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3 Ratings: 3.3
1998 Motion Picture Adaptation of the Michael Crichton Novel

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Genre: Sci-Fi, Fantasy
1 review about Sphere

Decent Film Adaptation of a Solid Science Fiction Novel

  • Jun 10, 2010

Sphere comes from a long line of science fiction motion pictures from the late Michael Crichton’s catalog of novels.  And it makes sense too when you consider that his material was the inspiration behind the blockbuster Jurassic Park films, television series ER, and the Michael Douglas thriller Disclosure.  Of course fans of MC’s novels are aware of the strange reality that not all of his books translate to film so smoothly. Among the sinkers; Congo, The 13th  Warrior (Eater’s of the Dead), and the disastrous Timeline.  Keeping this in mind, it is always a wise idea to approach MC-based films with a bit of skepticism.  Fortunately Sphere leans closer to the Jurassic Park side of solid science fiction filmmaking, if even not a perfect translation of all of the potential contained within the book of the same name.

Sphere tells the tale of a team of various scientists and scholars sent in to investigate a massive 300-year-old alien spacecraft discovered resting on the ocean floor.  Pacing is quite brisk and, like the book, wastes little time in getting the proverbial wheels turning on the intrigue-portion of the prose (which really is both incarnations of this work’s primary hook).

Set mainly in a claustrophobic underwater habit, Sphere manages to pack a whole lot of Hollywood heavy hitters into a confined area: Dustin Hoffman, Samuel L. Jackson, Sharon Stone, Liev Schreiber and the slightly miscast Queen Latifah to mention a few.

Trying to review this picture as an action-adventure wouldn’t come close to doing it the justice viewing it as a psychological thriller would and I was acutely aware of this reality going into the film as a longtime fan of the novel.  In that regard it delivers, in fact I was actually surprised at how faithful the first ¾ of the movie are to the book- nearly scene for scene!  Director Barry Levinson does a very admirable job of creating and capturing a suspenseful mood that inspires as much awe and wonder as it does fear or terror.

Considering that 1998 is what we now consider the very earliest stages of Hollywood’s collective paradigm shift from practical effects to computer generated imaging, the film deserves credit for imagery that still holds up incredibly well even by today’s standards.  While in no danger of being called flashy or heavily visually effected, the film certainly relies more heavily on interesting storytelling than it does eye candy.

What about that story, you wonder? Well it does play with some pretty cool concepts: Time travel, alien intelligence, mental projection, black holes, and the primitive nature of the human condition.  And like all Crichton works, it does so with frighteningly realistic scientific backing.

However, all is not perfect in the film translation, namely the conclusion of all things.  Not that it is fundamentally flawed beyond enjoyment, but rather it feels a little bit rushed (a feeling confirmed by filmmakers in documentaries about the project).  As it stands it works, albeit with a bit of post-viewing discussion necessary about the whys and hows surrounding the final few sequences.  Things certainly could have been explained better in my opinion, however, especially considering the amount of time spent and depth established in the characters leading up to the all-important ending.  The novel manages to outshine the motion picture in this regard thanks to a slightly clearer explanation of the plot’s closing stages.

I’m big on comparing films like this to other contemporary works, if for nothing else to provide a bit of a framework for potential viewers to draw from when considering purchasing, watching, or even just renting the film in question.  That said, Sphere would likely appeal to fans of James Cameron’s The Abyss, or perhaps even space-set science fiction pictures such as Event Horizon, Sunshine, or Supernova.

Calling it a masterpiece may be a bit too generous with praise but at the same time I find very little about this film that I would personally attempt to correct or improve upon were it mine to tweak (save a bit more precise ending).  In all, solid science fiction that, thanks to discount bins everywhere can be had for next to nothing.  The DVD even contains a nice chunk of special features including a featurette with the special effects guys and a full-length audio commentary with actors Samuel L. Jackson and a mumbling Dustin Hoffman.  Just be forewarned, I was unable to access the menu to view such goodies on my DVD player except by having fast forwarded through the end credits- Points off for the DVD authoring, sure, but no sense missing out on an otherwise solid piece of sci-fi over that.
Decent Film Adaptation of a Solid Science Fiction Novel

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June 11, 2010
Hhhmm, a parting of minds on this one. While I enjoy your REVIEW and the writing of said review, we have quite different opinions of this movie. I've not read the book, primarily BECAUSE of the movie.

Let me re-watch the movie and get back to you with a more detailed reply - IMO, the reason one IS able to purchase this at an inexpensive price is how such an incredible cast could produce such a boring movie. With so much to work with, this one fell flat for me, sadly. I was awaiting it with great anticipation at the time. 

Oddly, the one character I found hope in was the one you found quite little:  "slightly miscast Queen Latifah."  Oh, this is gonna be fun <grin>.

Will revisit this upon further review.


June 12, 2010
Connie: I could absolutely see how moviegoers unfamiliar with the book would expect something really wonderful here (only to be terribly disappointed). On the flip side I think all of the negative reviews I encountered before finally sitting down to watch this one (12 years late as it were) lowered my expectations so thoroughly that I was actually impressed when all was said and done! I'm not sure whether or not I could recommend the book to you simply on account of the fact that the movie really does an adequate job of telling Crichton's tale (for better or worse). But then it's been a long time since I read the book myself (as I felt MC's novels gradually declined in quality in the end). Thanks for the feedback, I appreciate it. I'm always in on comparing views with other Lunchers- especially with those like yourself (with an obvious appreciation of science fiction).
June 12, 2010
JACK: going off on a tangent here....

I agree wholeheartedly that the HYPE of movies often ruins them for me when I first watch them (not always - sometimes they are better than the hype, TG!).

Upon revisiting some movies I first viewed and was disappointed with, I found I appreciate them more with time - or as the hype as dissipated. 

For instance, I have just sat through my umpteenth viewing of FIFTH ELEMENT. When first watching this movie, I didn't appreciate it in the least. Now, I have the deluxe version somewhere in my collection <smile>.

Of course, with age we grow in our knowledge of the world, our likes and dislikes change, and our worldview also changes. Heck, I didn't like Blues or Jazz (well, except old-time, scratchy LP, Billie Holiday and New Orleans Jazz) until met my husband, and he turned me on to some incredible artists .... and now have a growing collection.

Indeed, some of MC's novels have made great transition to the big screen. Others, not so well <smile>. While TIMELINE as a book was almost a waste of paper, it had it's moments - as did the movie. But, that will be for another discussion!

Best regards,

June 10, 2010
See this is what I am talking about. You have a great knack for reviewing movies that have been released a few years ago and yet you can still add an analysis that is so fresh and offers something different for a reader. "Considering that 1998 is what we now consider the very earliest stages of Hollywood's collective paradigm shift from practical effects to computer generated imaging, the film deserves credit for imagery that still holds up incredibly well even by today's standards." Very cool observation, Jason! Great work!
June 10, 2010
Thanks a lot William. I know I've slowed to a grinding halt with my reviewing (work duties keep piling up on my desk), I am going to devote the next few days to crafting a few more movie reviews for the Hype Community. Also I have to stop by tonight to check up on what's been keeping you busy! Thanks again for the feedback my man, I do appreciate it.
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