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Deep Rising: 20th Anniversary Edition
Look, you either enjoy movies like Stephen Sommers' Deep Rising (1998) or you're no fun at all. Produced by Disney's Hollywood Pictures four years after Sommers' live-action Jungle Book but before striking gold with 1999's The Mummy, Deep Rising was unceremoniously dumped into theaters at the end of January and recouped less than 25% of its modest $45 million budget. I clearly remember seeing this one in theaters the first time around and having a good time, but I'll admit that it's bled together with other creature-features of the era like Anaconda, Deep Blue Sea, Lake Placid, and Ghost Ship (which aren't nearly as good but sold plenty of tickets).
Deep Rising played well in 1998 and still holds up for three reasons: it's got a terrific atmosphere, a solid cast without the expense of big-name stars, and outstanding effects that have aged a hell of a lot better than other 1990s CGI. True, there's not much in the way of plot: our story follows boat captain John Finnegan (Treat Williams) who, along with crew members Joe Pantucci (Kevin J. O'Connor) and Leila (Una Damon), are ferrying a group of mercenaries across the South China Sea. After a collision leaves the ship tattered, they encounter what's left of the luxury cruise ship Argonautica: thinking it's loaded with loot -- and hopefully, a few spare parts -- Finnegan and company board the ship and find...well, not what they expected. Mostly blood. But a few survivors are still straggling about, including ship owner Simon Canton (Anthony Heald), Captain Atheron (Derrick O'Connor), and wanted criminal Trillian St. James (Famke Janssen). Oh yeah, and a few grotesque mutant octopi, who have killed almost everyone on board and are still lurking in the depths.
It's true that Deep Rising, like most other films in its genre, are little more than Alien clones in a different setting...and to be fair, that's a pretty accurate description. But the film's dark, foreboding atmosphere and well-done mixture of CGI and practical effects -- pulled off by the likes of Rob Bottin, Van Ling, and Industrial Lights & Magic -- really help it stand out, not to mention the lead and supporting cast members. Treat Williams and Kevin J. O'Connor are easy standouts, as are many of the mercenaries including Wes Studi, Cliff Curtis, and Djimon Hounsou, while Famke Janssen holds her own in what might otherwise be a thin role. From memorable deaths to corny one-liners and loads of terrific jump scares, Deep Rising is still a lot of fun to sit through and worthy of its growing cult status.
Kino Lorber, a studio that's grown to rival some of home video's best boutique labels in recent years, has released a new 20th Anniversary Edition of Deep Rising that's so far ahead of Buena Vista's 1998 DVD (and Mill Creek's 2012 double feature Blu-ray) that it's almost funny. This is an embarrassingly good package that absolutely pulls out all the stops in every department -- hell, at this point, I'm surprised it wasn't given a full-blown Atmos track. From a remastered 4K restoration of the original camera negative to a figurative cruise ship full of new and exclusive bonus features, it's going to be the definitive home video edition of Deep Rising for a long time.
Presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, Kino's new 1080p transfer of Deep Rising was apparently sourced from a new 4K restoration of the original camera negative ("apparently", because it's mentioned in press releases but not on the back cover). Any way you slice it, this is a decent to major improvement over past releases -- Buena Vista's 1998 DVD was non-anamorphic, and Mill Creek is rarely known for top-tier video quality. Deep Rising is set in extremely dark quarters with very few bold and brilliant colors, but Kino's Blu-ray handles all that murkiness quite well with strong image detail and solid contrast levels. Skin tones appear accurate, while background depth is obviously apparent and even the respectable CGI elements blend in well with their real-world environments. There are small exceptions here and there (a few of the film's darkest moments, a few rough-looking exterior shots, and the extremely murky deep-sea opening) and most are source-related...but for a relatively low-budget, effects-driven production, there's very little to complain about here. You won't find a better-looking version of Deep Rising on home video unless a true 4K edition ever sees the light of day.
Even better is the film's aggressive, very atmospheric DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix (also available in lossless 2.0), although earlier home video editions weren't all that far behind. Not surprisingly, there's a great deal of channel separation here with plenty of jump scares and not-so-subtle ambient noises, from the rushing of water to the damp echo of sound effects in large, abandoned rooms. Dialogue is always crystal-clear, while Jerry Goldsmith's enjoyable score is balanced nicely without overpowering. LFE is extremely potent at times, whether it's the low rumble of an approaching creature or the tight punch of gunshots and explosions. Overall, it's just a great-sounding mix that really adds to the enjoyment level. Optional English (SDH) subtitles have been included during main feature only.
The interface is a bit on the dull side, but everything's laid out nicely with smooth navigation and no forced trailers beforehand. This one-disc package is housed in a standard keepcase with reversible artwork featuring original poster artwork and a newly commissioned design by Jacob Phillips that's used for the slipcover as well. It's a fine-looking package that fits Deep Rising's tone perfectly.
Considering Buena Vista's 1998 DVD only included the film's theatrical trailer (and Mill Creek's 2012 Blu-ray didn't even bother with that), this batch of new and exclusive bonus features should thrill long-time fans. First up is a feature-length Audio Commentary with director Stephen Sommers and editor Bob Ducsay, who offer an insightful, candid, and entertaining track from start to finish. Topics of discussion include shooting in Vancouver, Jerry Goldsmith's score, ILM's contributions to the film and other visual effects, assembling the final cast (and earlier prospects, of course), working relationships with the crew, unsuccessful interference from the studio, the TV version, changes to the original script, the film's theatrical release and cult status, and much more. It's well worth a listen even for new fans, as Sommers and Ducay spend a surprisingly equal amount of time sharing plenty of personal stories from the production.
On a related note, we also get several short to mid-length Interviews with cast and crew members including Wes Studi (8:21), Kevin J. O'Connor (14:15), Anthony Heald (13:14), cinematographer Howard Atherton (14:03), and second unit director Dean Cundey (11:46). Not surprisingly, there's a fairly solid amount of ground covered here including summers in British Columbia, working with underwater cameras, six-string guitar lessons, improvising a few lines, creative problem solving, other projects with the director, imaginary monsters, getting beat up on set, and much more. These are all relaxed and entertaining with very little overlap.
Digging in to more technical territory, two recent Featurettes examine portions of the film's CGI and practical elements. Both "The Visual Effects of Deep Rising" (16:48) and "The Practical Effects of Deep Rising" (9:23) are almost self-explanatory, featuring comments from VFX artists John Berton and Van Ling, as well as makeup artists Brad Proctor and Doug Morrow. Not surprisingly, these are peppered with behind-the-scenes clips, vintage photographs, and a few sketches to boot, but they also do a great job of putting viewers in the primitive world of 1998-era effects technology. Deeper down is a assortment of ILM Animatics, Demos, and Tests (6 clips, 38 minutes total) that explore various elements of the final sequence, the guts of two different creatures, and Mason's underwater death.
Closing things out is a short but enjoyable Still Gallery of production photos and promotional artwork (2:30), as well as the returning Theatrical Trailer (1:25) -- it doesn't look as impressive as the main feature but is in fairly good condition. Aside from appearances by Treat Williams and Famke Janseen or maybe a few deleted scenes, I can't think of much else that needs to be on here.
If you love good old-fashioned monster mayhem peppered with visual effects, great atmosphere, colorful characters, and more than a few corny one-liners, Deep Rising will be more "pleasure" than "guilty". It unfortunately bombed at the box office but has amassed a decent following in the last two decades -- and unlike a lot of films from its era, the CGI effects hold up almost perfectly. While fond memories of catching Deep Rising in theaters make it even more fun to revisit, new viewers can still dive right in. Kino's new 20th Anniversary Blu-ray makes it easy with one of their best releases to date, serving up a top-tier A/V presentation and loads of great bonus features that swim circles around earlier home video releases. Very Highly Recommended, and one of the best surprise releases this year.