I passed on going to see Deep Blue Sea in the theater, thinking that it was yet another in a long line of Jaws rip-offs. I was partially correct, but I do regret not having seen this particular shark movie on the big screen. Like its venerable 1975 predecessor, Deep features humans being chomped on by sharks. In this case, the sharks have been genetically engineered to have larger brains and, as a by-product, they got smarter. The scientists who aren't in on the gag seem a bit surprised to find that their colleagues have been playing God with one of the oldest and most dangerous life forms on the planet. They're even more surprised when the sharks engineer a way to flood the underwater research lab and invite themselves in.
Deep Blue Sea is not a revolutionary film, but an evolutionary one, combining tried-and-true shock tactics with eye-poppingly realistic digital effects and some of the best animatronic animals ever on screen. Like the sharks it features, it may be a technical improvement on one of the oldest examples of its kind, but that doesn't always mean scarier. LL Cool J begins the movie as a bit player (the lab cook), but by the end of the movie he has become its hero. Samuel L. Jackson is, as ever, a joy to watch, but he's even more fun during the commentary track (see "extras").
The widescreen presentation is about as nice as one could hope for; it's even 16x9 enhanced for those of you with widescreen TVs. This is a flick that really deserves the surround sound, as the flooded undersea lab makes all sorts of creaks and groans when it finally begins to crack under the pressure. The layer switch is fairly noticeable, as it comes during a closeup on Sam Jackson's face that seems to hold a bit too long, but as always, that depends on how long it takes your machine to switch layers.
Deep Blue Sea is just swimming with extras, including an audio commentary track, two documentary featurettes, storyboards, still galleries, and deleted scenes with optional commentary.
The commentary track is spliced between that of Renny Harlin (the director) and Sam Jackson. Harlin is really trying to convey his love of the original Jaws while simultaneously reigning in any apologies he might have for the subject matter. He points out a lot of good behind-the-scenes info, including the individual elements in shots that are partially live and partially CGI, and a lot of explanation of the little homages to other films. For example, the license plate fished out of the tiger shark's mouth towards the beginning of the film is the same as the one featured in Jaws. Harlin's commentary really forces one to contemplate the fact that not much is "real" in movies any more because it's often cheaper to blue-screen something in later.
Sam Jackson's commentary, on the other hand, is mostly tongue-in-cheek monologue about the process of making the film from an actor's perspective. He wastes no time in sucking up to the audience or the director, but instead launches into an entertaining impression of Renny Harlin's accent. Jackson's main motivation for appearing in Deep Blue Sea was apparently that he was allowed a lot of time off to play golf, and he makes no bones about the fact that he enjoyed being the big name on the set. It's obvious that he has a lot of respect for the other actors there: he knows their filmographies and personalities, and that allows him to be merciless in getting his digs in. Other than his crucifixion of Michael Rappaport for being a big fan of hip-hop, Jackson's main target is the parrot who hangs out with LL Cool J. "I hope to work with the bird again," he smirks.
The featurettes are kind of fun, if nothing to write home about. I was impressed with the advancement of swimming animatronics, especially when I found out how much this film owes to the sickly-sweet Free Willy series of movies. Shark fans should definitely spend some time clicking through the menus on this disc.