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Retrospective Film Review: Barry Levinson’s ‘Sphere’

Sunday 03 May 2015
Words Ailis Mara

Alas infuriatingly more derivative than its source material, Levinson’s adaptation of the Michael Crichton novel is nevertheless an occasionally effectively taut slice of psycho-sci-fi replete with an A-list cast, who, admittedly, have seen better material.

Riffing on everything from Alien to The Abyss, the film finds mathematician Harry (Samuel L. Jackson), marine biologist Beth (Sharon Stone), astrophysicist Ted (Live Schreiber), and psychologist Norman (Dustin Hoffman) being flown out to the middle of the ocean where the Navy have discovered an unidentified three-hundred-year-old spacecraft embedded in the coral. It transpires it has picked up some kind of probe on its journey (the titular sphere) and gifts the power of physical manifestation to its unwitting wielders.

The film is handsome enough and the quad-ensemble charismatise themselves out of narrational and budgetary failings with aplomb, but there’s an all-pervading feeling the film can’t help but go down with its own ship. On the plus side, Elliot Goldenthal’s score sturm and drangs the urgent intensity along nicely, and Peter Coyote does a suitably hissable line in scuzzball egotists, and there are some nifty, if subtle VFX effects. But for a film that ostensibly seeks to explore the calamitous notion of unrestrained free will, there’s precious little soul to go around. Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar recently proved that heart makes a capable stand-in for logic, but Levinson’s film, though at times possessing of slivers of inspiration, remains as cold and unwelcoming as its kilometer-deep underwater habitat.