Ever notice how horror movies come out in batches, with films with similar plots, settings, or antagonists all seemingly being dumped out within the same calendar year and forced to slug it out for cinematic superiority? Usually it’s some sort of kneejerk reaction to another studio’s successes, where the powers-that-be at various Hollywood shingles slap together quickie copycats in hopes of raking in a few extra bucks, but, sometimes, it all comes down to serendipity. Sometimes shit just happens, and two or more of such films will appear, seemingly out of the ether. This seems to be especially prevalent in the “horror at sea” sub-genre.
Back in the late 80s, we had a throwdown between the Peter Weller vehicle, Leviathan, Sean S. Cunningham’s sea monster flick, Deepstar Six, and James Cameron’s big-budget ode to undersea aliens, The Abyss. Just under a decade later, the cycle would repeat itself with another trio of sea-based spookfests, including the woefully inept Virus, featuring Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Sutherland, Barry Levinson’s psych-out-at-sea thriller, Sphere, and a goofy little flick helmed by a little-known director named Stephen Sommers called Deep Rising. None of the films were hugely successful, either critically or commercially, but, while Sphere handily won that round (thanks primarily to the star power of a cast that included Dustin Hoffman and Sharon Stone) in terms of box-office, and Virus was roundly ignored (and deservedly all-but-forgotten), the quirky, gory, and wonderfully entertaining Deep Rising ended up being the film that showed its sea legs in the long run, earning itself a small but extremely loyal following amongst fans of B-grade monster movies that continues to grow to this day.
The film opens with what appears to be a fish-eye’s view of an ocean graveyard, followed by an ominous title card telling us of a region of the South China Seas and the myriad vessels that have vanished without explanation in its murky depths. We are then introduced to John Finnegan (Treat Williams), a profiteering boat captain who, along with his crewmates, Joey (Kevin J. O’Connor) and Leila (Una Damon), is ferrying a mysterious group of mercenary types led by Hanover (Wes Studi) to an equally mysterious destination in the middle of the aforementioned South China Seas. Finnegan, whose motto is “If the cash is there, then we do not care”, is decidedly nonplussed about this voyage, but, when Joey noses around in the cargo hold and discovers enough ordinance to sink an aircraft carrier, Finnegan and his crew find themselves at their passenger’s mercy
Meanwhile, aboard the maiden voyage of the luxury liner, the Argonautica (named after the 3rd century epic poem by Apollonius Rhodius), the ship’s owner and creator, Simon Canton (Anthony Heald), offers a toast to his wealthy passengers, giving cat burglar, Trillian St. James (Famke Janssen), an opening to raid the ship’s well-stocked vault. Canton, however, catches Trillian red-handed, and has her thrown in the ship’s kitchen cooler (the brig has yet to be completed), and returns to his guests. While Trillian cools her heels (literally), someone crashes the ships computers, disabling both navigation and communication. While the ship’s crew attempts to regain control of the vessel, something attacks the ship, puncturing its hull, and begins devouring the Argonautica’s passengers.
Back on Finnegan’s boat, the team of mercenaries prepares for action as they close in on the coordinates Hanover gave Finnegan. Finnegan, however, collides with an abandoned speedboat, severely damaging his ship, but, as they survey the damage, Lana sees a cruise ship in the distance. As one would expect, said ship is Hannover and his men’s destination, and they commandeer Finnegan’s boat, and force Finnegan and Joey to board with them so that they may find materials to repair their boat for Hannover’s team’s escape. Once on board, however, they quickly discover that the ship is seemingly abandoned, but, further exploration reveals signs of a bloody struggle, as well as a small group of survivors, including Trillian and Canton. Canton tells the group a tale of large, predatory sea creatures, but it’s not until the beasts have sampled some of Hanover’s men that the others take his story seriously. With no way to call for help, and the Argonautica dead at sea, it’s up to Finnegan and Joey to repair their ship before the tentacled beasties adds them to the menu!
Deep Rising is a hugely guilty pleasure of mine, and a film I can watch ad nauseam. It’s a genre mash-up that borrows from everything from Die Hard to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and features an immensely likeable cast in Williams, the gorgeous Jannsen, and O’Connor. It’s the latter who steals the show, however, delivering howlingly funny observations and retorts with meticulous comic timing. Sommers, who went on to helm the enormously successful The Mummy (as well as the second film in the trilogy, The Mummy Returns, and said film’s Scorpion King spin-off), shows off his penchant for mixing high octane action, humor, and horror here, delivering a film that is an unabashedly silly, uproarious love letter to 50s B-movie schlock., and the best SyFy Channel movie the SyFy channel never made.
The Blu-ray from Mill Creek presents Deep Rising as the first half of a double feature, with the film sharing real estate on the same 50GB Blu-ray disc as 1998’s bastardization of Robert Heinlein's The Puppet Masters, a film that I thoroughly despise, hence why I’ve made no mention of it up to this point. Basically, I’m considering The Puppet Masters a rather unwelcome bonus feature, and I’m pretty sure that the overwhelming majority of folks purchasing this disc will probably be doing so for the sole purpose of owning Deep Rising in HD. Of course, this is a review site, so I'd be remiss if I didn't include a review of film, so here it is:
There. 'nuff said.
So how does Deep Rising look on Blu-ray? Well, I’m happy (and, actually, a little surprised) to say that it looks pretty damned good. It’s not a transfer that will knock off any socks, but Mill Creek’s presentation represents a fairly significant upgrade over its DVD incarnation. The image is crisp, colors are accurate and fairly vibrant, and there’s much more detail in faces and textures. While the higher resolution does make the dated CGI effects look a little more…well..dated, they were never quite bleeding edge stuff to begin with. There are some minor niggles to be had, including some excess grain in darker sequences, as well as mildly inconsistent black levels throughout, but, for a bargain priced Blu-ray, I expected much worse.
While the video quality hovers at average, the accompanying 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio track blows it out of the water (pun thoroughly intended). This is one loud track, with excellent channel separation, pummeling bass, and crisp, natural sounding dialogue. I did have to fiddle with the volume on occasion as the center channel seems to be mixed a fair bit lower than the sub (did I mention that this track is LOUD?!), but if blowing out your loved ones eardrums isn’t a concern to you, crank this baby up. You will not be disappointed.
Speaking of disappointed, supplemental features include just a single theatrical trailer, but, thankfully, it's for Deep Rising and not that other putrid mess. In a perfect world, the space dedicated the The Puppet Masters would be filled with retrospective documentaries, commentary tracks, and several HD galleries worth of photos of Janssen in a wet T-shirt.
One can dream.
If you’re a fan of Deep Rising, buy this. It’s that simple. The film looks better than it ever has, and sounds downright terrific. Consider The Puppet Masters a throw-in. Hell, if you haven’t seen it, give it a watch. Maybe you’ll like it, but, even if you don’t, you still have Deep Rising on Blu-ray, and that’s all that really matters. While it would be nice if some studio came along and dropped a special edition of the film (as Paramount did with another cult-fave, Event Horizon), that doesn’t look like it’s happening anytime soon, so, for now, Mill Creek’s Blu-ray is your best option.