Sony // 1977 // 124 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // July 7th, 2009
Is anything worth the terror of The Deep?
For a few years there in the late 1970s, it looked like Robert Shaw might have a career renaissance based entirely on playing memorable supporting roles in film adaptations of Peter Benchley's oceanic adventure novels. First there was Steven Spielberg's mega-hit Jaws in 1975, then Peter Yates' The Deep in 1977. If Shaw hadn't died suddenly of a heart attack in 1978, perhaps he would have landed in an adaptation of The Girl of the Sea of Cortez, arguably Benchley's finest piece of writing.
While Nick Nolte (Affliction) and Jacqueline Bisset (Bullitt) are billed as The Deep's stars, Shaw steals the show (as he did in Jaws). In this outing, he passes up the salty, eccentric old man of the sea role to play Romer Treece, a clean-cut and well-educated one-time treasure hunter who lives as a hermit in a lighthouse in Bermuda. Treece is drawn reluctantly into adventure when American couple David Sanders (Nolte) and Gail Berke (Bisset) discover an 18th-century medallion while diving near a sunken World War II cargo ship called Goliath. It turns out that Goliath is on top of a much older wreck that may be full of valuable treasure. Treece and Sanders hope to recover the booty with the help of Adam Coffin (Eli Wallach, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly), a grizzled old seaman and lone survivor of the Goliath (Coffin is basically a less trustworthy version of Quint, the role played by Shaw in Jaws). Meanwhile, a Haitian narcotics crime lord named Cloche (Louis Gossett, Jr., An Officer and a Gentleman) takes an interest in the adventure because Goliath was carrying thousands of ampoules of morphine when it was torpedoed. If Treece, Sanders, and Berke are to recover the treasure, they'll first have to deal with the dangerous munitions aboard Goliath, Cloche's army of burly divers, and a huge moray eel.
The Deep is wrongly remembered as a flop. In fact, the movie turned a decent profit (it was the seventh biggest moneymaker of 1977), but was destined to be a box office let-down by way of the inevitable comparisons to Jaws, which was a summer box office phenomenon and the highest grossing film of all time until Star Wars came along. The Deep's reputation hasn't improved over the years because, even putting aside shallow financial comparisons, it still doesn't stack up all that well against Spielberg's tale of the world's most vindictive Charcharodon. Peter Yates was a fine journeyman director who, throughout his career, proved more than capable of delivering tautly paced action movies (Bullitt), dramas (Breaking Away), and thrillers (Suspect). The narrative economy of those films eludes Yates in The Deep, which traipses lazily across most of its (long) running time, fails to deliver much in the way of action (sequences involving a truck-versus-moped chase, and a moray eel biting a guy's face off notwithstanding), and wraps up with one of the lamest freeze-frames in cinema history.
The novel's double-shipwreck conceit proves unwieldy for cinema, leaving viewers to sort out technically complex parallel plotlines involving Treece and Sanders trying to establish the provenance of the items they recover from the old Spanish wreck, while also trying to stop Cloche from recovering Goliath's drugs. The former plotline results in numerous, less-than-riveting scenes of Shaw and Nolte with their noses buried books, while the latter plays out in a series of violent clashes that, because they're staged underwater, essentially play out in slow motion (a land-based fistfight between hulking character actor Robert Tessier and one of Cloche's goons crackles with genuine tension, though). The Deep's languid pace is somewhat offset by Christopher Challis' (The Tales of Hoffman) beautiful cinematography and fine performances by the entire cast, but the movie is far too muddled to achieve classic status. The Deep is too plot-heavy to be a character study; as an adventure tale, it feels like it will never end.
The movie looks quite impressive on Blu-ray. Aerial shots of the Bermudas are particularly gorgeous, delivering vivid colors and detail that is sharper than anything DVD can muster, though not as a crisp as modern nature documentaries shot with high definition video gear. The many underwater sequences, which feature all manner of exotic aquatic life like puffer fish, tiger sharks, moray eels, and Jacqueline Bisset's nipples, have appealing depth and detail while still looking very much like celluloid. Sequences on dry land sport accurate colors and a reasonable, if not eye-popping, level of detail.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio mix is far from reference quality, but it's an impressive expansion of the movie's original stereo track. Dialogue is isolated to the front soundstage but sits comfortably in the overall mix so that it's always discernible. Underwater sequences make decent use of the surround speakers. John Barry's (From Russia with Love) score sounds great.
The disc's offering of extras is slim. "The Making of The Deep" is a 48-minute television program made in the late '70s to promote the film. Narrated by Shaw, it's surprisingly informative if slightly dramatic in its emphasis of the dangers of shooting a feature film underwater (to hear Shaw speak, you'd think that, back in the '70s, studio bean counters and insurance companies didn't put the kibosh on movie stars regularly putting their lives in jeopardy for the sake of a shot). As a side note, children of the '70s are likely to feel a twinge of nostalgia on seeing the spinning, rainbow-colored CBS special presentation logo at the beginning of the program. In addition to the documentary, the disc also contains a half dozen deleted scenes that were part of a three-hour special edition of the film that was broadcast on NBC. The scenes flesh out the characters a bit, but add little to the story. Fans of The Deep are sure to be disappointed (and rightly so) that both cuts of the movie aren't included on this disc. Personally, just the idea of a three-hour cut of The Deep makes me sleepy. These video supplements are all presented in HD, though the unrestored vintage documentary doesn't look it.
That The Deep's pace is languid isn't a problem; that its plot meanders towards a silly and perfunctory conclusion is. Still, it's worth seeing at least once for its beautiful cinematography, as well as fine performances by Robert Shaw, Nick Nolte, and Jacqueline Bisset.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (French)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (Portuguese)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 124 Minutes
Release Year: 1977
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Deleted Scenes