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.