Monday, August 18, 2014

Blu-ray Review: LEVIATHAN (1989) [Scream Factory]

Leviathan (1989)

Buy the Blu-ray or DVD

The Movie

1989 was a hell of a year for underwater genre pictures. Within a short period of time there were three different films vying for viewers' money in theaters. The dominate force was, of course, James Cameron's THE ABYSS, but below that film's tidal wave of box office, there were two other Sci-Fi/Horror films duking it out - Sean S Cunningham's DEEP STAR SIX and George P Cosmatos' LEVIATHAN. Truth be told, I don't remember which one made more of an impact with ticket sales, but I can say that, for my money, LEVIATHAN was the superior of the two.

That's not to suggest that LEVIATHAN is a great film - because it does have its flaws - but, in my opinion, it is an underrated entry in the genre, and I still find it just as entertaining today as I did when I was a ten-year-old kid.

The plot of LEVIATHAN is pretty straight-forward:
On the dark and forbidding ocean floor, the crew of a deep-sea mission rig discovers a sunken freighter that harbors a deadly secret: a genetic experiment gone horribly wrong. With a storm raging on the surface and no hope of rescue, the captain and his team are propelled into a spine-tingling battle for survival against the ultimate foe – a hideous monster that cannot die...and lives to kill!
Essentially, you can think of the film as an underwater mixture of ALIEN and THE THING. LEVIATHAN plays with the close quarters of its ship to help build the tension and scares, and it features a creature that is one of the strangest evolving organisms since MacReady picked up a flame thrower. Unfortunately, the film never hits the highs or consistency of either of those two influential films, but LEVIATHAN is far better than the reputation it seems to have garnered over the years as a "mediocre monster movie."

For starters, the cast is great. How can you argue with the casting of not only Peter Weller (yes, Robocop himself), but Ernie Hudson (my favorite Ghostbuster), Daniel Stern (one year before he hit box office gold in HOME ALONE), and Hector Elizondo (who's been in just about everything). Sure, there are no Oscar-worthy performances here, but with a solid lineup of great character actors, you can't really go wrong.

The screenplay by David Webb Peoples and Jeb Stuart is also pretty darn good. Sure, it features the usual 1980s banter and goofy dialog, but for a lower-budget monster movie, it's pretty inventive. It might not be obvious at first, but there was definitely talent behind this script. Peoples later went on to get a Best Original Screenplay Oscar nod for Clint Eastwood's (amazing) UNFORGIVEN, but c'mon... the guy wrote BLADE RUNNER. And Stuart was just coming off of the (perfect) blockbuster DIE HARD and went on to co-script THE FUGITIVE. Again, this screenplay may not be the best, but there were certainly talented voices behind it. 

Jerry Goldsmith's score is, of course, fantastic. In fact, it might be the best thing about the film. Of course, I'm a bit biased, since the guy did the music for GREMLINS (one of my Top 5 films), but the score is moody and really works to help set the tone of the film and ratchet up the tension.

The late Cosmatos was always, in my mind, a very competent director. He didn't quite hit his career-high until a few years later - when he directed the epic Western, TOMBSTONE - but he always managed to put together entertaining films, and there's no arguing that the guy could work in any genre he wanted. With LEVIATHAN, he took a concept that was nearly impossible to pull off on a modestly budgeted film, and he turned out something that was entertaining and memorable. There are scenes in LEVIATHAN that have stuck with me since I first saw it on VHS in 1990, and while a lot of what I recalled before this most recent viewing was due to the resourceful and fun creature effects from Stan Winston's shop, it would be a cop-out to not give Cosmatos credit.

At the end of the day, LEVIATHAN is far from perfect. It never really reaches the full potential of its creature, and the basic story is one we've seen already in better movies. However, it's a fun way to kill an hour and a half of your time, and it's never boring. I'm happy to add it to my collection, and I think that it deserves more credit than it gets. 

Movie Score


The Blu-ray

Scream Factory's LEVIATHAN Blu-ray comes in a single disc package with the original key art. There is a neat alternate disc art on the reverse side.

Video Quality (4/5)

LEVIATHAN is presented in a 1080p AVC-encoded transfer that looks pretty damn good. I'm not going to analyze every pixel, but I can tell you that, while this is certainly no new restoration, it looks a lot better than the previous home video releases of the film, and I didn't find any distracting tampering with the image. Solid all around.

Audio Quality (4/5)

Scream Factory brings LEVIATHAN to Blu-ray with a nice DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track. The audio sounds great, and I'm glad that Scream Factory makes it a point to always include the original audio presentation on their discs. Given the film's era, don't expect this disc to push your home theater or shake your house, but it does what it needs to and it does it well.

Extra Features (4/5)

LEVIATHAN isn't one of Scream Factory's extras-packed Collector's Editions, but honestly, there are more extras on the disc than I expected, and they are all quite good.
  • Leviathan: Monster Melting Pot (~40 min): A great retrospective documentary that was created specifically for this release. The feature focuses on stories from the key players who worked for Stan Winston Studios, the film's effects house, that center around their experiences working on LEVIATHAN. The piece is well edited, with great stories and funny anecdotes, and it's obvious that even though the shoot was extremely difficult, the crew had some good times making it. This is easily the best extra on the disc, and fans of the film will love the insights it provides.
  • Dissecting Cobb with Hector Elizondo (~13 minutes): A chat with character actor Hector Elizondo about his involvement with LEVIATHAN. 
  • Surviving Leviathan with Ernie Hudson (~15 min): A laid-back chat with Ernie Hudson about his experiences on the set. Don't expect any rambunctious stories, but Hudson is fairly open about his quarrels with Director Cosmatos, and overall, it's an interesting watch.
  • Theatrical Trailer

Final Thoughts

Scream Factory, to me, means quality, and this is no exception. Their LEVIATHAN Blu-ray actually looks and sounds better than I expected, which was a nice surprise. The movie itself is one that I have always felt is underrated, and I'm glad that we finally have it in HD with some nice new extras. In my opinion, this is definitely a solid release. For fans of the film, this is a no brainer, but even for the uninitiated, the disc is so reasonably priced that it's certainly worth a purchase.


Blu-ray Score


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