Sphere – Overshadowed by Event Horizon?
On 13th February 1998, Sphere was released by Warner Bros. 25 years later, it is time to look back at the movie and see where it stands in film history. Early 1998 was always going to be difficult for any movie, as every movie got overshadowed by Titanic which constantly shone at the Box Office.
Sphere was directed by Oscar-Winning director Barry Levinson. He had previously won his Oscar for Rain Man, while also getting a nomination for directing Bugsy. After he directed Sphere, he tended to lean more into comedies, never getting to the levels he achieved during the 1980s and early 1990s. The stand-out movie for this era would be The Bay, though he always worked with the biggest names in Hollywood.
Sphere is based on of a novel by Michael Crichton, the man who wrote Jurassic Park, Westworld and the TV smash hit ER. The 1990s saw plenty of his work being turned into visual media following Jurassic Park’s success, Rising Sun, Disclosure, Congo and The 13th Warrior followed. This proves that he was one of the most popular authors to adapt in the decade.
Writer-director Kurt Wimmer adapted the screenplay in what is one of his first writing credits. He went on to direct Equilibrium and Ultraviolet where he helps created his own form of action fighting known as Gun Kata. The main screenplay writers are Paul Attanasio and Stephen Hauser. Paul is a two-time Oscar-nominated writer, while the pair previously worked together on Disclosure.
Dustin Hoffman is the lead in the movie, and the two-time Oscar Winner (Rain Man and Kramer vs Kramer) teams up with Barry Levinson for the fourth time. The pair had previously worked on Rain Man, Sleepers and Wag the Dog. In the 1990s Dustin Hoffman was in demand by seemingly selective with his roles making him a great choice for the leading role in the movie.
Sharon Stone took the female leading role in the movie. The Oscar-Nominated actress was at the peak of her career in the 1990s following her head-turning performance in Basic Instinct. She went on to other movies, with Casino being one of the biggest movies to her name.
Samuel L Jackson is another actor that was in high demand in the 1990s. having previously appeared in the Michael Crichton adaptation of Jurassic Park. It was Pulp Fiction that made everybody takes Samuel L Jackson seriously and he followed that up with Die Hard: With a Vengeance. Samuel was on his way to the superstar franchise man we know now.
In the supporting roles, we have Peter Coyote a serial supporting star, usually in some form of authority figure. Here, he is the man leading the mission. Scream star Liev Schreiber continued his own series of supporting roles that make a bigger impact in the film. Rounding the supporting cast was musician Queen Latifah in one of her first major movie roles.
The story follows a group of select scientists, a psychologist, astrophysicist, biochemist and mathematician who have been recruited for a discovery in the Pacific Ocean. They must travel 1000 feet below the surface to the ocean floor to understand a structure. The evidence suggests it has been there for nearly 300 years, but once they get closer, not everything seems as clean-cut as before.
Once they enter the structure, they find an object, a perfect sphere just floating, it reflects everything except the crew. With a storm coming on the surface, the crew are left below the surface until it passes over. This sees them being isolated, as more unexplained events around the structure happen. They must work together to solve the problem, as unexplained events are starting to have devastating consequences.
This is a story that has a very interesting concept. The idea of a discovery on the planet that can’t be easily explained is what we have seen elsewhere. However, a lot of these ideas have been done a lot better in the future. Arrival might well be the best version of the idea, as it keeps us wondering about communication. Sadly, despite having an interesting concept, this story ends up going in a mixed direction, never gaining the focus it should have with the source idea.
Sphere was made with a budget of $73 Million and only took $50 Million at the Worldwide Box Office. It only opened at number three behind Titanic and the new release The Wedding Singer, which goes down as a big disappointment. Sphere only ended up staying in the top 10 for 4 weeks, which is even more disappointing for a movie with this sized budget.
Sphere is currently sat on 11% on Rotten Tomatoes with only 6 Fresh reviews. Roger Ebert is quoted with ‘The only excellence is in the acting, and even then the screenplay puts the characters through so many U-turns that dramatic momentum is impossible.’ Even the fresh review from Empire Magazine’s Jeff Dawson reads similarly. ‘Decent performances and an abundance of good ideas and effects. But there is definitely a lack of pace to the dramatic tension, and you may find yourself just not caring.’
Metacritic offers a much more balanced response. Even though the movie on receives a score of 35, out of the 21 reviews, 10 are mixed, with the remaining 11 negatives. The New Yorker’s Sarah Kerr gives the most positive score of 60.
Event Horizon Shadow
In August 1997, Event Horizon was released. This movie saw a group searching for an abandoned spacecraft which leads to them having a nightmarish trip. Event Horizon went on to gain a massive cult following. It does feel like any movie around the same era would have struggled to make an impact. The home release of Event Horizon would have been happening around the same time as Sphere’s cinematic release. The fact this movie ends up using a lot more psychological horror over gore. You can see why it never reached the same level.
Great title for a post. I like both films, but ultimately Event Horizon is far, far superior. Have you seen the recent Underwater?
Thanks, I have seen Underwater, but have wanted to give it a rewatch recently