Hello and welcome to episode 19 of Adventures in Netflix! Today I’ll be reviewing the 1998 movie Sphere.
Sphere is an interesting movie. It is, perhaps, not the most original science fiction out there, but it is a solid, well made movie with a great cast and an engaging story.
Said story centers around a civilian team of scientists: marine biologist Dr. Beth Halperin (Sharon Stone); mathematician Dr. Harry Adams (Samuel L. Jackson); astrophysicist Dr. Ted Fielding (Liev Schreiber); and psychologist Dr. Norman Goodman (Dustin Hoffman), who are assembled by the government to investigate a massive spaceship discovered a thousand feet below the ocean. After reaching the military’s “habitat” set up on the ocean floor, the team begin investigating the ship and soon discover a giant, golden sphere. Low on air, the team returns to the habitat, only to be cut off from the surface when the ships above are forced away by a storm. Alone beneath the ocean, the team and their three military companions begin experiencing strange manifestations as the story begins to shift from straight sci fi to psychological thriller.
This premise might sound a bit familiar–perhaps a little Alien/The Abyss–but it’s generally well executed and tells its story with enough unpredictability to be quite engrossing. There were several points throughout the movie in which I had absolutely no idea what was going on, an essential quality in a thriller I think.
The cast of Sphere play their characters well, and make up one of my favorite parts of the movie; namely the casual professionalism with which the majority of the characters conduct themselves. Even Captain Barnes, the military commander in charge of the whole operation never succumbs to the all to familiar sci fi cliche of the big bad shoot first homicidal army general. Instead he comes across as an intelligent, reasonable man who is simply trying to do his job as best he can.
Out of everyone, Dustin Hoffman’s character is probably the most levelheaded, taking everything (no matter how strange or implausible) pretty much in stride, though even he isn’t immune to freaking out every now and then when things get really hairy.
The special effects are fairly good, being a mix of excellent sets and practical effects and some computer effects for the alien ship and the titular sphere. The CGI, most of which is fairly unassuming, holds up well considering the movie is now fourteen years old–a lifetime in computer years.
There’s something deeply appealing about the science fiction scenarios that depict humans as flawed, primitive beings that nevertheless manage to rise above their bestial instincts long enough to save themselves and recognize their shortcomings. Sphere might not be the best version of that story out there, but it’s by no means the worst, and does a good enough job with the concept to be both interesting and entertaining.
Sphere might not be a revolutionary movie, but if you’re you’re in the mood for a good, atmospheric science fiction thriller you could do a lot worse than Sphere.