Thursday, August 14, 2014

Quick Review: Leviathan

 On a whim, I decided to watch Leviathan a few days ago. While I'm pretty sure I never saw it on video, there was a sneaking sense of familiarity that crept in as the film played out. Normally I'd attribute that to the fact that Leviathan is a transparent knock-off of John Carpenter's The Thing, crossed with Alien for good measure, but parts of the movie (particularly the ending) rustled up a few memories. Maybe I saw it on television, years ago, and forgot about it. That's both good and bad, because while Leviathan is not what you'd call a good movie, per se, it is exactly the kind of flick that would take Summer Fest by storm.

 Released in March of 1989, Leviathan had the unfortunate distinction of being the third underwater-based thriller, and it landed between the much worse Deepstar Six and James Cameron's The Abyss. In fact, if you remember Leviathan at all (and haven't seen it), you're probably thinking of Deepstar Six. I wouldn't say that Leviathan isn't memorable, but because it isn't as terrible / great as the movies that came out immediately before and after it that are, roughly speaking, the same kind of movie, it went largely forgotten. Directed by George P. Cosmatos (Cobra) and written by David Webb Peoples (Soldier) and Jeb Stuart (Lock Up)*, Leviathan isn't quite bad enough to be really fun, but not good enough to rise above its derivative nature. It's entertaining enough, but that's about it.

 Somewhere off the coast of Florida(?), a crew of deep sea miners are closing out the end of their 60 day shift two miles** below the surface, when they make a strange discovery: a sunken Russian vessel called, appropriately, Leviathan. It appears to have been deliberately sunken, but records indicate that Leviathan is an active ship in the Baltic sea. The corpses of the crew have unusual deformities, and the ships log (a videotape, by the way) indicate some kind of "infection." When the crew members foolishly decide to partake of the vodka pilfered from the Leviathan, strange things begin to happen, and the company they work for backtracks on their promise to extract the team. Can they save themselves, or will the fate of the Leviathan be theirs to share?

 According to IMDB (and, I guess, the credits), the crew of Tri-Oceanic Corp's mining facility have names, but to be honest you're only going to remember them by their nicknames (handily written on their suits, for some reason). Names like "Six Pack," "DeJesus", "Doc," and "Becky," given to the commander of the crew, a geologist with a demonstrable inability to lead. In no particular order, they're played by Peter Weller (Screamers), Daniel Stern (C.H.U.D.), Hector Elizondo (American Gigolo), Ernie Hudson (The Crow), Amanda Pays (Spacejacked), Michael Carmine (Invasion U.S.A.), and Lisa Eilbacher (10 to Midnight), with a special guest appearance by Richard Crenna (Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell) as "Doc." Doc is notably absent when Beck (Weller) is overseeing a routine mining operation that goes bad. DeJesus (Carmine)'s suit malfunctions and almost implodes, and Beck has no idea how to help other than to insist he's fine. He is, in fact, fine and comes back safely, but it's clear nobody trusts Beck's leadership skills. Doc doesn't really have an excuse for where he was or what he was doing (he makes some joke about "golf").

 Early on, Leviathan does its best impersonation of Alien: the crew is just a bunch of blue collar stereotypes trying to get along on the station for "three more days." We're treated to some uninteresting exposition and "character development" in the broadest sense possible: SixPack (Stern) is horny all the time, Jones (Hudson) hates bad weather, Bowman (Eilbacher) has big boobs, Willie (Pays) is British and training for NASA. Eventually Willie and Sixpack find Leviathan, and in his infinite wisdom, Sixpack steals the ship's safe, conveniently the one with all of the medical reports, captains logs, and vodka. Think of it as the "exposition trunk" from Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II. The vodka is spiked, of course, because how else would you trick Russian Naval crew members into being genetically altered?

 Yes, genetically altered. Into fish monsters. (SPOILER) That's about as good of an explanation as Doc can come up with for what happens to SixPack and Bowman, and they just barely get their fused corpses (?) out of the station before all hell breaks loose. Unfortunately for them, a tentacle breaks away and two worm-like monsters grow out of it. Also, Cobb (Elizondo) gets raked across the chest, so he also changes, and uh, yeah. Look, rules stop being important at a certain point - Leviathan kind of turns into The Thing, but without the benefit of the "who's really real and who's infected?" angle. See if you can guess who the last three people to make it to the surface are. Then guess if all three of them are rescued or not. If you've seen Deep Blue Sea, you'll have a rough idea.

 I'm not convinced that Leviathan takes place in the future, because while there weren't any deep sea mining expeditions / stations to my knowledge in 1989, everything from the technology to the fashion inside the station screams "Late 80s" and when the survivors surface, there's nothing about the rescue copter or the base they land on that similarly makes the case it wasn't contemporaneous. But then again, there's all sorts of gear used for mining underwater (including the suits) that seem suspiciously high tech in a low rent way. It's not really addressed, so you can speculate as you watch Leviathan, I guess.

 What Leviathan has going for it is that the goopy, gooey monster effects (that also remind you of The Thing) are courtesy of makeup vets Tom Woodruff and Alec Gillis (every Alien movie after the first one) and a willingness to be pretty gross. That's good, because other than rampant profanity from Weller and Hudson late in the movie, Leviathan is pretty tame. I can easily see how it can be cut down to air on television, although I have no idea how they get away with the last shot on broadcast television. The ending, in fact, is the reason I'd really recommend Leviathan - it's a one-two punch (almost literally) of "no, they aren't really going to do that" moments guaranteed to elicit laughter when it really shouldn't. One of them moves Leviathan into "also ripping off Jaws" territory. The other involves the shady Tri-Oceanic Corporation representative, played by Meg Foster (They Live). Both of them involve Peter Weller doing things I did not expect him to in any movie.

 To be honest, Leviathan isn't really anything remarkable, but it's charming in a lowbrow way. It has just enough going for it to keep you interested, but you probably won't remember a lot of the movie thirty minutes later. You'll have fun if you pair it with a few cold ones and some like minded friends, but it's hardly the sort of movie that's going to make or break your weekend. If you happen to like The Abyss, JawsJohn Carpenter's The Thing, and want to see what it looked like if the "B" team had a go at it, Leviathan is right up your alley. It's really the kind of movie that Syfy should be making, the kind of "B" movie that used to be more prevalent. Nowadays it would look a lot cheaper and be crammed on shelves with other lousy CGI "spectacles" and "mockbusters." So on that level, I guess it has an edge. So that's something Leviathan has going for it: it's the kind of "B" movie that you'd like to see more of these days.

 * Yes, that's a totally unfair representation - Cosmatos also directed the much better known Tombstone and Rambo: First Blood Part II. Peoples wrote or co-wrote Blade Runner, Twelve Monkeys, Unforgiven, and Ladyhawke. Stuart co-wrote Die Hard and The Fugitive. That said, it's a stretch to say Leviathan is anywhere near those movies.
** If you want to get technical, the opening text states the team is 16,000 Mikes Below the Surface, which is more than two miles, but at one point Jones says something about being "two miles" away from escaping.

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