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Blast From The Past Movie Review: LEVIATHAN (1989)
Commie sea monsters and corporate skullduggery ahoy!
Once upon a time in later elementary school, I wanted to see the 1980s underwater creature feature Leviathan. Since it was rated R, my parents did not allow me to rent it, but I was allowed to watch an edited version on I believe TNT. I didn’t remember all that much beyond some key moments, but when Myopia Movies needed films, I made sure to suggest it. Here's the episode link. And now for the review...
At an underwater mining facility deep below the Atlantic Ocean, a ninety-day shift is about to end. Chief geologist Steven Beck (Peter Weller) would like to get back to scientific research, while the other crew members just want to get out of there and spend their money.
Then while out on a mining mission, the obnoxious Buzz "Six Pack" Parrish (Daniel Stern) and his frenemy Elizabeth "Willie" Williams (Amanda Pays) find a sunken Russian freighter Leviathan, supposedly still on active duty with the Soviet Navy. "Six Pack" thinks jacking the safe from the freighter will make him rich, but there's not much there...except for some personal effects, the ship's log, and a flask of vodka, which he and coworker Bridget Bowman (Lisa Eibacher) drink.
Bad idea. Six Pack and Bowman fall sick quickly, while Dr. Glen "Doc" Thompson (Richard Crenna) and Beck find out went wrong aboard the Leviathan. Now it's a battle for survival deep beneath the ocean between good ole American know-how and Soviet science gone very wrong. And all the while, the station’s corporate owners on the surface begin wondering if the crew is worth the trouble…
*I liked the overall concept of American miners discovering covered-up Soviet human experimentation and dealing with its monstrous results. And I found the antagonist pretty creative — the 1980s were full of Rambo, Arnold, or Chuck Norris-types fighting the Soviets, Vietnamese Communists, or Sandinistas, but here the main problem is unethical Soviet medical experimentation on its own people, with corporate amorality as a secondary concern. The monster spawned by the former is really interesting, in a truly ghoulish way.
*Per my last comment, the monster itself is very well-designed and moves realistically. We’re close to the high point of practical effects here, and none other than Stan Winston was in charge. Here’s an article about how they made it work. Per TVTropes, nothing was actually shot underwater (unlike The Abyss, which looks better but had all sorts of production problems), but I had no clue. This means the SFX team had to be particularly skilled with their smaller budget.
*It’s reasonably short and other than a few bits I describe below, it doesn’t drag.
*Once things start moving, they move fast. The last half or so of the movie is a thrill ride with some legitimately creepy moments.
*The characters aren't particularly vivid and the most memorable one is also the most obnoxious--Six Pack. He's vulgar and raunchy toward his female crewmates, hypocritical, short-tempered, and reckless. Jeez he was annoying.
*It's revealed early on in the film that "Doc" made some medical mistakes that killed people and wrecked his career to the point working on a mining station two miles underwater is the only job he could get. This aspect of his character could have been much more developed--the guilt from his past failures, the fact the corporate boss needles him about it, and an obvious drinking problem stemming from the above could be slowly gnawing at him all while things get progressively crazier aboard the mining station. This drives him to take…certain actions…that I won’t get into for spoiler reasons.
*The same with "Willie." She's an aspiring astronaut who will enter training as soon as their shift is done and is pretty enthusiastic about personal fitness given how much she jogs around the station. This could have been used more--she could be particularly knowledgeable about the diving suits and in a clinch, simply outrun the monster. To cite Chekhov, the guns are on the mantle in Act One but not fired (or at least not obviously so) in Act Three.
*The opening was kind of slow--the camera follows a vertical wall of coral until hitting the darkness of the deep ocean. Were it up to me, I would have done something more atmospheric.
*Not a lot happens until relatively late in the film.
*The ending gets a lot of SCUBA diving stuff wrong. Basically they should be suffering from absolutely horrible decompression sickness--the infamous "bends"--right away.
A fine rental, or a free watch on TubiTV, for exercise at the gym or ironing your clothes. But I wouldn’t buy it unless I could get a used copy cheap. 7.5/10.
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