Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Deep (1977)

The Deep (1977)

Director: Peter Yates

Cast: Nick  Nolte, Jacqueline Bisset, Robert Shaw, Louis Gossett Jr., Elli Wallach

After Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975) helped create what is now known as the ‘summer blockbuster’,  suddenly Peter Benchley (the author of Jaws) was a hot commodity in Hollywood and whatever he’d written suddenly became the center of attention for producers, who jumped on his novels like sharks on a frenzy. This is how we come upon The Deep (1977), a film that rode on the Jaws bandwagon for all its worth. The awesomeness that was Spielberg’s Jaws made people think that if it had Peter Benchley’s name on it, it would have the impact and the nail biting suspense that Spielberg’s film had. Was this the case with The Deep? Could Spielberg’s successful style of storytelling be duplicated by the likes of Peter Yates?

The Deep is all about Gail and David, a couple who go to Bermuda for a romantic getaway and a bit of scuba diving; you see they like to explore the wreckage of old sunken ships. In their search for underwater forgotten trinkets, they stumble upon an ampoule of morphine. When they take their findings to the local treasure expert, he tells them they’ve found no big deal, but in reality, they’ve discovered part of a treasure of more than 90,000 ampoules of morphine that sunk with a ship called ‘The Goliath’. The part that gets everybody’s panties up in a bunch is that this morphine can be sold for millions on the black market. Suddenly Gail and David become the target of local thugs who want them to dive for the rest of the ampoules. Will they strike a deal for the dive, or do Gail and David have other plans?

Movies that are about treasure hunts comply with certain elements. We always have good guys looking for the treasure and bad guys after their coat tails, willing to kill to get their hands on the loot. Both groups are fueled by greed, fortune and glory. Examples of these types of films are Romancing the Stone (1984), Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1984), The Goonies (1985) and The Phantom (1996). These films are also known as adventure films because searching for the treasure always leads to running from somebody and near death experiences avoiding booby traps, sadly, The Deep doesn’t offer us much in the way of excitement or adventure, it’s actually a pretty dull affair. Which is a sad thing because story wise it feels as if the book had great potential for an exciting adventure film. I get a feeling that the problem comes from the downright boring way in which the story was told, so even though I’m sure having all the underwater photography was a ‘big deal’ back in the 70’s, it wasn’t enough. The Deep needed to be more kinetic.

Composer John Barry did the music for this film and he’s been responsible for fantastic music for many wonderful films, but for some reason, on The Deep the music was kept to a minimum and we’re left with a lot of silent moments, with no dialog, and no music, which brings excitement levels down to almost a complete stop, even during scenes that are meant to be exciting. The film boasts the fact that it was shot mostly underwater, and it’s true, most of it was shot in four different oceans and a huge underwater set and all the actors involved had to take diving lessons. The filmmakers and actors went through all these troubles to shoot so much of the film underwater yet all that effort doesn’t seem worth it for me because the resulting film turned out so boring and uneventful.  Anyways, you know your movie is in trouble when the most exciting thing about it is an eel that hides inside of the sunken ship and every now and then pokes its head out in an attempt to eat somebody. That eel felt like a desperate attempt to inject excitement into a film that doesn’t have much of it.

This is the film that made a star out of Nick Nolte, it was his first starring role. He headlined the film alongside the beautiful Jacqueline Bisset who by the way opens the film with scenes of her scuba diving with only a t-shirt on. In these scenes, understandably so, her nipples become the center of attraction. According to producer Peter Gruber these opening scenes were one of the reasons why the film ended up becoming, to my surprise, one of the top money makers for Columbia Pictures that year. But let’s be honest, nipples aside, what people expected was another Jaws, even the poster for the film makes you think it was a sequel to Jaws. I doubt people were impressed by this film as much as they were by Jacqueline Bisset’s breasts. To my disappointment her role in the film isn’t even that good, she is often times left on the sidelines while the men go treasure hunting. Most of her scenes involve her waiting, bored out of her mind while the men are out having their ‘adventure’. Though she does have one scene where she kicks ass with a harpoon, most of the time she’s relegated to the damsel in distress type of female character. And speaking of underdeveloped characters, the film is filled with a great supporting cast like Elli Wallach and Louis Gossett Jr., but man their roles are paper thin! These actors feel wasted here. Robert Shaw, whom we all came to love in his role as Quint in Jaws (1975) gives the strongest performance in the picture.

The fact that most of the film was shot underwater was the big technical achievement with this one, they supposedly made the biggest underwater set built to that date. I just wish that after all those efforts the film audiences ended up getting would have been better. Not only that, for such a simple film, it runs for more than two hours! The Deep goes to show us the difference that the right director and the right music can make in a film. I’m not saying that Peter Yates and John Barry are bad within their fields, but a lot of what made Jaws such an amazing piece of cinema is that Spielberg was behind the cameras; Spielberg knows a thing or two about strong characters, performances, suspense and just pure cinematic entertainment. On The Deep we had Peter Yates directing and Yates is a director who took a stab at quite a few genres within his repertoire, with a couple of good films to his name like Bullit (1968) and Krull (1983), unfortunately I get the idea that at the time he made The Deep, he didn’t understand the importance of excitement in an adventure film. The results are evident in The Deep, one of the dullest treasure hunts in cinematic history.

Ratings: 2 1/2 out of 5      


SFF said...

Your coverage here brought back memories here Franco.

For whatever odd reason I had seen this film a few times and all my friends and I cared about was getting to the scene with the Moray eel. For us, the rest of the film was entirely forgettable and I think reading your review really gets to the heart of that and tells me that I likely wouldn't find it that much more appealing today.

But had they had a few more of those moray eel scenes things could have been different. Interesting points though Fran... definitely an underwhelming effort on what could have been a terrific, location based film in the water.

Oh and maybe a little more of that Bisset poster in shots would have helped make things interesting for us budding young men. : ) Boy, that's a wonderful little find. ;)

Franco Macabro said...

Agree dude, there were so many things that could have been done to make this one better. The thing with the eel is that since the film wasn't centered around it as Jaws was centered around its shark, it feels like a cheap tacked on scene, a cheap scare. The whole film feels like a wasted opportunity, so many beautiful localisations (supposedly they shot in four different oceans) yet most of the film takes place inside of sunken boat set.

Agree, more Bisset would have been appreciated, sadly she's left out on most of the treasure hunting stuff, which makes no sense, whats the point of having such a beautiful actress if you're going to have her character locked up in a hotel room waiting for the guys to have all the fun? Having her swimming around in a bathing suit would have been much, much better! :)

Sergei Kolobashkin said...

I was a big fan of this movie when I was a kid. I remember seeing it on cable a couple of times and even taped it for further enjoyment. Nipples aside the movie looked fantastic to a 12 year old kid. I don't want to revisit it just because I don't want to end up being disappointed.

Franco Macabro said...

I did like the underwater photography in the beginning of the film and of course, Bissett swimming around in her skimpy get up, those were the best things about the movie.

SFF said...

Okay, looking for a quick and dirty thumbs up or thumbs down on seeing The Shallows!
What do you think? Cheers sff

SFF said...

Utilizing your scale.... and now having seen The Shallows.... I would give it a 2.5

You my friend are no Jaws.

It has a few good moments. Blake looks amazing! She's gorgeous. Some good effects. Some bad. A foolish ending and overall a very mild diversion.

That's my take on The Shallows my friend.

Franco Macabro said...

Thanks for the heads up, I think Ill be skipping this one and waiting for the dvd.


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