Why Guy Davis adores… DEEP RISING

17 Dec

Hello and welcome back to the plush surrounds of WHY I ADORE, where no movie love is too arcane, ridiculous or predictable – all are welcome here! I absolutely love it when someone adores something that isn’t roundly championed, or acclaimed, or, well, even thought of by most people. See, I have a theory that every single film ever made – well, okay, say, 95% of films ever made – is somebody’s favourite movie. Further to this, I believe that, yes, every feature film ever made is adored by someone.  So why am I going on about this?

Because today, is the day for such a film.

This week’s Adorer is writer, film critic and screenwriter GUY DAVIS, who writes reviews for The Geelong Advertiser and Street Press Australia, contributes the pop culture column “Trailer Trash” to Inpress, and whose blog of reviews, interviews and amusements can be found here, at Remorse Code. One can also follow his witty bon mots on Twitter as @tommyfivetone. But now, sit back, relax, grab a drink and hold on tight, as Guy’s adoration takes you far, far beneath the sea… or, as the poster says…

A large percentage of my life has been spent attempting to convince people I’m not as shallow and superficial as I appear. It’s a full-time job, but I like to believe I’ve got most of you suckers fooled into thinking I’m an erudite kind of chap whose lips don’t move when he’s reading one of the many books he owns. Yes, owns.

What’s more, I’ve assiduously cultivated the persona of film buff, the kind of guy willing to throw down large chunks of his hard-earned for selections from both the Criterion Collection and the Blue Underground catalogue. (For the uninitiated, Blue Underground is the Criterion Collection of ‘giallo’ thrillers, spaghetti westerns and gruesome European horror movies from the ‘70s and ‘80s. If that kind of thing blows your hair back, I highly recommend you check out their range of titles.)

So when I was thinking about my submission to ‘Why I Adore’, it prompted an unprecedented amount of soul-searching. After all, ‘adore’ isn’t a term to be tossed about lightly.

When I think about the works of cinema that have won a place in my heart and mind, it results in a complex swirl of thoughts and emotions. For instance, Michael Winterbottom is a filmmaker whose work I appreciate more than anything else. For all the intense pleasure the likes of Seven Samurai, Ikiru and High and Low have given me, I mainly look upon the films of Akira Kurosawa with a great sense of admiration. I really like what Darren Aronofsky’s done so far; I really love what Wes Anderson has done so far.

And… I adore Deep Rising. Yeah, you heard me. I freakin’ adore it.

This 1998 tale of raffish soldiers of fortune, ruthless hijackers and Lovecraftian sea monsters was never going to win any Oscars, although you could convincingly argue that any special-effects department that comes up with a gag listed in the credits as ‘Half-Digested Billy’ sure as shit should be thanking the Academy. But in my own court of public opinion, where I am judge, jury and executioner, it’s a clean-sweep winner of every award going.

Why is that? Well, personally speaking, it ticks every box on my list when it comes to cinematic comfort food.

Is our hero a wisecracking ne’er do well in the Han Solo tradition, a man with a shadowy past and dubious reputation who will nevertheless cowboy up and do the right thing when danger rears its ugly tentacles? (By the way, Tentacles was the working title of the movie! And David Duchovny was slated as the lead! The more you know!) Yes, indeed – as played by Treat Williams, highly enjoyable and thoroughly convincing as a dude who’ll both shun hard work in favour of computer poker and take on a cadre of hard-case mercenaries armed only with a spear-gun and a smile, John Finnegan is alternately charmingly roguish and roguishly charming.

Are the villains able to nimbly navigate storyline territory that requires them to be swaggering, dangerous, suspicious and scared shitless by turns? Thanks to some astute casting that fills this rogues’ gallery with some damn fine actors, absolutely. Of course, some are clearly there for their brawn than anything else, such as the late Trevor Goddard (whose loose-cannon menace as Australian merc T. Ray makes up for his deficiencies as an actor). But the likes of Djimon Hounsou, Jason Flemyng and the always-ace Cliff Curtis add just enough texture and dimension to their portrayals to make their characters more than walking fish-food. And as the leader of the pack, Wes Studi (so memorable as Magua in Michael Mann’s The Last of the Mohicans) is a sharp-dressed sociopath sharp enough to join forces with Finnegan when the shit goes down.

Is the comic relief a motor-mouthed douchebag you’d happily see dragged to the briny depths and devoured whole by a massive marine monster? In the case of Kevin J. O’Connor’s Pantucci, Finnegan’s “grease monkey” mechanic…uh, not totally. Sure, Pantucci rubs a lot of the other characters the wrong way with his lack of bravado under pressure (“Can you just get asthma?” he asks after one particularly tense encounter) and annoying habit of humming ‘The Girl from Ipanema’, but for some reason Finnegan puts up with him and therefore we should be able to as well. Thanks to O’Connor’s nicely-calibrated overacting – he doesn’t so much chew the scenery as gnaw at it occasionally – it’s not too much of a chore.

And is the female lead a beautiful, butt-kicking babe who manages to look fetching in both haute couture and a grubby wife-beater? (No small ask, by the way.) Of course she is, and props to Famke Janssen for imbuing her character – a sneaky, slinky jewel thief and con artist with the wonderfully Bond-girl name of Trillian St James – with smarts and savvy that probably wasn’t on the page. The role’s not Ripley-esque, that’s for sure, but Janssen (who has had shamefully few opportunities to show what a forceful and compelling actor she can be – she’s terrific in X-Men: The Last Stand and Jon Favreau’s Made) gets what Deep Rising is going for in terms of its tone and acts accordingly.

That tone is the secret of Deep Rising’s success, for mine. The movie is gloriously and gratuitously gory, but never in a way that feels nasty. It also lodges its tongue so squarely in its cheek at times that it’s in danger of breaking the skin, but it also knows when to pull back and…well, perhaps not get serious but certainly ease up on the jokes. And while the effects are pretty solid, still holding up more than a decade after its release (one or two dodgy matte shots not withstanding), it’s very much a B-picture at heart, a monster-mash romp that aims for – and achieves – a neat balance of thrills and chills. (Not to mention the odd “Ewwww!”)

So what’s the story? The gang of hijackers led by Studi’s Hanover hire the clapped-out boat crewed by Finnegan and his two-person team (Pantucci and feisty jill-of-all-trades Leila, played by Una Damon) to transport them to a mysterious destination (“Middle of nowhere squared” in Finnegan’s words). Along the way, the nosy Pantucci discovers the gang’s cargo includes several high-powered torpedoes, and it’s revealed that they’re planning on pulling an armed robbery at sea by raiding the Argonautica, a luxurious passenger liner making its maiden voyage.

When they board the ship, however, they discover they’re not the first ones to raid it. A voracious sea monster has arisen from the deep – hence the title, duh – and is using its many long, scaly tentacles to chow down on all and sundry. As the gang’s inside man on the ship, played by the ever-smarmy Anthony Heald (you may remember him as Dr Chilton from The Silence of the Lambs), declares: “They drink you alive, sucking all the fluids out of the body before excreting the skeletal remains.”


So from there it’s the old story of good guys and bad guys being forced to work together if they’re gonna make it out of this one alive, which of course most of them will not. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but then again it doesn’t need to because the wheel works pretty damn well as it stands. And while writer-director Stephen Sommers may have enjoyed greater box-office success with The Mummy and The Mummy Returns (as well as earned a place on my shitlist for taking a can’t-miss concept like Van Helsing and, quite frankly, screwing the pooch), I still believe Deep Rising marks his finest hour.

By the way, that fits in nicely with my theory that a few such journeyman filmmakers such as Sommers have at least one bona fide B-grade classic to their credit. For example, Ron Underwood had a big hit with City Slickers but he reached his peak with the tremendous Tremors. Joseph Ruben’s Sleeping With the Enemy did well at the box-office but Dreamscape was a far better film. (Even Pauline Kael thought so – she compared it to The Manchurian Candidate!) And Chuck Russell has helmed blah blockbusters like Eraser and The Mask but he also did a marvellous job with his 1988 remake of The Blob. Oh, and in answer to your question: yes, I have spent far too long thinking about this.

So, yeah, I adore Deep Rising. I adore the old-school score by Alan Silvestri. I adore the way the sea monster is so enormous, it has little fish swimming around in the fluid in its eyeball. I adore how Trillian starts insulting Pantucci within five seconds of meeting him. I adore Williams seizing his shot at action-hero status with such verve and panache (he really is an underrated and incredibly versatile performer). I adore the greeting that Djimon Hounsou receives when he opens the ship’s safe. And I adore the final scene of the film, which I’m gonna discuss now so look away lest you gaze upon the dreaded SPOILERS…

Having dispatched the sea beast by blowing up the Argonautica, Finnegan, Trillian and Pantucci find themselves washed ashore on an uncharted tropical island. All seems well until they hear a mighty roar, and the camera pulls back to reveal something huge and hostile crashing through the jungle towards them. The last line of the film? Finnegan’s catchphrase: a world-weary “Now what?”

Well, in my mind, an equally well-made and enjoyable sequel. Make it happen, huh, Hollywood?

– Guy Davis


One Response to “Why Guy Davis adores… DEEP RISING”

  1. storyoftheweekclub June 14, 2014 at 9:17 am #

    Not to be a total geek (although this seems a splendid place to be one), but the rad music for DEEP RISING was by Jerry Goldsmith, not Alan Silvestri. Otherwise, I’m totally on board with everything you said!

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