Sunday, July 31, 2011

Shark Week 2: 'The Deep' (1977)

Thanks to the massive success of Jaws in 1975, novelist Peter Benchley became a hot commodity, and his second book, The Deep, was made into a movie two years later, with Benchley co-writing the screenplay. The Deep features Benchley trying to branch out from shark attacks into other sorts of undersea thrills, but he's better at creating an implacable, nonverbal menace than he is at putting together an exciting story about human beings. It probably doesn't help that The Deep's journeyman director Peter Yates is no Steven Spielberg. Still, there's some decent stuff in The Deep, primarily in the impressive underwater cinematography, and it features a very attractive Jacqueline Bisset in an essentially see-through wet T-shirt for the first 10 minutes of the movie, which was credited with much of the movie's box office success.

There's very little shark action going on here, though -- far less than I expected when I picked it for this project. Other than a few brief glimpses, the entire shark-related portion of the movie is limited to one scene. Bisset and Nick Nolte play a pair of tourists in Bermuda who stumble on the wreckage of a sunken World War II ship while diving. Amid the more recent debris are artifacts from an 18th-century Spanish royal cargo shipment, and the two amateurs hit up a local history and salvage expert (Robert Shaw, another Jaws connection) to learn about what they've discovered. Unfortunately for them, the WWII ship is full of thousands of vials of morphine that an unscrupulous soldier (Eli Wallach) was smuggling at the time, and a local drug lord (Louis Gossett Jr.) is eager to get his hands on them.

The drug lord tries to sabotage our heroes' efforts to get to the treasure, which is where the sharks come in: At one point his henchmen whip a bunch of sharks into a frenzy by chumming the water above where the divers are working, and there's a sort of swarm of sharks that's menacing at first but doesn't really amount to anything. Far more impressive is the giant moray eel that attacks from out of nowhere and, in the climactic battle, literally bites the drug dealer's head off. There's not much excitement elsewhere in the dull story, which plods along through a rote investigation into the origins of the treasure. The dive sequences, including the wordless eight-minute opening, are impressive, although more for the way they look than for any success at creating suspense. Benchley's career as a Hollywood hitmaker fizzled after The Deep (although he continued writing moderately successful books), and it's not hard to see why.

No comments: