Underwater, no one can hear you scream in the 1980s mutant sea monster classic LEVIATHAN, out on Blu-ray courtesy of Shout! Factory's Scream Factory line.
The Tri-Oceanic Mining Corporation's extraction of silver and other precious minerals on the sea floor consists of treacherous ninety-day work shifts. On day eighty-seven, the crew of Mine Shaft 7 have reached their limit. They have no faith in their boss Beck (Peter Weller, ROBOCOP), a geologist whose calculations have brought results from a mine thought to be exhausted. Shop steward Cobb (Hector Elizondo, PRETTY WOMAN) and Jones (Ernie Hudson, GHOSTBUSTERS) are on Beck over his lack of management skills, which include keeping flippant ship doctor Thompson (Richard Crenna, THE EVIL) on task when a malfunction in his suit nearly kills Dejesus (Michael Carmine, INVASION U.S.A.). Bowman (Lisa Eilbacher, 10 TO MIDNIGHT) is concerned that they will only receive half pay if they don't make their quota in the remaining days, and Sixpack's (Daniel Stern, HOME ALONE) vicious practical jokes get him on extra duty along with Olympic hopeful Elizabeth (Amanda Pays) for retaliating in a show of authority by Beck. When Sixpack takes a wrong turn and falls into a chasm, this leads to the discovery of the wreck of the Russian ship "Leviathan" (despite the fact that computer records show it is still an active vessel). The safe that Sixpack thinks holds salvageable treasure turns out to hold the personal effects of several crew members who had died of an apparent tropical virus. The only spoils Sixpack discovers is a flask of vodka which he shares with Bowman. Sixpack becomes ill the next day and has to sit out the next day's shift so Beck joins the crew; however, he returns to discover that Sixpack has died in a matter of hours and Thompson suspects the cause to be a genetic mutation that originated on the ship Leviathan which he believes was torpedoed by the Russian government to cover things up. Although Sixpack seems to be dead, his body starts undergoing a transformation, morphing into a freak show of a sea creature that starts attacking and absorbing the other crew members as they attempt to evade and destroy the creature whose unpredictable mutations and seeming possession of the knowledge of its victims give it the upper hand.
Shot on location in the Gulf of Mexico and on soundstages in Italy (Cinecitta) and Malta, LEVIATHAN is the best-budgeted but least imaginative of the three underwater monster motives of the summer 1989 which also included James Cameron's THE ABYSS and Sean Cunningham's DEEP STAR SIX (the most entertaining would come the following year with Juan Picquer Simon's THE RIFT). The plot is a messy hodge-podge of ALIEN and THE THING; as is Stan Winston's foam latex and animatronic "everything but the kitchen sink" beast which is thankfully kept indistinct for much of the running time. Weller and Pays are strangely wooden when it comes to the exposition and dramatics but fine in the action scenes while Crenna nearly gets by with an air of gravitas until he gets swallowed up by Winston's prosthetics. Elizondo, Hudson, and Stern come off best and provide much of the film's entertainment by injecting their own personalities into supporting characters as flat as the leads (one almost feels sorry for Carmine and Eilbacher in their obvious victim roles since it doesn't really mean an early exit as having to be incorporated into the rubbery make-up effects for a number of close-ups). The usually cool Meg Foster (THE WIND) chews scenery without even trying as the "evil executive" character Ms. Martin communicating with the ship via video. Where the film does succeed is in the production design of Ron Cobb (conceptual designer on ALIEN and ALIENS), the slick photography of Alex Thomson (who would shoot ALIEN 3), and Jerry Goldsmith's orchestral score, which lacks distinctive character but gives the film a lofty feeling of import. The film was a co-production between producing siblings Charles and Lawrence Gordon (DIE HARD) and father/son team Luigi and Aurelio De Laurentis of Filmauro (respectively the older brother and nephew of Dino De Laurentis) as one of their few international excursions.
Scream Factory's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen encode of MGM's HD master is generally attractive, but rather inconsistent with stronger looking real and fake underwater shots, some distracting grain in a couple of shots that should be just shadowy, and brightly lit shots that can run from sharp to dull (the above water scenes from Martin's office to the surprise ending and oil rig coda almost look like they were shot on rushed schedule). Stan Winston's creatures look a bit more rubbery here than I recall them looking on DVD, but they were never really impressive (technical proficiency aside) to start with. The original matrixed Dolby Stereo track was quite bold and vibrant – particularly when it came to Goldsmith's score – and the DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track is more than sufficient while the lossless 5.1 upmix gives the soundscape some additional breathing room. Optional English SDH subtitles are also included.
"Leviathan: Monster Melting Pot" (40:26) is a somewhat overlong but entertaining featurette in which effects artists Tom Woodruff (THE TERMINATOR), Alec Gillis (GALAXY OF TERROR), and Shannon Shea (A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 5) discuss the arduous experiences working on LEVIATHAN, when they would have preferred THE ABYSS or even DEEP STAR SIX. They recall Stan Winston's patriarchal nature (decisive yet nurturing, even when Woodruff and Gillis split off to form their own company) as well as his blow-ups with Cosmatos. None of the participants are pleased with the creature, least of all Woodruff who had to wear the awkward suit. They individually discuss the collaborative nature of the design process, and how the creature – which they consciously tried to avoid comparisons to THE THING – was more of a "freak show" rather than a hybrid of sea creatures and humanoid characteristics. They also recall the additional work they had to take on because they were over-budget and the propmakers were behind scheduled (including retrofitting the underwater suits so that they were wearable by any of the cast from the shortest (Pays) to the tallest (Stern). They also discuss the experience of setting up a lab from scratch at Cinecitta amidst props left over from Fellini films and the more recent Terry Gilliam's ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN, the eccentric Cosmatos, and even witnessing Klaus Kinski trying to kill an editor (presumably cutting his 1989 sole directorial effect PAGANINI). The most fascinating discussion is how they achieved the underwater mining shots without water (a combination of lighting, an over-cranked camera, ash in the air to simulate floating debris, and bellows in the feet of the underwater suits to kick up dirt from the sound stage floor).
In "Dissecting Cobb" (12:35), Elizondo recalls taking the job because he liked the script and the idea of shooting in Rome, especially at Cinecitta. He liked his everyman character and the opportunity to inject some humor in his characterization, as well as hanging around with the cast (less so when they had to remain in the underwater suits for several hours). In "Surviving Leviathan" (15:01), Hudson recalls how Cosmatos called him up and asked him to do the movie (rather than auditioning for the part). He warmly recalls his castmates – including Carmine who died young – and the relief that he would not have to actually perform underwater (he did have to learn to swim for the climax, though). He remembers the creature looking "like a chicken" on set and hoping it would look better in the film, and also refers to his character's fate as the stupidest death in the film (including the reaction of the audience when he saw it in a South Central Los Angeles theater). Neither interview is particularly substantive, but they are warm and funny, and it is a treat to have such respected performers talking about a less than prestigious film. The disc also includes the film's theatrical trailer (1:51) as well as trailers for WITHOUT WARNING, SATURN 3, LAKE PLACID, and SWAMP THING. This is also the first of the many Scream Factory discs I have covered in which they have included a "Scream Factory" animated logo in addition to the usual Shout! one. (Eric Cotenas)
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