Monday, January 1, 2018

LEVIATHAN (1989) - ***

Rated R
Running time: 98 min.
Release date: March 17, 1989

The crew of an underwater mining facility discover a sunken Russian ship that, of course, contains a deadly secret that will soon begin stalking them, in this horror/sci-fi production from MGM. Containing elements borrowed from Alien and The Thing, Leviathan was released almost at the same time as several other underwater horror/sci-fi productions like DeepStar Six and The Abyss. Despite the lack of originality, however, Leviathan has some of its own elements that make it stand out from the pack. Critics originally panned the film because of its lack of originality. I'm here to lay out why the critics got this one wrong.

Peter Weller leads the cast as Steven Beck, a geologist with very little people-managing experience. He gets pointers from reference material such as "The One-Minute Manager" when it comes to figuring out how to appease his veteran crew of underwater miners. The crew works for a company called Tri-Oceanic and they are on the final three days of their ninety-day shift. Tri-Oceanic's CEO is Miss Martin, played by Meg Foster, who seems to be quite adept at playing the cold-hearted type, probably because of the icy color of her eyes. On one of their excavations, the crew discovers a Russian ship named Leviathan on the bottom of the ocean floor. They salvage a safe from the ship and find the contents include some video tapes and vodka. Since this is 1989, you might just assume that Rob Lowe was on-board the ship, but you would be wrong. The video tapes contain footage of the ship's captain describing strange medical issues with the crew. Meanwhile, the vodka is not exactly hundred-proof, if you know what I mean. Soon, members of the crew become severely ill and then before you know it, they're dead...or are they? Something else is very much alive and mutating the human crew into something very slimy and very deadly. The plot similarities to Alien and The Thing begin to take over, taking away much of the element of surprise. However, director George P. Cosmatos and the cast keep things interesting and rarely dull. 

Cosmatos has a solid action movie background, given that he was the director of such explosive fare as Rambo: First Blood Part II, Cobra and Tombstone. So Cosmatos has filmed in the jungle, the Old West and the good old-fashioned urban setting. It was probably high-time for him to take on an underwater project. There is some good underwater photography here, however most of the production is filmed on sets in Italy. Cosmatos makes good use of the sets, making it seem like there are plenty of spaces to fill. It helps to have special effects maestro and Oscar winner Stan Winston be responsible for the creation of the mutated creature that provides the thrills in Leviathan. Cosmatos relies on the jump-scare tactic but the interesting twist here is that the creature absorbs the memories and knowledge of the people it consumes and therefore makes it quite an intelligent creature in several scenes. This is all owed to the screenplay by David Peoples and Jeb Stuart. Peoples has been given screenwriting credit for films such as Blade Runner, Ladyhawke and Unforgiven. Stuart is also known for his work on Die Hard and The Fugitive. So Leviathan has an excellent action-film pedigree with the people behind the scenes. So even though the film lacks originality in the concept, if you look past the familiar plot elements, you can find some solid entertainment.

The cast is filled with veteran character actors throughout. Weller, of course, is best known as RoboCop, but the cast also contains Richard Crenna, Ernie Hudson, Daniel Stern and Hector Elizondo. This is practically the A-list of character actors and they all play their parts very well. Amanda Pays is the female lead here, preceding her role in the cast of the original The Flash TV series that aired on CBS for one season in 1990-91. Cosmatos and the screenplay give everyone their fair share of screen time, with Daniel Stern standing out as the totally unlikable character of Six-Pack. Weller, of course, is a strong physical lead, thanks to his time with RoboCop and Meg Foster just makes you want to yell at the screen. Everyone hits the right note, ensuring that the material is infinitely more interesting than it has any right to be.

With a solid action director behind the camera, and a strongly competent cast in front, Leviathan rises above its rehashed conventions to become a good waste of ninety-plus minutes. Yes, you could see where it borrows from much better films, but that's okay when the production itself is fun and rarely slows down. Leviathan was dismissed by critics upon release, and if you follow the Tomatometer (which you really shouldn't), you may have disregarded this film. It really is a decent horror/sci-fi effort and deserves some recognition for being such. So lets raise a glass of contaminated vodka to you, Leviathan.

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