Film Review: DeepStar Six (1989)



The Abyss, despite actually being very good example of science fiction cinema, represents a rare misfire in the career of James Cameron and it is relatively obscure compared with his other films. In its time, however, it was quite influential film or, to be more precise, it was quite influential even before actual premiere. Parts of its premise – namely, the deep undersea setting – served as inspiration for number of films made quickly and rushed into theatres in order to exploit its fame. The first of them was DeepStar Six, 1989 science fiction horror film directed by Sean S. Cunningham.

The plot takes place at DeepStar Six, experimental US Navy underwater facility at the bottom of the ocean, which serves both as nuclear missiles platform and research station. The crew is about to be rotated and before that happens, project leader John Van Gelder (played by Marius Weyers) insists on missile silos being finished. His plans are threatened by the discovery of huge cavern under the proposed site which Van Gelder orders to be destroyed, despite protestations of marine biologist Dr. Scarpelli (played by Nia Peeples), who wants to study various organisms that live there, including some that might have survived from ancient prehistoric times. Her warnings are unheeded and the crew soon discovers that the cavern contained something huge, able to move at great speed and with apparent taste for human flesh. The crew, unable to stop prehistoric monster that wrecks their submersibles and the station itself, decides to evacuate to the surface. Further reason is in that neurotic crew member Snyder (played by Miguel Ferrer), after misinterpreting protocol, detonated missiles and damaged the station’s nuclear reactor which is about to explode. Survivors have to evade the monster and find the way to surface, but not before going through hours of decompression without which they would die on the way from the ocean’s depths.

The main problem of the DeepStar Six is the lack of originality. Cunningham and his scriptwriters copied another Cameron’s classic - Aliens - and did so in a way that made their film significantly worse in comparison. Cunningham, on the other hand, tried to do many things right. Characters are relatively well-drawn before the action starts and they are mostly played by relatively unknown character actors, making their ultimate fate hard to guess until the very end (although not so much for audience familiar with Hollywood cliches). There is an attempt to make film somewhat realistic and most of the characters that die in the film die by accident rather than being killed by monster. Cunnigham obviously took important lesson from Spielberg’s Jaws and refused to show the actual monster until very late in the film. When that happens, however, the audience will be disappointed because of the lack of budget and lack of imagination – prehistoric arthropod (something like large shark-like crab) looks like it was made in cheap 1950s B-films. Cunningham further ruins his film with “unpredictable” twist at the very end, which is copied both from Aliens and his own Friday the 13th, and which doesn’t make much sense if the film’s science is to be taken seriously. The cast does solid, although unremarkable job, with the exception of Miguel Ferrer who is delightfully hammy as crew member who loses his sanity. In the end, although mostly watchable, DeepStar Six can be seen more like a curiosity than source of entertainment.

RATING: 4/10 (+)

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