February, 1998: Sphere

Like many book-to-movie adaptations, Sphere suffers from a severe lack of respect for the source material and an oversimplification of its content. Because many important nuances and plot points were omitted, the film is only a fraction of what it could have been.

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The movie begins when Dr. Norman Goodman (Dustin Hoffman), a respected psychologist, is selected to assist a group of plane wreck victims with their trauma — or so he thinks. Upon his arrival, he is informed that he was called upon to help a group of scientists board an alien spacecraft found 1,000 feet below the surface of the ocean. This is due to the fact that he wrote a paper for the Bush administration about how humans should react to meeting aliens. In his paper, he names three other scientists that could be helpful: Harry Adams (Samuel L. Jackson), Elizabeth Halperin (Sharon Stone), and Ted Fielding (Liev Schreiber). The only trouble is that he made up the paper itself to make rent.

When the scientists finally board the alien vessel, they become aware that future humans have already interacted with the ship; they also locate the eponymous sphere. Harry ventures inside and all hell breaks loose. From jelly fish attacks, to a giant squid ravaging their ship, the crew attempts to survive the wrath of an alien life form named Jerry, that lives inside the minds of the group themselves, it’s clear that the sphere is responsible.

Despite some solid performances from the main ensemble of Hoffman, Jackson, Stone, and Schreiber, the script and the overall cheap look of the ocean’s floor prove too much weight to overcome. If a movie is two and a half hours long, you hope that a majority is progressive and interesting. Unfortunately, with Sphere, you get backtracking and expository scenes that, sometimes, merely explain how a simple item works– ie: a two or three minute sequence about why the crew needs a necklace that will prevent their voices from being distorted.

Sphere feels long and, even then, it is missing some interesting content from the source material.

Matt: Don't watch
Gabe: Watch once if you like bad sci-fi

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January, 1998: Phantoms

Before Armageddon, before Dogma, before Changing Lanes, after… Goodwill Hunting? There was Phantoms. Why Ben Affleck took this inexplicable step backwards, I’ll never know; maybe he thought it would be good, maybe it was for the money, maybe he was already filming before Good Will Hunting was released.

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Phantoms is loosely based on a popular study from the early nineties: that flatworms were able to ingest other, ground-up flatworms and could inherit their memories and experiences. In this particular instance, they were able to solve a maze more quickly if they ate one of their kin. This script takes that hypothesis, adds some demons, and runs wild with it.

We open in a sleepy, winter town where two sisters, Lisa (Rose McGowan) and Jennifer (Joanna Going), plan to settle down for a while; mainly to get Lisa away from her abusive boyfriend in Los Angeles. What they find is an empty town and some putrefied, dead bodies.

When they try to find help, they run into some local law enforcement in Bryce (Ben Affleck) and Stu (Liev Schreiber). Shortly after, things go south and Stu is claimed by whatever has taken over the town. Timothy Flyte (Peter O’Toole) is recruited by the FBI to join in on the fun and explains that demons have been terrorizing the town and have been growing in strength for centuries because, when they consume people, sometimes entire armies, they learn what they fear and use that to claim more lives.

Naturally, there is a mysteriously helpful serum that Bryce uses to vanquish the monster once and for all, dispatching the threat for good.

Phantoms’ weaknesses are numerous and are equivalent, but not limited to: script, acting, sound design, and cinematography. It’s a flat movie with uninspiring performances and a coherent, but unimaginative plot, and many scenes will burst your ear drums if you aren’t careful. It’s hard to recommend even for some laughs with friends– there are much, much better bad movies for that.

Matt's rating: Don't watch
Gabe's rating: Watch once if you like this sort of thing

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