Leviathan (1989)

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An underwater mining expedition is 5 miles below the Atlantic digging up a bunch of rare minerals and precious ore. They’ve been down there for almost three whole months and are just scant days away from finishing their job and going back home. Two days before they’re set to return, two of the crewmembers come across a sunken Russian vessel while out mining. They bring back the ship’s safe and discover through personal affects and the captain’s log that before the ship sank most of the crew members were stricken with a mysterious illness and died.

To the surprise of absolutley no one in the audiance, the miner who found the safe is swiftly incapacitated by what apprears to be some sort of unknown skin infection and dies eight hours later. The doctor on board is baffled, and then highly concerned when another crew member starts to fall victim to the same symptoms. Alarmed that something highly contagious could be on board, the rest of the crew agrees to shoot the corpses out into the ocean. There’s just one small problem: the corpses (or something that’s in them) are still alive. The crew panics and chucks the fleshy blob out into the sea, but not before a piece of it unknowingly gets cut off and escapes into the station. It doesn’t take long for the remaining crew to realize they still have a very big problem on their hands and that they need to escape before whatever it is that’s chasing them finishes them all off. Now if only the company who’s supposed to come and pick them up would be cooperative and do their damn job.

leviathan_2Damn corporate bureaucrats. 

Hurray! Another rip-off of Alien and The Thing. Plus a little bit of Jaws, too! Bonus!

Like Deepstar Six, Leviathan was another one of the six (again SIX) underwater sci-fi/horror films released in 1989. Also like Deepstar Six, Leviathan essentially apes the plot of Alien (and The Thing), but transports it to an underwater setting. The difference between the two is that Leviathan seems to be a much more competent rip-off.

For starters, it has a faster-paced plot. There is very little down-time in this film, and what is there is short and purposeful, slowly building up tension as it goes. Everything moves at an increasingly steady clip. Hell, we don’t even hit the five minute mark before we’re thrown into a near life-or-death situation that the characters have to deal with, and the pace remain consistent from there until the creature’s reveal, where the action then shoots up exponentially. It does have the drawback of being fairly predictable and falling into plot tropes you’ve likely seen dozens of times before (Sleazy corporations? Check. The idiot finds the thing and winds up getting killed? Check…), but it’s crafted well enough that it doesn’t  feel painful. You can likely thank the writers and director for that, as they’re all linked to several popular and successful action films.

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Another place the film fares exceptionally well is the cast. While Deepstar Six was filled with well-known TV actors, Leviathan is filled with well-known film actors. The film is filled with familiar faces from movies like Ghostbusters, Robocop and Home Alone. And all of them fill their roles wonderfully and, more importantly, believably. These guys don’t fall into the Deepstar Six hole by having the characters make mind-boggling stupid decisions for no reason. No, unlike some films, these guys have personalities and motives, and it doesn’t feel like it needs to spend 30 minutes going over everything to flesh them out. Praise be.

leviathan_4Except this guy. He was perhaps a little too fleshed out. But at least he got to die by the product placement.

One more thing in the movie’s favor is the production design. You can definitely tell that this is a film that was blessed with a decent budget (thanks, Pepsi). The creature’s design is an elaborate piece of work, courtesy of practical effects veteran Stan Winston (though I don’t necessarily think it’s his best work.) The many ocean scenes are also equally impressive, and actually manage to look like ocean scenes. Even though you know most of these were likely filmed on a soundstage and made to look like they’re underwater, they still do a damn good job of actually looking like they were filmed underwater. They don’t look like someone tried to film a bunch of miniatures in an oversized fish tank.

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Then there’s the sets themselves. This is the part, besides the plot I think (which was itself aped from earlier films), where the film really starts getting that Alien comparison/feel. Because not only is the plot familiar, but the visuals are also reminiscent of Alien as well. The sets are solid, varied and detailed, using bright, well lit aesthetics for the crew’s living areas at the beginning of the film, and dark, pipe filled and nearly claustrophobic visuals damn near everywhere else as the movie goes on. It’s a nice way of visualizing the crews impending doom.

leviathan_7Ellen Ripley you are not. But nice attempt.

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The last thing that must be mentioned is the monster effects. As mentioned, Stan Winston had a part in these creations, so it should come as no surprise that the look of the creature is pretty top-notch. The creature is ooey and gooey and covered in human heads, teeth and tentacles (some of those with teeth.) Even though I don’t think it’s his best work, it’s still pretty damn impressive…. Or, at least the pieces of the creature are. Depending on your tastes, the creature itself is either going to look pretty cool, or hokey as hell. And even then, your opinion may change still, depending on what angle you’re looking at it from.

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leviathan_10Boy, I sure hope that just its tail…

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The part where the film kind of falls apart is the end. Up until then the movie is doing a fairly decent job of creating a hideous love child of Alien and The Thing. But then you get to the ending and you realize that the filmmakers got tired of ripping off those two films. So they decide to rip-off the Jaws ending instead. 

And I’m not kidding about that at all. I mean, not only does the creature pop out of the water for one more ‘unexpected’ death, but they even added honest-to-god sharks to the mix before the creature even shows up. Despite being a film set solely in the ocean, sharks hadn’t even been mentioned up until that point. So their sudden appearance comes across as completely random and forced. It’s like the filmmakers didn’t think the final confrontation with the creature had enough suspense unless there were countless more teeth involved.

To top it off, not only is the creature taken out in the same way as the great Bruce, and in a much less climactic manor I might add, but the editing of the whole scene is so choppy that you can barely tell what’s going on. At first I thought it might have been caused by my wi-fi connection, but checking it from another source confirmed that, no, it’s meant to be that way. I know that quick edits are meant to relay suspense, but there’s creating suspense and then there’s putting your film’s climax in a blender and setting it on frappe. You lose the suspense angle when your viewer’s brain turns off because they can’t tell what’s going on. The fact that the actors and your puppet were likely never in the same scene together at the same time shouldn’t be an excuse.

leviathan_12Make sure you get the prop into the puppet’s mouth this time, Steve.’
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‘Close enough.’
leviathan_14Nom nom nom

So, is Leviathan any good? If you like monster movies, I’d say it is. It’s clearly trying to copy all of the things that makes Alien and The Thing good and engaging, and it does a surprisingly decent job of it. Not great, but decent. It has a highly competent ensemble cast, decent sets, decent production values, impressive monster effects and good cinematography. But that doesn’t change the fact that the movie is about a small group of minors fighting what winds up being a mutated fishman, or the fact that being a good rip-off doesn’t stop you from being a rip-off, competent or not. It may be highly predictable, but it’s still a fun, dumb monster movie and if you dig that sort of thing then you might find something enjoyable here.

Leviathan is available to rent on Amazon.

It is also available on DVD and Bluray.

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Michi

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