Remake This: Here’s Why ‘Sphere’ (1998) Needs A Second Shot
A case for Hollywood to revisit this mishandled movie and do it again ... right.
Sphere is a 1998 sci-fi thriller about a spaceship discovered under three hundred years’ worth of coral growth at the bottom of the ocean.
Sphere is a bad movie but it’s a great story based off a terrific book by Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park), and one of the greatest mysteries in modern cinema (from a list I compiled in my head) is why the heck it hasn’t been remade and done better. While I’m sure there are legalities and whatnots about who owns the rights to this and that, for us the average movie fan, none of that matters. We just want to watch something great and if you’re even a passing fan of sci-fi and head-scratchers Sphere the story has everything you want … except the movie itself is a crushing disappointment with one frustrating misstep after another.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Directed by Barry Levinson, the story follows a team of scientific experts, marine biologist Dr. Beth Halperin (Sharon Stone), mathematician Dr. Harry Adams (Samuel L. Jackson), astrophysicist Dr. Ted Fielding (Liev Schreiber), and psychologist Dr. Norman Goodman (Dustin Hoffman) who travel to floor of the Pacific Ocean where an alien spacecraft lies beneath layers of coral. It’s estimated to be 300 years old, except that it’s not, as they discover, an alien ship at all but in fact an American vessel from the future (or considerable past).
Inside is, of course, and by no means a spoiler, a large fluid-based sphere of unknown material and design, an object that has no entrance and reflects everything around it but the people. Harry then makes a disturbing observation, that they are all destined to die here without knowledge of the ship reaching the surface since if they had, then their information would alter the destiny of the crew that came to end up traveling through time to get here. Mind blown. Now we’re getting deep, and this is the best stuff about the the book and the movie. To reveal more would be a disservice to those still willing to jump in, though be warned the water’s pretty shallow.
LET’S TALK: The problem is, the film is a slog of a watch, failing to capitalize on the wonder of the discovery nor the potential of the science behind it, instead babbling about with jargon and sciency talk that feels like a coverup to hide the fact that the screenwriters are padding the movie rather than giving it depth. Yes, there are some thrilling moments, but way more than not, they are moments of gut-twisting frustration or letdown as opportunities for suspense, mystery and even relationships are lost to a film that is clearly lacking enough budget to make the visual effects work and a script that loses all its steam before the halfway mark. Scenes that should have us gawking with our mouth agape only hint at the possibility before fizzling to hackneyed conversations with little umph. It’s too bad because the cast does what they can and honestly are the best reason to watch, aside from the hope that Crichton’s excellent book might actually land on screen with some pizazz. Sadly, it doesn’t.
So why do it again? Well, there’s a number of good reasons, with the best being that yes, CGI has come a long way and it would really give the production a boost if given the right team and time. Not that I’m suggesting this very intelligent story be reduced to effects, but there is some startling imagery in the novel that really needs to be translated visually to sell the story, especially some of the more frightening mental machinations the sphere doles out in the latter half. With modern CGI, whoa, this could be good.
It’s also time we started challenging ourselves with sci-fi again, something that has gone the wayside in the past few decades with few films in the genre pushing audiences to think a little more deeply about what they are watching. When was the last time a mainstream sci-fi film had you actually thinking about the story rather than the action? Interstellar did for most. Arrival is borderline perfect. But think about the heaps that don’t. Sphere has that potential for this and more, even while it entertains.
Yes, it’s is a head-scratcher of a story, brilliant as it as, though certainly one that has been done in variations before. Pick just about any lost in space movie from Solaris to Event Horizon and you’ll start to see some similarities, however there is also enough here that could make it all its own, from the characters to the very cool mystery they encounter. We need a visionary to take this by the reigns, someone like Alex Garland or Korea’s Bong Joon-ho, directors who can deliver a story but challenge the viewer to think about its meaning. Someone make this happen.
What do you think? Have you seen Sphere or read the book? Who would be your dream cast? Let us know in the comments below.