Twenty years ago this week, one of the greatest cinematic experiences ever committed to film was released. You probably already know the film I am speaking of, a film bursting with top-notch performances, state of the art special effects and one of the most iconic and enduring soundtracks of our generation. This film needs no further introduction.
Ladies and Gentlemen Deep Blue Sea!
Deep Blue Sea burst (Swam?) onto the scene in 1999, a classmate among other iconic films like American Pie, Eyes Wide Shut, Ten Things I Hate About You, Cruel Intentions, American Beauty and a ton of other boring, sharkless movies about people trying to get into each other’s pants/pies. (Side note –what is it about Jason Biggs that he is exclusively cast as a horny loser? The man is in his forties now, why won’t they let him play a character that doesn’t have the urges of a thirteen year old?)
While the other movies were off winning their precious awards, Deep Blue Sea was doing what movies should do –have a parrot as comic relief. What’s that you say, maybe the ship’s chef shouldn’t have a parrot in the kitchen with him at all times? Maybe all of their food is covered in parrot fecal matter as parrots have little control of their bowels? That’s because you don’t understand art, LL Cool J, or Deep Blue Sea for that matter.
The beauty of the movie and what makes it watchable 20 years later, is that it didn’t set out to make a bad movie, the way SyFy Network and any 22 year old with a camera, a couple buddies and a YouTube channel does today. This is not the kid from Mr. Belvedere paying his rent by running from a dino-chicken for your 3 am entertainment. This was a big budget movie, with 90’s actors at the height of their fame, craft services and a friggin Skarsgard. This is an example of when a movie wants to be good, but fails so spectacularly to achieve that goal that it becomes wonderful in a very special way. This -is a classically good bad movie.
In Deep Blue Sea, a group of scientists lead by Thomas Jane, Aaron Eckhardt’s understudy in probably every role ever, are tinkering around with modified sharks, making them bigger and smarter. Someone apparently looked at a great white shark and thought, “Look at this puny idiot. Let’s make him whale sized and able to do my taxes.” Samuel L. Jackson reprises his role as badass scientist who learned nothing about messing with Mother Nature in his experiences in either Jurassic Park or Sphere. Michael Rappaport is there to be his delightful self. I’ve said this before and I will say this again, Michael Rappaport makes everything better. Friends? Wouldn’t have been as good without a dash of Rappaport. True Romance? Now you’ve got Rappaport and Balki. Making a stew tonight? Invite Michael Rappaport over and have him read you the directions. I know little about the man personally, just his roles, so I hope he doesn’t spend his spare time shooting pigeons and picking fights with Selena Gomez on the internet. Stay gold Rappaport.
Now remember, this was 1999. We saw movies in big rooms called theaters and they weren’t all part of a “universe”. After a movie left these big rooms in order to see a one you would need to go to a smaller building a rent a rectangular object that archeological experts call a “VHS cassette” and play them on a device called a VCR. This movie was written with love. The script went to a Hollywood executive, he read it, cut another line and said “Giant, super intelligent sharks? Fantastic. Get Mr. Jackson on the phone.”
What could go wrong in an underwater research facility cut off from communication due to a tropical storm? Mr. Jackson could tell you, but I think he’s realized that some fictional people are too stupid to live. Do the sharks get out? Of course. Unlike dinosaurs or Coachella attendees, sharks can’t get out on land and ruin your day with their mass consumption and stupid hats. If you stay out of the water you should be safe, right? Rule of Jaws? Well, the underwater facility, a super safe place to breed super intelligent giant sharks happens to be flooding. Cue the parrot. “Uh-Oh”. Who could have dreamed that might happen?
Now, the movie doesn’t mention how the sharks are able to so fluidly expand and detract their size. Perhaps it’s part of the genetic tinkering. Somehow, sharks previously shown to be the size of a city bus can slip through narrow hallways in chest deep water. Somehow they retain the element of surprise. Has a city bus every surprised you? By being on time maybe or not feature a man fighting with a dirty puppet, but other than that you usually see them coming.
Deep Blue Sea is a time capsule of a long gone era, when heart was put into all theatrical releases because people believed. They believed in making money and thought they could entertain you at the same time. This was an era of the movie soundtrack, when you forced an iconic rapper to come up with a rap about goddamn sharks and make it a hit. And L.L. did it. I still remember the chorus “Deeper, Bluest (My Hat is Like a Sharks Fin)” .
I can’t name five Beatles songs, but my mind has indelibly etched that musical promo in my head. This was a time when people at the club danced to a song about a hat being like a shark’s fin, whatever that means. That analogy doesn’t even make sense L.L., hat bills are horizontal, not at all like a sharks fin. Unless your preferred headwear is a three cornered hat of Revolutionary War era, this reference does not apply. You do have my sympathies though. If I was contractually obligated to write a rap about lemurs, I might shoehorn something into an old draft too. (dropping this fall, my new track, “Stranger, Weirdest: My House Smells Like a Lemur’s Den”).
In one short decade, science and computers were no longer magical theories and boxes that only the staunchest of nerds were familiar with. They were in our homes and we only partially understood them. Like housecats, we fear and distrust that which we do not know, notably the mailman. Unlike housecats, humans make large budget movies depicting the worst possible outcome of scientific and technological advancement, our way of warning real scientist that trying to cure diabetes will inevitably produce a strain of zombie lemurs, controlled by the sentient internet, that will ravage the country and force us to live in burned out dumpsters in the Arby’s parking lot. At least that’s what we thought in 1999. At least now we have Captain America! He’d save us!
Wait, we still have Cap right? I was Instagramming during Endgame and wasn’t paying attention.