As I said, though, the human characters really are secondary to the sharks themselves, and the movie never shies away from letting us see them and revelling in what they’re capable of. Their newfound genius allows them to get away with some crazy things – systematically destroying camera feeds and knowing how to crash a helicopter, just to name a couple – but they themselves never become so cheesy as to undermine the danger they present. There are some weird things that need to be overlooked about them, like the fact they randomly seem to change size to fit through doorways and can completely hide under what amounts to two or three feet of water in flooded areas, but the things they actually pull off are pretty neat.
Take, for example, the scene in which Skarsgard’s Jim, strapped to a gurney after having his arm ripped off by one of the sharks, has fallen into the water and is presumably killed, the helicopter meant to rescue him has crashed into Aquatica’s radio tower, and the group is back in the laboratory wondering what to do. As they talk, Jackson’s character, Russell Franklin, notices something through the giant window that separates them all from the watery abyss on the other side, and as it draws closer, they – and us – realize that one of the sharks is hurtling towards the glass with a very-much-alive Jim, still strapped down, in its mouth with enough force to send him smashing into the window and ultimately break it, beginning the flooding of facility. It’s an absolutely solid moment, immediately demonstrative of exactly what these sharks are capable of on the fly, and lends them real weight as something to be even more fearful of than normal.
Again, Deep Blue Sea thrives in these types of moments and sequences, never letting up off the gas pedal once that window is shattered and the sharks’ plan is set in motion. When Preacher is hunted and corralled into his own oven by one of the sharks, it’s tense and darkly funny. When a handful of survivors are forced to climb up an emergency ladder in the elevator shaft as it fills up with water from below, a shark circling its way up to them in the process, it gets the heart pumping, especially when the inevitable happens and one of them goes tumbling in. And that ending, with one shark left, the facility mere seconds away from being underwater enough for it to escape, and only two people left to stop it works in spades because – after everything we’ve witnessed these things do throughout the film – it’s easy to root for it to be stopped in spite of the fact we should otherwise sympathize with it for merely wanting to be free again.
And, of course, I can’t get away without mentioning the gift this film bestowed upon us in the form of Franklin’s death scene. By now, the shock of the scene has worn off for those of us who’ve seen it countless times – personally, I’d envy anyone able to go into this film nowadays for their first time unspoiled merely for this moment – but back in 1999, seeing Samuel L. Jackson get chomped down on and dragged into the depths of a moon pool mid-sentence of a rousing speech on survival was a jaw-dropping event, and one that the film still deserves a lot of merit for pulling the trigger on.
Deep Blue Sea also earns credit for its production design. From the exterior layout of Aquatica itself to the dim, flooded halls of its interior, it never feels cheap, and that’s only bolstered by the fact that the film also didn’t skimp on using practical effects. Granted, there are a number of shots throughout of CGI sharks that look absolutely terrible now in 2017, but that’s relatively forgivable in light of the film’s age and its usage of animatronics.
The design of the sharks is pretty slick, with the animatronics themselves pretty terrifying – in a good way – in sequences like when Jim gets his arm bitten off or when one of the sharks is doggedly attempting to smash through the oven and get Preacher. Coupled with what they’re capable of, the appearance of the sharks isn’t what you’d want to be thinking of while floating out in open water, and in terms of the effectiveness of the film, that’s solid work.
Had Deep Blue Sea tried to be anything more – or even less – it would be easier to pick apart its flaws. Yes, the CGI is dated, and little things like Preacher’s faith can come off a little heavy-handed, but ultimately the film delivered on its promise of simply pitting people against super-smart sharks and seeing what happens. It’s even got a pretty awesome, memorable theme song embedded in Trevor Rabin’s score that I personally still find myself humming all these years later.
It may not be Jaws, but it also doesn’t deserve to be anywhere near the other end of the shark movie spectrum and in the presence of so much utter dreck. It’s fun, it’s thrilling, and it’s entertaining without devolving into outright cheese, and there’s nothing wrong with a film that’s unabashedly little more than that sometimes, particularly when it’s only continued to hold up pretty well after all these years.