From the Depths: Leviathan (1989) Retrospective (Minor Spoilers)
It's safe to go in the water, just not the deep DEEP water
I don’t have too many memories of when I was a child, but for some odd reason I can remember the very first movie I ever saw in theaters. I must had been around three when I saw this, so I didn’t know what it was until years later in my teens when it came on TV one Saturday and I recognized what I saw. That film was called Leviathan, a science fiction horror film which came out in 1989 and directed by George P. Cosmatos.
Leviathan’s story revolves around a group of deep ocean miners stationed on the ocean floor in a large facility. They navigate the seabed using large robotic diving suits similar in appearance to the big daddies in Bioshock. One day, one of the miners accidently discovers a sunken soviet ship called the Leviathan and finds a safe onboard. The safe is taken back to the underwater base where they discover a flask of whisky and tapes that chronicles the ship’s logs. Two of the miners secretly consume the whisky and exhibit odd side effects before dying shortly after. Unaware of this, the rest of the crew attempt to figure out just what happened to the ship, including learning that the ship was purposely sunk. The crew are horrified to learn that not only have two of their crewmen died but finds that their corpses have reanimated and fused together. Not knowing what to make of this the crew decide to flush the fused corpse out into the ocean. In the process a small piece of the body breaks off and runs around the base gradually regenerating into a sea monster that proceeds to stalk and attack the crew.
The film has some pretty famous stars from that time. Peter Weller plays Steven Beck, the leader of the mining operation. He's pretty much the protagonist who’s headstrong and isn't shy about taking charge over the others. It’s clear that he's the big boss of the group from his stern tone and confident stance. Daniel Stern plays Sixpack, the one who finds the safe on the sunken ship. He’s the hothead of the group and a bit of a wildcard as he also takes the whisky. He shares it with Bowman, played by Lisa Eilbacher, who's the designated chick of the film. After drinking the whisky and discovering that Sixpack died, in addition to seeing his corpse mutate, she falls into a depression and commits suicide.
Other stars includes Ernie Hudson as Jones, who's somewhat of a comic relief character, Michael Carmine as DeJesus, the character who seems to always be on the receiving end of bad news, Amanda Pays as Willie, the other chick but is more obsessed with running around the base. Richard Creena plays Doc, the doctor of the group and one of the characters to figure out what's happening. Meg Foster plays Martin, the boss of the underwater miners and the human antagonist. It's not so much as what she does, but more so what she doesn't do that makes her unlikable. She’s mostly seen in the film by video phone. The main characters ask her for help several times but she always refuses. However there is a scene with her near the end that's very satisfying to watch.
One common complaint I hear about the film is that it’s very similar to the films Alien and Aliens, which came out earlier. They all have similar themes, such as people running around a dark isolated base while being stalked by an unknown creature. The main difference of course being the Alien films are in space and Leviathan is underwater. Near the end when the crew are facing against the monster they use whatever they can to fight it, including mining tools as weapons. They were a nice touch as they looked pseudo-futuristic.
The effects were surprising. Personally, I didn’t learn about this until much later but it turns out that despite the film being an underwater monster movie very few scenes were actually filmed underwater. All the seafloor scenes were shot in a studio on a set. The production crew used special lighting and had floating particles in the air to create the illusion that the actors were underwater. The later scenes near the end were filmed in water. The base was pretty elaborated and reminiscent of Aliens with the techno-futuristic corridors, computer monitors, and construction equipment. It also had an industrial feel in certain areas, especially at the beginning that showed the base’s mechanical storage area.
The monster itself was a little small, but still interesting none the less. It had an aquatic appearance and had abilities such as swimming and super strength, but it was barely the size of a person. Speaking of person, a little spoiler, as the monster attacks the crew it absorbs and assimilates them into its body, so it’s basically a fish monster made out of human body parts. Later in the film you see faces and arms hanging out of it which is quite disgusting. The best thing about it is that it’s completely practical in effect, absolutely no CGI, which I detest. With practical effects, the monster felt more legit, something that’s actually there. Of course it’s made from rubbery parts so you can’t expect too much, but I’d take this over what’s on SyFy.
The music for the most part set the mood. The music you hear for a second or two when the title appears felt tense with a deep sound and shrieking violin. As the opening credits came through and they show the underwater shots leading to the base you hear the music which starts soft but is hidden behind the sounds of moaning whales. It’s a good piece of music but it could have done without the whale sounds. Throughout the film you hear the same type of suspenseful music you’d hear in a horror film. The one thing, when the end credits are playing you hear a very good piece of music, a triumphant upbeat them that sounds like it’s straight out of a sailing adventure film. It’s good but it felt somewhat out of place with the film’s horror theme, though I will say the end credits themselves were beautiful, the light reflecting through the water and all.
Overall Leviathan is quite an enjoyable film. It came out at a time in the mid to late 80s that focused on deep sea exploration. It was released alongside such films as The Abyss and Deep Star Six. It’s up to the viewer to decide if they want to dislike it because it’s somewhat of an underwater version of the film Aliens, but in its own right it’s an amazing underwater monster movie. The film may not be perfect but it is a film about a monster underwater and such concepts like that aren’t exactly a common thing today. While the film is a bit old, it’ll be 30 next year, many parts of it still hold up. I’d say give it a shot if you want to see a solid underwater monster movie.
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