Sunday 14 November 2010

Movie Review: The Deep (1977)

There are two main objectives behind The Deep: the first is to showcase the dramatic advancements in underwater filming that were occurring in the second half of the 1970's. The second is to showcase Jacqueline Bisset in a variety of revealing poses.

Author Peter Benchley had enjoyed huge success with his 1974 debut book Jaws, which was turned into the most successful (at that time) movie ever made by a young Steven Spielberg in 1975. Benchley's next book was going to be a success no matter what, and he released The Deep in 1976. The book is a muddled, unconvincing sunken-treasure adventure, and Benchley co-wrote the script for this muddled, unconvincing movie adaptation released in 1977.

The story follows David Sanders (Nick Nolte) and Gail Berke (Bisset) two amateur divers vacationing in Bermuda where they stumble onto a lost shipwreck with some precious cargo. They seek the help of local shipwreck expert Romer Treece (Robert Shaw), and soon enough they are pursued by spooky local henchmen from Haiti led by Henri Cloche (Louis Gossett Jr.). And emerging into the sunlight in a seemingly drunken stupor is Adam Coffin (Eli Wallach), an easily manipulated shipwreck survivor.

It turns out that David and Gail have uncovered not one but two shipwrecks on top of each other, one carrying enormous amounts of morphine that Cloche wants to get his hands on, and the other carrying an even more precious treasure of ancient jewelry.

The underwater scenes consume more than half the film, and have little to no dialogue as David, Gail and Romer explore the wrecks and irritate a particularly ugly large eel. The underwater cinematography is impressive, and director Peter Yates is able to maintain both tension and comprehension with few spoken words.

The scenes above the water are mostly tiresome discussions as the trio try to research and understand the shipwrecks, their cargo and their history, occasionally interrupted by Cloche and his men seeking to do harm.

Bisset finds reasons to remove her wet T-shirt, remove her bikini top, unbutton her shirt to her navel, and wrap herself in a towel, but always turns her back discreetly to the camera when needed, as Yates and his star focus on the tried and true titillation school of film-making. Nolte plays the angry-young-man with the clever shadings of an angry young man, and Shaw appears unsure whether or not his role as the grizzled expert that everyone turns to for help is actually a reincarnation of Quint from Jaws.

John Barry, of James Bond music fame, and disco queen Donna Summer collaborated on the hypnotic, synth-driven main theme music for the film, appropriately titled Down Deep Inside (Theme From The Deep). It turned into a major chart hit and helped drive the success of the film.

Benchley's next book was The Island, published in 1979, about modern-day pirates, and its failure along with the hideous 1980 movie adaptation starring Michael Caine, officially ended his winning streak. The Deep provided some strong hints that it would turn out all wet.

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