Underwater thrillers were all the rage in 1989, as no less than three of 'em were released theatrically between January and August...and while none of them were hugely successful at the box office, each film made more money than the last. But the only one that most people remember is James Cameron's The Abyss; even then, it's seen as a minor failure considering the position between Cameron's wildly popular Aliens and Terminator 2. Deep Star Six was saddled with a low budget and a winter release, so it's not surprising that audiences failed to connect with it. Cool poster, though.
George P. Cosmatos' Leviathan, released in March of 1989, is also relatively forgotten (and frequently confused with Deep Star Six) despite a solid cast riding high from earlier films, not to mention the participation of Stan Winston's creature effects team and a score by Jerry Goldsmith. Without question, the film's biggest handicap is its similarity to horror classics like Alien and The Thing: all three serve up terror in confined spaces, gruesome deaths and visuals that stick in your memory. More isolated similarities with these other two are also present: an uncaring Corporation abandons the crew, chests burst on occasion, and two different characters are named "Jonesy". Heck, Alien and Leviathan even feature the same composer and effects team. In fact, one of its only differences is that Leviathan's monster is man-made instead of alien, a genetic experiment gone wrong and buried underwater intentionally. Space, the Antarctic, or underwater? Doesn't matter. Our crew needs to kill the beast, even if it means sacrificing themselves in the process.
Truth be told, Leviathan's sporadic strengths do manage to keep its head above water, as long as you're not too critical of the film's liberal swipes from earlier, more memorable classics. Key performances by Peter Weller, Richard Crenna, Amanda Pays, Daniel Stern, Ernie Hudson, Hector Elizondo, and more are handled quite well: even if some of their characters are one-dimensional, it's obvious that these actors had fun at work. But documented stories from the film's production describe friction between Stan Winston and George Cosmatos, frequently stemming from tight deadlines, creative differences and, of course, the budget. So it's not surprising that the film's haphazard but energetic flow begins to unravel at certain points, especially a chaotic third act that features at least one completely unnecessary character death. Luckily, several of the film's more grounded elements elevate this material to modest heights...and though Leviathan is hardly a forgotten horror classic, there's a certain charm that makes it worth seeking out.
Leviathan's last domestic home video release was on DVD all the way back in 1998, just one year into the format's life. Surprisingly enough, the disc was even 16x9 enhanced...but let's be honest, even the most impressive DVDs from 10-15 years have long been replaced by more current editions in a variety of formats. This new Blu-ray from Shout Factory (under their "Scream Factory" imprint) is no exception, serving up an improved A/V presentation (including a pair of DTS-HD Master Audio tracks) and a small assortment of retrospective bonus features. Like the movie itself, this Blu-ray isn't quite a home run in any department...but under the circumstances, it's good enough to get the job done.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Those with region-free players may have imported the German 2012 Blu-ray...and the less said about that upscaled mess, the better. This new Blu-ray from Scream Factory easily beats MGM's 1998 DVD; not surprising, given the 16-year gap. But while this isn't a picture-perfect presentation, this 1080p, 2.35:1 transfer's most noticeable flaws are likely due to source material issues. Leviathan is a murky film by design, and the situation isn't improved by the telltale late-1980s film stock: grain is overly abundant in certain scenes, shadow detail is lacking and the overall picture is a little on the flat side. Yet image detail is still quite good on many occasions, the film's color palette is rendered nicely and digital problems (excessive DNR, edge enhancement, etc.) don't seem to be an issue. So while Leviathan obviously isn't "demo disc" material, this is a perfectly good effort and much improved over previous home video releases.
DISCLAIMER: This still images featured in this review were taken from promotional outlets and do not represent Blu-Ray's 1080p resolution.
Presented in your choice of DTS-HD 5.1 or 2.0 Master Audio tracks, the availability of both a new remix and the original two-channel track is certainly a plus. You'll want to try them both and, without a doubt, each have their benefits. The new remix serves up plenty of heft, especially in the deep end: you'll really feel the low frequency pressure at key moments and, though surround channels are limited, the overall soundstage is nice and wide. The only downside to this remix is a lack of "seamless" dialogue: it's noticeably thinner in fidelity and, as a result, this slight lack of consistency can be a little jarring at times. This is where the 2.0 mix is preferable: though the entire presentation isn't nearly as immersive, it's a bit more uniform overall and, for obvious reasons, the choice for purists. But I'm glad we have both, and I'm sure that most fans will agree. Optional English subtitles have been included during the main feature only.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
This clean menu interface reflects the cover artwork and thankfully avoids Scream Factory's ugly "sidebar" template. Sub-menus are available for chapter selection, audio/subtitle setup, and bonus features. This one-disc release is housed in a standard keepcase; though no insert or slipcover are included, we do
get Scream's customary reversible artwork.
We get a decent mixture of exclusive new interviews, though a handful of stories are repeated. The first and most substantial is "Monster Melting Pot"
(40:26), a handful of cobbled-together conversations with creature effects wizards Tom Woodruff, Jr., Shannon Shea, and Alec Gillis, who all worked under the late Stan Winston to create Leviathan
's practical monster effects. Topics include the "competition" with The Abyss
and Deep Star Six
, tight deadlines, pulling double-duty with The Predator
, friction between Stan Winston and director George Cosmatos, early sketches and other prep work, the dive suits, scuba training, shooting "dry" (and in slow motion, to boot), and much more. This featurette is only hampered by the lack of more on-set footage and concept art, but it paints a fairly vivid picture nonetheless.
Two cast interviews are also included: "Dissecting Cobb" (12:35) sits down with the charismatic Hector Elizondo, while "Surviving Leviathan" (15:01) features words from Ernie Hudson. Both are in good spirits and serve up plenty of on-set memories; topics include multiple monster takes, the difficulty of dive suits, impromptu swimming lessons, working with Stan Winston, the fate of their characters and more. Also on board is the Theatrical Trailer (1:51) narrated by Peter "Optimus Prime" Cullen, as well as four more trailers for upcoming Scream Factory releases. No subtitles are included.
Though it's rarely more than the sum of its parts, Leviathan remains an enjoyable ride that will only occasionally make you wish you were watching one of the films that inspired it. Featuring solid performances, great creature effects, a terrific score, and a foreboding atmosphere, there's still a lot for horror fans to enjoy here. Scream Factory's Blu-ray offers a good amount of support, including a relatively pleasing A/V presentation and a few enjoyable new interviews with members of the cast and crew. It's also one of the studio's more reasonably-priced discs, which should make it more attractive to new fans as well. Recommended, although less enthusiastic fans should be happy with a rental.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.