Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Barry Levinson|
by Michael Crichton
|Music by||Elliot Goldenthal|
|Edited by||Stu Linder|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Box office||$73.4 million|
Sphere is a 1998 American science fiction psychological thriller film directed and produced by Barry Levinson, and starring Dustin Hoffman, Sharon Stone, and Samuel L. Jackson. Sphere is based on the 1987 novel of the same name by Michael Crichton. The film was released in the United States on February 13, 1998.
A spacecraft, presumed to be of alien origin, is discovered on the floor of the Pacific Ocean, estimated to have been there for nearly 300 years. A team of experts, including marine biologist Dr. Beth Halperin (Stone), mathematician Dr. Harry Adams (Jackson), astrophysicist Dr. Ted Fielding (Schreiber), psychologist Dr. Norman Goodman (Hoffman), and U.S. Navy Capt. Harold Barnes (Coyote), are assembled and taken to the Habitat, a state-of-the-art underwater living environment located near the spacecraft.
Upon examination of the spacecraft, they determine that it is not alien at all, but rather American in origin. However, its technology far surpasses any in the present day. The ship's computer logs cryptically suggest a mission that originated either in the distant past or future, but the team manages to deduce that the long dead crew were tasked with collecting an item of scientific importance. Goodman and Halperin discover the ship's logs, which show the ship encountering an "unknown event" (thought to be a black hole) that sends the vessel back in time. Goodman and the others eventually stumble upon a large, perfect sphere hovering a few feet above the floor in the ship's cargo bay. They cannot find any way to probe the inside of the sphere, and the fluidic surface is impenetrable; the crew attaches importance to the fact that the sphere reflects its surroundings but not the humans.
They return to the Habitat, and Harry comes to believe that everyone on this team is fated to die. His rationale is that the black hole is referred to as an "unknown event" in the logs, but due to time travel they have foreknowledge of the entire mission. During the night, Harry returns to the spacecraft, is able to enter the sphere, and then returns to the Habitat. The next day, the crew discovers a series of numeric-encoded messages appearing on the computer screens; the crew is able to decipher them and comes to believe they are speaking to "Jerry", an alien intelligence from the sphere. They find Jerry is able to see and hear everything that happens on the Habitat.
A powerful typhoon strikes the surface, and the Habitat crew is forced to stay in the Habitat several more days. During that time, a series of tragedies strikes the crew, including attacks from aggressive jellyfish and a giant squid, and equipment failures in the base, which kill Ted and the team's support staff. The survivors, Beth, Harry, and Norman, believe Jerry is responsible. While waiting for rescue, the three realize that the hazards are manifestations of their own fears: all of them have entered the sphere, which has given them the ability to make their imagination real. Norman discovers that they had misinterpreted the initial messages from Jerry, and that the entity speaking to them through the computers is actually Harry himself, transmitted while he is asleep.
Under the stress of the situation, Beth has suicidal thoughts which causes the detonation mechanisms on a store of explosives to engage, threatening to destroy the base and the spacecraft. They race to the Habitat's mini-sub, but their combined fears cause them to re-appear back in the spacecraft. As a psychologist, Norman is able to see through the illusion. He triggers the mini-sub's undocking process and overrides the others' fears that they will not escape the destruction of the Habitat and spacecraft. The sphere is untouched by the explosions.
The mini-sub makes it to the surface as the surface ships return. As Beth, Harry, and Norman begin safe decompression, they realize that they will be debriefed and their newfound powers discovered. They agree to erase their memories of the event using their powers; this assures that the "unknown event" paradox is resolved. The sphere rises from the ocean and then accelerates off into space.
Hoffman joined the cast because of Levinson's involvement. Hoffman and Levinson had collaborated on several prior projects, and Hoffman had faith that Levinson could raise the project beyond its script. Due to budgetary concerns, production stopped in October 1996, and the script was revised. While Levinson waited for production to resume on Sphere, he directed Wag the Dog, which also stars Hoffman. Shooting on Sphere began again in March 1997, with a budget that Variety estimates was $80 million. Shooting took place at a naval base on Mare Island in Vallejo, California. Principal photography ended in July 1997, after 68 days.
Sphere initially had a Christmas release date but was moved forward to avoid competition.Warner Bros. released the film theatrically in the US on February 13, 1998, where it debuted in third place and grossed $37 million in total.Sphere did almost as well internationally, grossing $73.4 million worldwide.
Sphere received mostly negative reviews from critics. The Los Angeles Times characterized it as a flop. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 11% based on 53 reviews, with an average score of 3.93/10; the site's critical consensus states, "Sphere features an A-level cast working with B-grade material, with a story seen previously in superior science-fiction films". On Metacritic, the film has a score of 35 out of 100, based on 21 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews". Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film a grade "C-" on scale of A to F.
Todd McCarthy of Variety called it derivative of classic science fiction films and devoid of suspense.Janet Maslin of The New York Times wrote, "While this is no quick-witted treat on a par with Mr. Levinson's Wag the Dog, it's a solid thriller with showy scientific overtones".Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "The more the movie explains itself, the more ordinary it becomes."Roger Ebert gave the film 1.5 stars out of 4 and stated, " 'Sphere' feels rushed. The screenplay uses lots of talk to conceal the fact that the story has never been grappled with."
|Soundtrack album by |
|Released||February 25, 1998|
|Genre||Classical, avant-garde, modernist|
|Elliot Goldenthal chronology|
The score for Sphere was composed by Elliot Goldenthal.
Barry Levinson said he had been inspired to write the basic plot line for his subsequent film, Liberty Heights, based on a review of the film for Entertainment Weekly; its critic, Lisa Schwarzbaum, specified that Hoffman played "the empathetic Jewish psychologist. Okay, so he's not officially Jewish; he's only Hoffman, who arrives at the floating habitat and immediately announces, noodgey and menschlike, 'I'd like to call my family.' You do the math." Levinson remarked:
If I do the math, I will discover what? That he is officially Jewish? What does that have to do with the movie? Do we need to know the math of Mel Gibson or Tom Cruise? Why would an actor in a sci-fi film be singled out as Jewish? For days it troubled me. Negative reviews are part of filmmaking, but what did this comment mean? Suddenly, I remembered my childhood impression that everyone in the world was Jewish, and the subsequent realization: Not only wasn't the world Jewish, but 99 percent of the world wasn't! And that led to memories of a time when Jews were denied access to a swim club, and not allowed to live in certain parts of Baltimore, just as blacks were excluded. School integration didn't happen until 1954. Finally, there was a reason to revisit Baltimore once again, not to indulge nostalgia, but to examine race, religion and class distinction. With the story of the friendship between a Jewish boy and a black girl who find themselves classmates in a newly integrated high school, I wanted to examine not the anger among Baltimore's different populations but the lack of understanding -- because with misunderstanding comes humor, humor from character.".