Monday, June 17, 2019

The Sphere: Great Sci-Fi That I Somehow Missed

Recently, I tuned in to a Sci-Fi movie that I hadn't heard about. I dunno, maybe I've been living under a rock, but it seemed to have had a pretty high budget and a truly all-star cast: Dustin Hoffman, Sharon Stone, Peter Coyote, Samuel L. Jackson, Queen Latifah, and more...

The premise involves an extraterrestrial ship found at the bottom of the ocean and a team sent in to investigate. The ship is believed to have come to rest on the ocean floor some 300 years earlier.

Here's the scene that sets it up:

What the team uncovers is truly shocking. After the vessel inexplicably opens for them, they find a very agreeable habitat inside the ship. In fact, it appears as though it was built for a species very similar to human beings.

That turns out to be more than coincidence when they discover who built it! But remember the part about it being at the bottom of the ocean for 300 years? What this team had on their hands was a science mystery of epic proportions.

I won't offer any real *spoilers* because if this much intrigues you, you should discover the story for yourself. I will say it had plenty of twists and turns and IMHO it wasn't a typical sci-fi plot where you could anticipate each coming scene. There were always surprises, a few that were "didn't see THAT coming!" and intelligent characters who acted in intelligent ways though they had their flaws, quirks and personal demons to overcome (but no TSTL characters or actions! Hurrah!) As things began to unravel and the mysteries and circumstances became more life-threatening, they were, at times, irrational. (If I'd been in their shoes, I would have been irrational, too!)

The ending was very satisfying for this viewer, because it didn't end the way I anticipated, nor was it a complete downer of an ending. It had a twist that fell somewhere between "killer" and "Ahaaaa!" There was a paradox to resolve and it was resolved in a satisfying but highly unexpected way.

It's really hard to write an interesting review without giving you major spoilers, so instead let me talk a little bit about the elements. I think those alone might intrigue you.

The Sphere movie poster copyright the
studio and/or its advertising entities.
The film had a decidedly Close Encounters meets The Abyss meets War Games meets Alien flavor. I list Alien last because--even though some scenes and a lot of the set were eerily similar to the original Alien franchise blockbuster, I will clue you in that there was no aggressive xenomorph stalking the crew. Or at least, not one of the same variety as the creature that stalked the Nostoromo's unfortunate inhabitants. But's that's not to say they weren't being stalked.

Was there terror, tension and heart-pounding suspense? Oh yeah. Character conflicts? Plenty! Mystery? Leagues of it. References or tributes to other sci-fi tales--media or print version? A-yup! But many times scenes didn't play out the way you anticipated, and that was part of the charm--if you can consider this story in any way "charming."

It's equal parts smart, scientific, absorbing, it entails some jaw-dropping special effects, a whole lot of psychological thriller, and it's filled with little zingers of dark humor, so it definitely held me in thrall until the closing credits started to roll.

There are title cards that divide the film into segments and hint at what's coming next, such as “The Sphere,” “The Spaceship,” “The Monster,” etc. But the title cards don't give all that much away and each segment usually has its surprises.   

Sadly, there was no true romance involved, though there were allusions of a past romantic entanglement.

I found the ending something that writers could sink their teeth into. It really got my "What If" thrusters firing on full power. As always, your parsec mileage may vary. When I researched the film, I was shocked that it was made in 1998, though Sharon Stone's Total-Recall-esque appearance should have clued me in. The good thing is that the special effects, set and lighting didn't say "old film."

I don't know how I missed this when it came out, but I'm really glad I caught it later on satellite. If this sounds like your kind of story, catch it if you can.

And have a great week!

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