Box Office Bomb to Cult Classic: DEEP RISING Deserves Our Love

KL Studio Classics Gives DEEP RISING the respectful home video release it deserves

Writer-director Stephen Sommers hit the bigtime in 1999 with his ultra-successful blockbuster reboot of Universal’s The Mummy, and again with follow-up The Mummy Returns. A year before The Mummy channeled Sommers’ action-horror-comedy chops into box office gold, he gave us the gift of Deep Rising. Like many of Sommer’s best known films, it’s an action-horror story with a liberal dash of comedy. But whereas his blockbuster path would adhere to the box-office-friendly boundaries of PG-13, Deep Rising gave us a glimpse of Sommers at the most unfiltered we’ve seen him, and perhaps the best and most glorious distillation of his aesthetic. It’s a slick, well-crafted, effects-heavy monster movie with an excellent cast, made with a generous $45M budget and the freedom afforded by an R rating.

It tanked hard.

Despite stumbling out of the gate, Deep Rising is an incredibly entertaining crowd-pleaser. Critical reappraisal has been kinder to the film than its original reception as appreciation for the film has given it, at least, a solid cult following.

Boat captain John Finnegan (Treat Williams) will rent his services and crew to anyone if the price is right — “if the cash is there, we do not care”. But that philosophy gets his crew into deep trouble when a gang of well-armed mercenary-criminals led by the enigmatic Hanover (Wes Studi) hires him to intercept a luxury cruise ship, with the intent of boarding and robbing its ultra-wealthy passengers.

They arrive to find the party’s already been crashed — the guests are missing, and the ship is a bloodbath. They find out why soon enough: some Lovecraftian horror of the deep has taken hold of the craft and devoured all but a few remaining survivors. The film doesn’t have a lot of on-screen violence, but it has an insane amount of grue and gore painting the walls red in the aftermath of the massacre which has taken place.

One element that has aged extremely well is the cast. Treat Williams lacked a bit of star power as the lead (which may be one reason the film wasn’t a hit), but he’s charming in the role as a wisecracking everyman, and supported by an impressive who’s who of up-and-coming actors on the cusp of recognition: Within two years, Famke Janssen would star in X-Men, Djimon Hounsou in Gladiator, and Jason Flemyng in Lock, Stock. Cliff Curtis was just getting started, and Kevin J. O’Connor would continue working with Sommers, typically as snivelly sidekick characters (as in The Mummy and Van Helsing).

And Wes Studi, of course, is one of the coolest actors alive, elevating anything and everything he’s in. He has a challenging role here as both the leader of the bad guys and the most competent and sympathetic among them — once he realizes the threat of the new tentacle-monster situation, he cooperates with Finnegan and the makeshift team of survivors for their mutual welfare, even deferring leadership. Mostly.

Also holding up surprisingly well is the effects work, a combination of practical and computer generated imagery. While the CGI work is unavoidably dated in appearance with that plasticky sheen of the 90s, it’s used sparingly enough in combination with well-crafted practical effects (such as metal walls and doors straining from external pressure), that it’s not too distracting, and mostly noticeable in the climactic creature appearance.

Deep Rising is an absolute blast, mixing different genres and elements into a concoction that’s equal parts Die Hard, Aliens, Deep Blue Sea, and Leviathan — with the goofy, adventurous charm that Sommers would channel into a megahit with The Mummy. Highly recommended.

The Package

Deep Rising is now available from KL Studio Classics in a special edition which includes a reversible cover with classic poster design and new artwork by Jacob Phillips, and a slipcover of the new design.

The image quality looks terrific, and I was actually surprised that the aging effects look fairly convincing for the most part, at least until the monster finale. The film’s varied lighting looks excellent across the board, and close-ups reveal striking detail.

Special Features and Extras

This is one of the most stacked KL Studio Classics releases thus far, featuring lots of informative new interviews with several members of cast and crew.

  • Audio Commentary by Director Stephen Sommers and Editor Bob Ducsay
  • “Wet Cold Canadian Summer” with actor Wes Studi (8:23)
  • “Pantucci the Greasemonkey” with actor Kevin O’Connor (14:17)
  • “The Argonautica” with actor Anthony Heald (13:16)
  • “Deep Terror” with second unit director Dean Cundey (11:48)
  • “Bubblefunk and the Big Kaboom” VFX with John Berton and Van Ling
  • “From the Depths: The Practical Effects of Deep Rising” with Brad Proctor & Doug Morrow (9:25)
  • “Sinking the Boat” with Cinematographer Howard Atherton (14:05)
  • ILM Behind-the-Scenes Assets (38:25)
  • Behind-the-Scenes Still Gallery (2:32)
  • Theatrical Trailer (1:26)

  • Promotional trailers: The Puppet Masters (1:45) and Rawhead Rex (1:05)

A/V Out.

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Except where noted, all 16:9 screen images in this review are direct captures from the disc(s) in question with no editing applied, but may have compression or resizing inherent to file formats and Medium’s image system. All package photography was taken by the reviewer.

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