February 16, 1998 -- "Sphere" reminds me of "Event Horizon," but there are a couple of differences. While "Event Horizon" was primarily a horror story in the guise of science fiction, and a poor one at that, "Sphere" is a psychological drama in the guise of science fiction, and it is slightly better.
The acting in "Sphere" is quite good, but then you'd expect that with such stars as Dustin Hoffman, Samuel L. Jackson and Sharon Stone. Stone, by the way, has a very different look in this film and she does a fine acting job as an emotionally insecure marine biologist.
Hoffman leads a hand-picked team of experts to the bottom of the ocean to make first contact with an alien life form in a huge space ship. The story, by Michael Crichton ("Jurassic Park") has echoes of earlier Chrichton stories, such as "Congo," "Twister" and "The Andromeda Strain" and those mentioned above. All of those stories deal with personal interactions among a team of specialists dealing with a great scientific challenge.
There is some history between psychologist Norman Goodman (Hoffman) and Beth Halperin (Stone), his former patient. There is also some ego competition between a couple of eggheads, Harry Adams (Samuel L. Jackson) and Ted Fielding (Liev Schreiber of the "Scream" movies).
These relationships should be explored, but aren't given much play in the story, which turns into a psychological drama as the deepest fears in the characters turn deadly. The special effects in the movie are limited. Most of the terrors in the film are terrors from within the minds of the characters. Few sets were used. Most of the action takes place in an underwater habitat ring, which toward the end of the film becomes poorly lit. Sound familiar? It should. It is a common tactic to hold down costs.
Some other critics have criticized this film because it doesn't have a big special effects "payoff" at the end. That didn't bother me as much as the fact that the ending was rushed and illogical, and, the characters acted in a cowardly manner.
I found the film interesting and somewhat engrossing, but the characters weren't developed enough to make it a better than average film. Also, there were no heroes to root for, because the characters were interested only in themselves, not in saving lives, or even in discovering anything new. Give me the Jodie Foster character in "Contact" any day of the week. This film rates a C.
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