Wednesday, August 4, 1999

Deep Blue Sea

Posted By on Wed, Aug 4, 1999 at 12:00 AM

"Call me Ishmael," the narrator of Moby Dick begs of his readers in one of the most dramatic opening phrases ever uttered. After that there’s no escape from "that intangible malignity" which is Melville’s book about whale fishery, one obsessed captain Ahab and the arch-whale Moby Dick, the embodiment of "all the subtle demonisms of life and thought." Is Ahab a tragic or a romantic hero? Is he fighting God, the devil, raw forces of nature or simply himself? Whatever the answer, there’s one point on which we must agree: If Moby Dick were merely a story about carnage, we would have forgotten it a long time ago.

Battles of wits between men and large fish have always offered us great opportunity to wax philosophical – think of Jonah or The Old Man and the Sea and, while you’re at it, check out Commandments with Aidan Quinn – but heaps of flesh, buckets of blood, and new and improved methods of dismemberment were never the sole attraction. So why is it that Hollywood always misses the boat on this one? Why is it so difficult to understand that what makes these (other) stories good is not the sight of human bodies being chewed up and spat out – Deep Blue Sea in a nutshell – but what’s at stake before the confrontation and what we stand to gain once the waters quiet down?

So, two weeks after the sad release of Lake Placid – the crocodile flick that made our asses twitch with embarrassment – we’re faced with yet another liquid story about scientists playing God, a Free Willy-meets-Jaws affair that would make Victor Frankenstein turn in his grave.

For neither the cast – Samuel L. Jackson, LL Cool J, Saffron Burrows (The Loss of Sexual Innocence), Stellan Skarsgard (Ronin) – nor the Scream recipe (characters chatting nonchalantly about the genre) can prevent Deep Blue Sea from being a horror playground for violent and frustrated little boys.

Or, as Skarsgard puts it: "I’ve always been interested in food, so it’s fabulous to play it for once." The feeble-hearted have been warned ...

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