Can somebody please explain what this movie is about?
Thursday, February 19, 1998
The new sci-fi thriller Sphere comes with quite a pedigree. It is directed by Academy Award-winner Barry Levinson; it is based on a book by mega-author Michael Crichton; it stars Dustin Hoffman, Sharon Stone and Samuel L. Jackson. Needless to say, with these credentials, it was just assumed that Sphere would be good.
So much for assumptions. The theater in Los Angeles where I saw the film this weekend was packed with a crowd that went from giddy excitement during the opening credits to overt hostility two hours later, lobbing sarcasm and verbal bile at the screen. Sphere, despite its strong start, and capable director and cast, is a muddled, ridiculous mess.
What went wrong? For one thing, the storyline is indecipherable, which is a shame because it has so much potential. A team of brainiacs, (Hoffman, Stone, Samuel L. Jackson, Liev Schreiber) all of whom have multiple PhDs, are summoned by the US government to participate in a top-secret ocean expedition, ostensibly to analyze an airplane crash.
Upon arrival they soon realize that things are not as they appear. The airplane, it seems, is actually a spacecraft. What''s more, these highly trained scientists are not what they appear either. Hoffman''s character confesses to faking a top secret government report; Stone, a biochemist, has a history of suicide attempts and mental instability; and Jackson, as a cynical mathematician and Schreiber, as a hyper-ambitious, precocious physicist harbor their own peculiarities.
From a station 1,000 feet below the surface, this dysfunctional team boards the sunken spaceship, where they encounter an enormous golden sphere. At this point the suspense is building, Sharon Stone looks great, Hoffman mercifully avoids his trademark stutter, and the underwater special effects excite the imagination.
After the initial encounter with this big gold ball, things start to fall apart. Maybe I''m just a dim bulb, but quite honestly, I am not sure of the details from this point on, and based on audience reaction, nobody else in the theater could keep track, either. As far as I can tell, the ball has some strange power, which manifests itself in different ways through several of the scientists who actually go inside it. The result is that Queen Latifah, the plucky underwater station attendant, gets murdered by jellyfish; scenes from Jules Verne''s 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea come alive; and Hoffman, Stone and Jackson try their level best to do each other in.
By the last half hour of Sphere, the entire story has come unraveled, with whatever remaining thread of narrative being eliminated by surreal plot twists that are nothing more than non sequiturs. At this point, Levinson turns to a lame technique known in film school as "Harry the Explainer," in which one character, in this case Hoffman, launches into long, detailed speeches that seek to explain to a completely bewildered audience what they have been watching.
I won''t spoil the ending for those who haven''t seen Sphere, not out of courtesy, but because I don''t really understand what occurred. Even with Harry the Explainer''s help, I, and everybody else in the theater, was dumbfounded. There''s something about dreams coming true and the goodness and/or badness of human beings, but what this has to do with the film I sat through for two hours, I don''t know.
It comes as a surprise that Levinson, the man who gave us Diner, Rain Man and so many other great movies, could have directed such a confusing, disappointing film. Likewise, you''d think that Sphere''s producer, Michael Crichton, the imaginative creator of Jurassic Park and other best sellers, would have recognized a faulty storyline when he saw it. How these two creative men came up with this film is anybody''s guess.
In the final scene, Hoffman, Stone and Jackson hold hands and forget that the whole thing happened. I wish I could join them.