It seems that, every few years or so, in some bizarre Hollywood version of serendipity, we get multiple versions of what are, essentially, the same movies, each rushed out the door by their respective studios in hopes of beating the other similarly plotted or themed films to the multiplexes. In 1998, we had the battle of the asteroids with Deep Impact and Armageddon, while, in 1997, the tops blew off of both Dante’s Peak and Volcano, respectively. In 1989, however, we got ourselves a cinematic hat trick, with James Cameron’s The Abyss facing off against two lower-budgeted deep sea sci-fi/horror features, including the sea-monster cheapie, Deepstar Six, and the Alien/Thing hybrid, Leviathan. While Cameron’s film beat both of its competitors quite handily in terms of overall box-office, Deepstar Six and Leviathan built up small-but-loyal followings after their home video debuts, with the latter now making its Blu-ray debut courtesy of Scream Factory.
Leviathan focuses on deep ocean miners working in a large sub-aquatic facility located off the coast of the southeastern United States. The team, overseen by geologist-turned-foreman, Steven Beck (Peter Weller), is nearing their quota and due for pickup in a matter of days. What should be no more than 72 hours of light mining and tidying of loose ends turns into much more than, however, when one of the divers – the acerbic Six Pack (Daniel Stern) – falls off a ledge into the unexplored depths below, and discovers a mysterious Russian military vessel (the titular Leviathan). Six Pack and his fellow diver, Williams (Amanda Pays), return to base with the Russian ship’s safe in tow, whereupon the team’s medical office, Doc (Richard Crenna), translates the many documents contained therein, all of which seem to concern deceased crewmembers. While the rest are busy looking through the personal effects, Six Pack manages to pocket a flask of Vodka, and, later, shares a drink with fellow miner, Bowman (Lisa Eilbacher).
The next day, however, Six Pack begins to exhibit signs of a strange illness, including chills, a fever, and a scaly rash. Despite Doc’s best efforts, Six Pack eventually succumbs to the illness, while Bowman, who also falls sick, kills herself after discovering Six Pack’s grossly altered body in the medical lab. As Doc furthers his investigation, he makes a gruesome discovery, as not only have Bowman and Six Pack’s bodies somehow fused together, but they’ve formed some sort of new genetic anomaly that is very much alive! Beck and Doc decide to flush the writhing beastie out into the open sea without telling the other miners what’s become of their former friends, but, when union steward Cobb (Hector Elizondo) feels movement from within the body bag, he demands the bag be opened, and is attacked by the creature. All hell breaks loose, and, while the beast is ultimately expelled from the base, a piece of it is cut off in the scrum, and disappears into the base’s labyrinthine ventilation system. Beck contacts his Tri-Oceanic Corp supervisor, Martin (spooky-eyed Meg Foster), informs her of their dire situation, and demands an early pickup, but Martin informs him that an approaching hurricane would make pickup impossible, and that they’ll have to wait it out for at least 72 hours, leaving the survivors to contend with the rapidly growing and extremely voracious creature.
I actually went to see both Deepstar Six and Leviathan within months of each other back upon their initial theatrical release (I didn’t, for the record, go to the cinema to see The Abyss, and, actually, have only recently sat through the bloated picture in its entirety). Deepstar Six was a huge turd, but I did quite enjoy Leviathan, and revisited it several times in its various home video incarnations. Yes, the film borrows liberally from both The Thing and Alien, but the locale shift kept things fresh and, for a relatively low-budget flick, the effects work, especially the miniatures, were really top notch for the era. The cast of familiar faces (albeit not exactly the “A-list”) also appealed to me, even though notorious scenery chewer Richard Crenna threatens to derail almost every scene he’s in. Thankfully, Crenna’s borderline manic delivery is balanced out by the always low-key Weller, who oozes a surfer-like zen as the facility’s reluctant bossman. Directed by George P. Cosmatos (Tombstone, as well as the excellent killer rat flick, Of Unknown Origin, which also starred Weller), and featuring some impressive creature effects work by Stan Winston studios, I’ve long felt Leviathan deserved better than it got back in 1989, and I’m glad it finally found its audience in the years since.
Scream Factory fishes Leviathan out of the depths of standard definition obscurity and brings it to Blu-ray in a very impressive 2.34:1 that would normally be a detriment to vintage FX heavy films, but, the extra resolution actually highlights how well the miniatures work in Leviathan holds up to scrutiny today. The life-size elements of the film look quite nice, too, with consistent flesh tones, accurate color representation, and solid contrast. Detail is also pretty impressive, here, especially in close-ups, while blacks are rock solid. Two audio options accompany the film – a 2.0 DTS HD Master Audio track, and a 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio track, but I find the balance to be much better in the 2.0 track, with much clearer dialogue. YMMV, especially if you watch your films at high volume, but, for my personal tastes, the stereo track wins out.
While this isn’t a “collector’s edition” release, Scream Factory still gives us a few excellent bonus features, including two new interviews with actors Elizondo and Ernie Hudson (who plays Jones) respectively, as well as a beefy effects-centric featurette entitled Leviathan - Monster Melting Pot that includes some frank interviews with Stan Winston Studio’s FX artists as creature “performer”, Tom Woodruff Jr.. It’s a fascinating min-documentary that covers everything from the creature’s inception to Winston’s run-ins with director, Cosmatos. It’s a great watch, especially for FX junkies and fans of practical effects work. Rounding out the extras is the film’s theatrical trailer. All bonus features are presented in 1080p.
While Leviathan may have been lost in 1989’s shuffle of deep sea creature features, and is, admittedly, a somewhat flawed underwater retread of Alien and The Thing, it’s still a really fun and entertaining flick, with a solid cast and some great practical FX work that still holds up really well over a quarter of a century later (wow…when you say it like that…man, do I feel old). Scream Factory’s Blu-ray presentation is excellent, featuring a very impressive transfer and a surprising collection of quality bonus features. Recommended!