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Case Number 27669

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Leviathan (1989) (Blu-ray)

Shout! Factory // 1989 // 98 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis (Retired) // August 25th, 2014

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All Rise...

Judge Daryl Loomis found this frightfully lacking info on Thomas Hobbes.

Editor's Note

Our review of Leviathan (2014) (Blu-ray), published June 11th, 2015, is also available.

The Charge

It will leave you gasping for air.

Opening Statement

The horror genre has long depended on its own echo chamber for plot hooks, such as the "in space" garbage of the mid to late 1990s, or the more recent found footage business. But in 1989, a strange one became suddenly popular and the disappeared, virtually forever. This was the undersea horror movie and, while there had been a handful of them to come out before and since, there is seemingly no sense that, in the same year, audiences would get James Cameron's high-falutin' The Abyss, Sean S. Cunningham's low-rent DeepStar Six, and this one, the decidedly middle-of-the-road Leviathan, which also happens to be my favorite of the trio and is now on Blu-ray from Scream Factory.

Facts of the Case

At the end of a ninety-day undersea mission to mine silver from the ocean floor, the rag-tag crew is all set to get back to the surface and to their lives. But on one their final ventures out into the water, the roughneck known as "Sixpack" (Daniel Stern, Home Alone) discovers some old Soviet wreckage with a cache of goods inside, which he brings aboard. Soon, though, he starts to get sick and begins to mutate into something seemingly from another world and he's suddenly no longer so friendly. As the crew begins to dwindle, it is up to geologist and crew chief Steven Beck (Peter Weller, Naked Lunch) to not only figure out a way to survive, but to find a way to convince his bosses on the surface to actually come get them on schedule.

The Evidence

Ultimately, Leviathan succeeds better than its two undersea competitors because of what it doesn't try to be. The Abyss, while technically a far superior movie, is bloated and self-important. DeepStar Six tried to be novel in its action/sci-fi/horror hybrid, but is really pretty terrible. Leviathan takes an old-school drive-in movie approach. It's cheap, derivative, and kind of silly, but a whole lot of fun.

Director George Cosmatos (Rambo: First Blood Part II) does some very good work here, opening with a nice sequence of underwater suspense. Well, theoretically underwater, because those scenes were actually filmed on a set under blue lights with dust being blown through the air. It's surprisingly effective and, until I heard that, I hadn't realized it. Knowing that it's true, though, makes it easy to see.

No problem there, though; Leviathan knows that it's cheap and accepts it, but never winks at the camera about it. It's serious about its monster action, but not about the story, which is run-of-the-mill creature plotting and cool with it. There is one excellent bait-and-switch at the beginning, making you think the threat is one obvious thing when it turns out to be something else entirely, something that may not be quite novel, but is an unexpected twist that takes us to the heart of the movie.

The monster itself isn't terrible, but that's mostly because they don't show very much of it. Created by the legendary Stan Winston, it has a nice practical feel, but if you get the notion to freeze-frame and get a good look at the creature, prepare for some disappointment.

Really, Leviathan shines because of the cast, which is an excellent smattering of B-level talent. Peter Weller, my favorite sci-fi star of the era, does great in the lead, but there is much more to praise here. Richard Crenna (Body Heat) is fun as the ship's doctor, while Daniel Stern is excellent as the roughneck "Sixpack." Ernie Hudson (Ghostbusters) is great as the no-nonsense Jones; Amanda Pays (The Flash) is solid as what amounts to a love interest in this movie, which isn't much, but she's tough and fun in the role. With Hector Elizondo (Pretty Woman) and Meg Foster (Masters of the Universe) in supporting roles, Leviathan is full of fun performances, making for a highly entertaining low budget suspense movie.

Leviathan arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Scream Factory, an imprint of Shout! Factory, in a nice little package. The 2.35:1/1080p image looks great. It's nice and clean, with a strong level of detail and very good colors during the indoor scenes, but there are limitations in the "underwater" scenes that keep those parts from looking their best. The sound is excellent, as well, with two Master Audio tracks for your choosing. My preferred is the two-channel track, which is clear and full with well-balanced dialog, music, and effects. The 5.1 option has its merits, though, with a good amount going on in the backend and some very strong use of music, but the dialog sometimes gets muddled in it all.

Extras, while not numerous, are very good. The highlight of the bunch is a 45-minute featurette, "Leviathan: Monster Melting Pot," an exhaustive and fantastic look at the special effects. It consists exclusively of interviews with some of the effects artists who worked on it, but it comes off less as about this movie and more a look at what it was like to work for Stan Winston, which sounds occasionally trying, but mostly like an incredible experience. The other two pieces are straight interviews, the first with Hector Elizondo and the second with Ernie Hudson. Both are interesting, but inessential, and a trailer rounds out the disc.

Closing Statement

Leviathan is a drive-in movie released decades too late. It's derivative of a million movies and, at the time, seemed like a knockoff. But for all of its silliness, it's the underwater horror movie of 1989 that holds up best for me, and with a fairly strong Blu-ray release, I can easily recommend it.

The Verdict

Case dismissed.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 90
Audio: 92
Extras: 60
Acting: 83
Story: 84
Judgment: 85

Perp Profile

Studio: Shout! Factory
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
Audio Formats:
• DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
• DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)
• English (SDH)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 1989
MPAA Rating: Rated R
• Adventure
• Blu-ray
• Horror
• Mystery
• Science Fiction
• Suspense
• Thriller

Distinguishing Marks

• Featurette
• Interviews
• Trailer


• IMDb

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