Feb 19th: “Leviathan” (1989)
Celebrating 28 days of underrated 80s cinematic treasures.
This “Underrated 80s” challenge has seen only a couple of title changed during the process. I would come to the realisation that not all movies can be underrated based on Nostalgia alone, otherwise we would be talking about films like the overrated Explorers (the second half, not the first) and the product placement heavy Mac and Me. Judgment comes with a weird, unforgiving sense, that despite good intentions, or at least, a promising idea, some films get ruined enough that they cannot be redeemed.
I wanted to write about Dead Calm here, and for me, Dead Calm was a terrifying movie when I saw it in my early teens. Now, it’s good, but not necessarily something I would want everybody to run out and see. It’s not overrated, nor is it underrated. After a re-visit, as the saying goes, ‘it’s nothing to write home about.’
To replace this entry, I called back to an abandoned podcast episode where I planned to cover the 5 underwater films of 1989. I wanted to go in deep, but with this limited series, there was a chance to dip my toe in first.
It is a common misconception that the Abyss sparked off a sudden overflow of undersea movies. Without spilling out further puns, I am here to say that; the order of things couldn’t be more wrong.
All related 1989 underwater movies were released as follows:
1. Deep Star Six — January 1989
2. Leviathan — March 1989
3. Lords of the Deep — June 1989
4. Evil below — July 1989
and only then came…
5. The Abyss — August 1989
Each movie had one thing in common: they all involved deep-sea scientists, and or naval deep see divers (of differing depths) and a monster, a virus, or an alien of some kind that was either benevolent or otherwise, a relentless killer.
The copycat clause, based on release dates could still be questioned. Foreknowledge about the Abyss being in production was highly likely. In fact, with Sean S Cunningham, it was a race to release his movie, Deep Star Six before the rest. Writer Lewis Abernathy was a personal friend of James Cameron’s.
Cameron had explained to that he had a lot at stake with his upcoming underwater adventure movie, and it would go a long way if they could delay release until after the Abyss, to avoid the stigma that came with having several movies competing at the box office. Allegedly, Abernathy and Cameron fell out when Deep Star Six flew out ahead of the game.
It could be argued that all Sean S. Cunningham was planning to do was to repeat the form already established in his land dwelling horror franchise, Friday 13th, but Deep Star Six promised to be a step up from the conventional horror.
Deep Star Six didn’t make a dent however. It didn’t look all that great, and involved very aggravated unlikeable characters, sparring off some logical sober minded women. James Cameron really didn’t need to be worried, but that was until Leviathan was released, with stronger production value, a more bankable cast of actors — with proven leading records.
Leviathan had the likes of Peter Weller, Meg Foster, Daniel Stern, Ernie Hudson and Pretty Woman’s Hector Elizondo — the latter always makes you feel safe, no matter how claustrophobic and deadly the material.
Leviathan has a lot of thanks to give for films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Thing for monster effects. There’s a lot here that reeks of Alien, so to play devil’s advocate, Leviathan isn’t the most original monster film. It holds up much better than Alien Convenient.
I mean Covenant.
It’s hard to say what James Cameron thought about Leviathan. He was at least able to get feedback that could only make his film get better. At the end of The Abyss, for example, once our deep sea adventurers return to the surface, one character says “We should be dead from decompression.”. Quite possibly, this was already seen this epic fail in Deep Star Six and so the line may have been added late on in production. It is possible that Leviathan, which only came out two months after Deep Star Six (stay with me), also got the memo. When their protagonists float up from the depths, there’s a little display on their suits that flashes “decompression” as if we are led to believe that these suits had the capabilities of speeding up the process that allows their bodies adapted to the change of environmental pressure without killing them.
For James Cameron’s Abyss, which then came out six months later, the pressure was certainly on. With only Lords of the Deep and Evil Below in his way, it turned out well for James.
Where Leviathan failed on originality, it at least delivered on value for money.
To finish this break-from-the-conventional-film-essay, the end was almost exactly the same as Dead Calm. Both Billy Zane, and the beast from the depths of Leviathan are lit up like Christmas trees with a flare in the mouth. On the count of three…