Julien Neaves, Sci Fi Head Writer
Plot: A team of experts and a US Navy captain investigate an alien device aboard a mysterious spacecraft on the bottom of the ocean.
Review: A Sci Fi psychological thriller with an all-star ensemble cast (Dustin Hoffman, Sharon Stone, Samuel L. Jackson, Peter Coyote, Liev Schreiber and Queen Latifah), based on a novel by mega popular author Michael Crichton (The Andromeda Strain, Jurassic Park, Congo) and helmed by Academy Award-winning director Barry Levinson (Rain Man). Sounds like a sure fire hit, right? Unfortunately, this one sank as much as it swam. Puns. I got ’em. With a big golden SPOILER ALERT let’s submerge into Sphere.
I first saw this 1998 film as a teen and I recalled being bored to tears. Before rewatching it, I suspected the root of my discontentment may have been my unrefined movie tastes and associated inability to appreciate the nuances of the story. And thankfully during my recent rewatch my seasoned film watching and reviewing tastes enjoyed Sphere more this time around. But yeah, it is still not a great film by any stretch of the imagination.
Firstly, what worked. The film dives quickly into the central mystery and thankfully it eschews the usual first act wheel spinning. The build-up to and the discovery of the alien object is intriguing, giving me some Twilight Zone/The Outer Limits vibes. The eerie design of the glistening, pulsing Sphere is well done. And there was a couple creepy moments in the conversation with the alien consciousness “Jerry/Harry”, though it did get generic after while. “I will kill you all.” What is this, a comic book supervillain?
And let’s continue with the negatives. The actors are all solid in their roles but a combination of a lack of character development and weak writing makes them all feel very one dimensional. According to the plot they all knew each other for years, but you never really feel that from their utter lack of chemistry. Some of Samuel L. Jackson’s usual charm peaks out occasionally as mathematician Dr Harry Adams, but it is not enough to really lift proceedings. Both Dustin Hoffman and Sharon Stone seem kind of bored and phoning it in. And because I did not connect with any of the crew I found it hard to care about them in their various perils. Speaking of those perils, none exactly had me on the edge of my seat.
And while the prospect of an alien device that brings whatever you think to life is quite an interesting one, the execution leaves a lot to be desired. What is inside the Sphere? Who went into the Sphere? Who is manifesting what and why? Who will die next? What the heck does the alien even want? We get a few answers but the film leaves most of it frustratingly vague. By the third act and the super formulaic “escape before the place blows up” climax I had mentally checked out. And the ending with the three survivors using their “powers” to forget everything is the epitome of uninspired.
Sphere tries to be a cerebral high concept Sci Fi psychological thriller but only gets a pass in each category. You want cerebral, try Contact or Arrival. You want underwater claustrophobic alien thrills, then watch The Abyss or Underwater. Sphere is best left forgotten at the bottom of the ocean.
Score: 5 out of 10
Have you seen Sphere? How would you rate it? And you can check out more Sci Fi content below:
Julien “Editor Jules” Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. I love promoting Caribbean film (Cariwood), creating board games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”. Read more.