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IN SHORT: Star Power can't save Sphere.
As always, Cranky makes no comparison to Source material, an early novel by Michael Crichton.
For the third time in the last year or so, incredibly huge round things in the middle of spaceships are the visual focus of a Hollywood movie. We saw it in Contact. We saw it in Event Horizon and we see it again in Sphere, a flick which relies on massive star power and a confusing story premise to keep your attention.
In other words, you sit there wondering "what the hell is going on here?" just like the triumvirate of characters stuck in a deep sea habitat, 1000 feet beneath the surface of the South Pacific. It is there that a massive spaceship has been found. Based on coral growth, the ship crashed landed 300 years ago. But there's a humming noise detected inside, indicating that something like an engine or some kind of circuitry is still running. The politicos in DC have been prepared for such an alien invasion. There was an elaborate report cobbled together back in the Bush years -- cobbled is the proper term as you'll discover while you giggle through the first half hour or so of the two hours fifteen this thing runs.
Sphere is put together much like a novel. It is broken into individual chapters, each with a subtitle like "The Surface" and "The Deep" and "The Monster". Each of the main characters, Psychologist Dr. Norman Goodman (Dustin Hoffman), Biochemist Beth Halperin (Sharon Stone), mathematician Harry Adams (Samuel L. Jackson) and astrophysicist Ted Fielding (Liev Schreiber) know each other in one way or another; haven't seen each other in one way or another in years and don't particularly want to. The dialog is clever. The characters are distinct and the story builds properly. So much for the Fun part.
Next up, The Deep. There's tension as the alien ship is entered. There's the occasional shock as various scary things are discovered -- it's the old "jump out and go BOO!" school of moviemaking. If you think about what would scare you going into an alien ship, you're not far off the mark. There is the wondrous discovery of a perfect gold sphere of the movie's title, an obvious alien construct. What could be Its Purpose? Why is its name Jerry? Why do Bad Things happen to the Good People who encounter the Sphere?
Stage Three involves the would be scary stuff. While you wonder what's going on -- not long 'cuz it's telegraphed early -- there's some remarkably blood free killing and death stuff. Paranoia runs rampant as the innermost fears of the survivors physically manifest themselves. Last year's Event Horizon, at least, had lots of blood (which is probably why it's renting so well).
Hoffman and Stone, whose characters once had a fling, manifest very little chemistry. Even with bad blood and fifteen years between sightings Cranky believes that something would manifest. It's only human. Then again, if that kind of innermost feeling manifested itself, Stone's character would want Hoffman dead and Hoffman's character would have Stone's character naked in a flash. But we're way past the Fun Section. And Sphere is definitely not about fun.
The solution to The Mystery of the Sphere and The Escape from the Deep is confusing and unsuspenseful. There's no easy way to show it visually, though director Barry Levinson gives it his best shot. The ultimate conclusion to the story is too simple to be satisfying. Carl Sagan, I think, would have approved.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Sphere, he would have paid . . .
Buck a Star. Nary a person I spoke with afterwards would have paid for Sphere, citing the movie's length and other SF flicks -- well, one major 1950s flick -- with a noticeably similar story. Cranky didn't feel the length of this one.
Then again, Cranky takes pills to ward off the inevitable pain.
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