Monday, January 28, 2013

Leviathan: It Really Is Just Alien Underwater!

The Good: Great cast, Fine acting
The Bad: Entirely derivative plot, Characters do not “pop,” Somewhat campy
The Basics: Leviathan might not have been terrible were it not for the creation of Alien a decade prior!

I tend to think of the phenomenon of multiple production companies creating similar films as a relatively new phenomenon, but objectively it is not. While I think of movies like Mirror Mirror (reviewed here!) and Snow White And The Huntsman (reviewed here!) being released in proximity as a great example of how the various production companies can strangle a niche. And yet, production houses have been doing similar things for years. In fact, when Leviathan was released, it was in proximity to The Abyss (which I recall seeing as a youth) and Deep Star Six (which, like Leviathan I was too young for at the time). This morning, I remedied not seeing Leviathan.

The truth is Leviathan is not undone by its release proximity to The Abyss and Deep Star Six, it is underwhelming because of how it is structured – in characters and plot – to the classic film Alien (reviewed here!). While others might complain about the special effects (effect is of minimal importance to me), I think the make-up and prosthetic effects are fine. The issue with Leviathan is that it is far too familiar and the characters are not interesting enough to be engaging or make the viewer care about their fates.

Days before their undersea mining contract expires, the team of a U.S. undersea mining platform is struggling with frayed nerves as well as with meeting their quota. The captain of the operation, Steven Beck, works to keep his crew focused on the task at hand, even as they joke with one another and piss each other off. After DeJesus’s suit fails and the miner is rattled, Sixpack (a sexist, jerkish miner) blows up the mining area and is knocked into a sea trench. There, he discovers a sunk Soviet ship and he recovers a box of what he believes is treasure from it. Returning to the U.S. platform, Sixpack takes a flask from the box and shortly after he drinks from it, he begins to get itchy skin. The skin rash soon turns lethal and Sixpack dies and the woman he shared a drink from the flask, Bridget, kills herself.

With the company doctor baffled, Sixpack’s corpse continues to mutate and attacks the rest of the crew, a situation that becomes worse when a creature spawns out of his amputated leg and attacks DeJesus. As the crew struggles to survive, Doc tries to save himself. Despite the company claiming they cannot rescue the team, Beck, Willie, and Jones fight for survival under the sea.

Leviathan is actually an engaging idea that is executed in a familiar way. The beats are so familiar that it is almost surprising the film was ever made. So many of the characters in Leviathan synch up with characters in Alien and more than just coincidental ways. While the Company has a face in Leviathan - Meg Foster plays Beck’s contact on the surface – the other characters pretty much are taken from Alien for their position, point of departure, and concept. Just as on the Nostromo, the U.S. mining rig has two maintenance workers, a somewhat douchey-looking scuzbucket who gets infected first, and Doc is such a mirror of Ash, I expected him to be revealed as an android at any given moment.

The cast for Leviathan is shockingly good, led by Peter Weller as Beck, and including Richard Crenna (Doc), Daniel Stern (Sixpack), Ernie Hudson (Jones), and Hector Elizondo (Cobb). Unfortunately, none of the fine performers are given the space or material to shine and present more to their characters than the “types” they are originally established as. They lack flair and distinction. In fact, Willie, played by Amanda Peet-clone Amanda Pays, might have more backstory than the others as she trains to be an astronaut when she returns to the surface and, even without knowing why, that is more than viewers get to become invested in her character more than the others.

Still, it is not enough. Leviathan is tragically derivative.

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© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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