second novel by Jaws author Peter Benchley, The Deep was advertised as a monumentally difficult production, the same tactic the savvy marketers at Universal had used to help elevate Jaws from a potential overbudget disaster to a must-see event.
By all accounts the production of The Deep went much more smoothly, but its challenges were still hyped via a prime-time network making-of special and enough press material to ensure that it would be mentioned in most of the reviews (The New Republic’s always brilliantly snooty John Simon managed to cleverly turn this against the film in his pan by noting “It is a type of film whose making is fraught with so much complication, so much deployment of technological resourcefulness, so many brilliant coups of logistics and publicity, that what really matters is not the film but the filming”). The Deep also came out just when the U.S. was experiencing a massive surge in interest in scuba diving. At the time the film was going into production in the summer of 1976, the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) counted about 7,000 members, up from a mere 600 a decade before. About a million Americans were scuba diving, with 200,000 more trying it for the first time each year. Hence, The Deep was perfectly positioned to capitalize on both the name value of Peter Benchley and the rising popularity of a once-rare activity.
The story opens with David Sanders (Nick Nolte) and Gail Berke (Jacqueline Bisset) diving in the crystal waters off the Bermuda coast (although the ostensible narrative purpose of this sequence is to show them discovering a vial of morphine in the sunken wreck of a World War II-era munitions ship, the real goal is obviously to allow the audience to ogle Bisset’s physical assets, which are on ample display via her translucent white T-shirt). The vial of morphine reignites dormant rumors that the ship was carrying thousands of such vials, which would be worth millions of dollars for the illicit drug trade. Thus, it is of little surprise that a local Haitian drug dealer named Henri Cloche (Louis Gossett Jr.) becomes intent on finding their location. Being the amateurs that they are, David and Gail turn to Romer Treece (Robert Shaw), a salty adventurer and expert in sunken treasure, for help, and together they eventually discover that the morphine is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg because beneath the World War II wreck is a buried 18th-century ship that may hold a lost treasure trove of gold and jewels.
That, in essence, is the extent of the story, although there are a few minor twists, including Treece’s being betrayed by his partner, Adam Coffin (Eli Wallach), who was on the World War II ship when it sunk. More than half of the film takes place underwater, with the characters maneuvering through tight underwater caves and the slowly decaying remains of the sunken vessels, which are perched precariously on the edge of a cliff. The underwater photography by Al Giddings and Stan Waterman is quite amazing, especially for the time, and many scenes have an ethereal beauty that proves mesmerizing, which makes the carefully doled out shock moments, which include the recurring attacks of a huge moray eel and a feeding frenzy of gray sharks that get caught up in the heroes’ airlines, all the more effective. Director Peter Yates, a veteran of British television who had turned to movies in the late 1960s (his best know effort was 1968’s police thriller Bullitt with Steve McQueen), is efficient and not too showy, clearly realizing that the exotic locales, both above and below water, require little embellishment. However, he and editor David Berlatsky (who cut Sam Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid) make the unfortunate decision to use sped-up photography in a few instances, with the intention of making the scenes more intense, but with the result of making them a bit silly.
Nevertheless, on the whole The Deep works as a popcorn adventure about “average” people getting drawn into a world of danger and excitement. It is in this regard, though, that the film misses a real opportunity. While both Bisset and Nolte make for beautiful screen figures (given how grizzled he has become in recent years, it is almost shocking to see Nolte so tanned and blonde), their characters are flat and uninspiring. We get little sense of who they are or why they are so driven to risk life and limb. Are their lives back home interminably boring? Or have their underwater discoveries ignited an inner passion of which neither was previously aware? None of this is ever addressed in substantial fashion, and while it doesn’t deter from the tension of the film’s best scenes, it denies The Deep a level of, well, depth that might have made it more than just a passable adventure story.
|The Deep Blu-Ray|
|Subtitles||English, French, Portuguese, Spanish|
|Distributor||Sony Pictures Home Entertainment|
|Release Date||July 7, 2009|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|The new high-definition 1080p transfer of The Deep is generally excellent, although it certainly reflects the limitations of a 30-year-old film that was shot mostly underwater. The image has the general softness associated with films of the era, but the increased resolution makes a significant difference in the underwater sequences, which maintain detail and clarity even in the murkiest of shots. The exterior shots of Bermuda are also excellent, especially in the daytime, with great color fidelity to bring out the richness of the sparkling aqua-green ocean water. The newly remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 TrueHD surround soundtrack is also first-rate, particularly in the underwater sequences, which makes strong use of the surround channels to immerse you in the otherworldly echoes and gurgling of scuba diving.|
|The previous DVD release of The Deep had no supplements, which the Blu-Ray disc rectifies ... partially. Included is the 48-minute documentary “The Making of The Deep,” which aired on CBS in 1977 as part of the film’s promotional push. Hosted by actor Robert Shaw, it includes an impressive amount of behind-the-scenes underwater footage, as well as interviews with Nick Nolte, Jacqueline Bisset, Louis Gossett Jr., director Peter Yates, and producer Peter Guber. Also included on the disc are six “selected scenes” from the 3-hour version of the film that aired over two nights in 1980 as a mini-series. The included footage, which represents less than half an hour of the 53 minutes that were added back into the film, includes extended scenes that develop the characters and a special-effects-heavy opening that depicts that sinking of the Goliath, the shooting of which is covered in some detail in the made-for-TV documentary. The footage is in great condition and is presented in anamorphic widescreen, but it’s a shame that all of it wasn’t included and that the Blu-Ray’s seamless branching capability wasn’t utilized to allow viewers to choose between the theatrical version and the television version. Seems like a missed opportunity.|
Copyright ©2009 James Kendrick
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