Release Date: March 17, 1989
Genre: Adventure, Horror, Mystery
Director: George P. Cosmatos
Writers: David Peoples (Story & Screenplay), Jeb Stuart (Screenplay)
Starring: Peter Weller, Richard Crenna, Amanda Pays, Daniel Stern, Ernie Hudson, Michael Carmine, Lisa Eilbacher, Meg Foster, Hector Elizondo
WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
1989 was the year of the underwater Sci-Fi films. First, you had the highly anticipated “The Abyss”, namely because it was a James Cameron movie and the special effects were the most advanced effects at the time which would evolve in Cameron’s follow up film, “Terminator 2”.The second film was the obscure “Deep Star Six”, directed by famed “Friday the 13th” creator Sean S. Cunningham. Finally you had “Leviathan” directed by George P. Cosmatos who was known at the time for directing two Sylvester Stallone movies, “First Blood Part II” and “Cobra” (the latter was my very first review for this blog still available for your reading pleasure!) All three movies did not do well at the box office. “The Abyss” made $90 million, but it had a budget of over $50 million so while it made a teeny profit, it was very underwhelming considering the magnitude of the film. “Deep Star Six” sank as fast as the Titanic. “Leviathan”debut at #2, but quickly drowned the following week. While underwater Sci-Fi films were nothing new, it seemed the audience wasn’t all that invested into those concepts. As we approach the 30thyear landmarks for these films, I decided to re-watch “Leviathan” again.
The first time I watched it, I reacted in a way most people did when it first came out: mortified (and not in a good way). When I decided to watch this movie again in hopes of it appearing on this very blog, I went into it with no expectations and erased all those feelings I had the first time around. After watching it the second time, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Even though it’s a blatant rip-off of “The Abyss” along with two other iconic Sci-Fi Horror films “Alien” and “The Thing”, it was entertaining. I liked it so much; I began playing it several times. As a matter of fact, I have it playing in the background as I’m typing up this review. Before I get into the nitty gritty of the film, I’ll brief you on the plot.
“Leviathan” tells the story of a group of underwater miners who work for Tri-Oceanic Corp. They’re finishing their last days of a three month operation mining for silver in the Atlantic Ocean. The team consists of eight members, Glen ‘Doc’ Thompson (Richard Crenna), Elizabeth ‘Willie’ Williams (Amanda Pays), Buzz ‘Sixpack’ Parrish (Daniel Stern), Justin Jones (Ernie Hudson), Tony ‘DeJesus’ Rodero (Michael Carmine), Bridget ‘Bow’ Bowman (Lisa Eilbacher) and G.P. Cobb (Hector Elizondo). They are lead by Geologist Steven Beck (Peter Weller) who reports to the CEO of Tri-Oceanic Corp, Martin (Meg Foster). During a mining operation involving Sixpack and Willie (who are working as punishment for an altercation), Sixpack falls of a ravine and goes missing. Willie searches for him and discovers a sunken Russian ship named ‘Leviathan’ with Sixpack inside with some sunken treasure. As the crew looks through what was lost in the ship, Doc uncovers a video tape. It’s a tape containing a warning by the Capitan of the ‘Leviathan’. Beck and Doc aren’t sure what the Captain is referring too. The rest of the crew prepares to take a shot of vodka found in the ‘Leviathan’ only to finding out after tasting it that Beck had switched the bottles and they have water instead of vodka. Unbeknowst to the crew, Sixpack hid a separate canteen filled with the vodka that was recovered and he and Bowman have a drink. Few hours later, Sixpack starts to feel sick with chills and flaky skin. He succumbs to his illness several hours later which triggers the doc to perform tests on the rest of the crew. When Bowman sees Sixpack, she decides to take her own life rather than succumb to the illness. As the crew tries to throw the bodies away, the mutation fuses together and attacks the crew. A part of the creature manages to sever itself from the body and develop into a whole new being which goes on to attack the crew and grow by consuming human blood. The crew declare an emergency but Martin tells them there is a hurricane approaching them and their rescue is delayed by twelve hours. The crew has no choice but to find a way to destroy the monster.
I’ll start with the cast. Peter Weller is the lead in the film as Beck. He is in charge of the crew and its mission. He is very commanding and by the book when it comes to company rules. In the beginning of the film, he feels out of place and senses he doesn’t have the respect of the crew. You see his leadership and command develop throughout the movie. I love Peter Weller. He is a person who is dedicated in every role he does and this role was no exception. His iconic performance in “Robocop” groomed him for this part. Richard Crenna who plays Doc is a loner and disliked by the entire crew especially in the beginning of the film. They feel he has something to hide and as the film progresses, he does what he can to not reveal what is happening to the crew with the exception of Beck. Crenna is another actor I’ve enjoyed for a long time. I think all the performances were good with the exception of Meg Foster. I know she is supposed to play the disconcerted corporate executive, but she comes off as wooden and monotone. I’ve seen her play this part before in “They Live”. I don’t know if that’s her style, but I didn’t care for it.
The film is well paced when you compare it to the other two movies I mentioned. None of the scenes drag out too long which keeps your attention focused. There’s plenty of jump scares and tense confrontations between the crew. Legendary composer Jerry Goldsmith provides the music and it sounds eerily familiar to his composition in “Alien”. Wouldn’t surprise me if he was influenced by that film since this film takes several elements from it. The special effects were solid. There is a ton of blood, but not too much gore. Any gore that appeared in the movie was either off camera or was in spurts such as in the reveal of the monster in the middle of film or near the end.
Speaking of the monster, that was without a doubt the biggest disappointment of the movie. The movie does a good job taking the old sci-fi horror concept of not revealing too much of the monster and letting the audience until the second half of the movie. The concept of the creature is supposed to be a genetic alteration of a sea creature, but fuses with people it has either come into contact with or has the same genetic mutation in their bodies. One shot you see this gigantic blob with tentacles and faces of the crew members it has merged with. It reminds me of the pillar with all the faces from the “Hellraiser” movies. And when the monster emerges at the very end, you can see how fake the head is. It was reminiscent of a monster in a Japanese Monster Movie. What boggles my mind is that the creature design and the effects were done by legendary effects man, Stan Winston. This was the guy that created the Terminator, the dinosaurs in “Jurassic Park” and the Alien Queen in “Aliens”. What the hell happened here? Did he not have the budget to make something unique and terrifying? Did he run out of ideas? It’s a damn shame. The creature could’ve been something unique and give the film a better lasting impression.
Out of the three movies I mentioned in 1989, I would put “Leviathan” second behind “The Abyss”. The problem the movie had as I mentioned in the beginning was that it borrows too much from the other iconic movies I mentioned. It’s not original in terms of concept. I do give it creative points for the source of the disease and the effects that it causes. Don’t let all that take away from the fact that it is an enjoyable B-Movie and it’s a movie I’ve found myself watching over and over again. That’s always been the strength of George P. Cosmatos’ films. He doesn’t follow a strict genre. He’s willing to take chances and his movies come about as being fun and entertaining.
TRIVIA (Per IMDB)
- 50 to 60 spec drawings of the potential look for the creature were submitted to director George P. Cosmatos. All the drawings were combined for the final definitive look for Leviathan which was a huge, fish-headed beast with dagger like teeth with the ability to absorb recognizable characteristics from its victims.
- There are very few scenes in the film that were actually shot underwater, as production went for the “dry for wet” look. With most of the scenes inside the Shack taking place on sound stages and a tank measuring 130ft x 270ft.
- Audio from this film is sampled in the song “Reptile” featured in the Nine Inch Nails album “The Downward Spiral.”
- According to the sleeve notes on the DVD, a dry for wet lighting test by Alex Thomson used an old army tank for the wreck of the Leviathan,and some make shift diving suits were made using
- Chicken feathers were used at one point of shooting the underwater sequences to suggest things were floating around in the water. According to Alex Thomson this did not work because the feathers floating side to side instead of up and down and the idea had to be scrapped altogether.
- Hector Elizondo’s character of Cobb is named after the film’s production designer, Ron Cobb. Also, Michael Carmine’s character of Tony ‘DeJesus’ Rodero, shares the same last name of the film’s first assistant director, ‘Kuki Lopez Rodero’.