Occasionally, something good comes out of something bad. In this case, during a break in the production of "Sphere", director Barry Levinson was able to quickly produce "Wag The Dog", with Dustin Hoffman as the star of both films. It's questionable just what caused "Sphere" to end up being as awkwardly done as it is. I haven't read the novel by author Michael Crichton, but the screenplay that has been adapted for this picture is pretty awful - the picture is edited in a way that the plot sometimes seems rather unclear, as well.
Even if this screenplay is faithful to the book, it doesn't generate too many thrills, with the only strong performance being from Samuel L. Jackson. The movie revolves around a team of scientists who are brought in to study what seems to be a giant spacecraft that has been found at the bottom of the ocean, which includes a giant spehere that just sits there for the majority of the movie, doing its own thing and minding its own business.
Soon, strange things begin appearing and what was left of the script seems to have been thrown out the window and replaced by poorly done special effects. This is the first action movie that Levinson has done and although he is a very good director, he really doesn't show any skill in terms of staging action or stunts. Hoffman looks uncomfortable as well, with one of his least interesting performances. Although the rather slow opening is slightly boring, once the action begins, the film is simply tiring. The movie becomes an "all noise, no substance" feature, and audiences who are waiting for something to happen will likely be bored. Apparently, there was also some work done on the ending of the picture. Whatever work they did, I'd like to see the other ideas that they had, because anything would be more enjoyable than the lame scene that ends the movie on an even lower note than I'd thought possible. The movie goes on for far longer than it should have, and some editing could certainly have been done.
Aside from a few decent moments and a good performance by Samuel L. Jackson, "Sphere" is watchable, but certainly not a very good movie.
Since I missed some of the early titles, I've been going back and reviewing early releases lately, and have watched a handful of early titles from Warner Brothers in the past couple weeks(Fugitive, Eraser, Sphere). Although I've been very pleased with the other two, I'm most impressed with "Sphere", which proves that, although they've messed up with their choices on a couple of titles, Warner has been doing very solid work since their first DVD efforts. Images are remarkably sharp, with excellent detail. Colors, what few there are, are nicely produced on this DVD as well. Absolutely no problems whatsoever - no shimmering or pixelation, and the print is in crystal clear condition.
SOUND: The sound is generally very good, and when the action starts up, it manages to be nicely agressive and enveloping. Surrounds are put to work through a good deal of the picture, and the sound as a whole works well to put across the creepy noises or sudden shocks. Even in the softer scenes, there are a number of subtle touches. Score is very strong, sounding well-recorded and with wonderful presence. Dialogue is fine as well, not sounding compressed or problematic.
MENUS:: As usual with the early Warner Brothers (well, with early titles from all studios actually) menus, there really isn't much at all to the menus. Non-animated and without much detail.
EXTRAS: Entertaining commentary, although there are a few too many moments of silence, from Samuel L. Jackson and Dustin Hoffman (whose comments were recorded separately). Jackson (who also recorded a commentary for "Deep Blue Sea") does most of the talking and is wonderfully entertaining. I have to say after listening to him over these two commentaries, he's one of my favorite commentators. He manages to be incredibly funny and informative about the production at the same time.
There's a impressive and very in-depth featurette called "Shaping The Sphere" that takes a look, from the viewpoint of the FX Supervisor, of the production of the movie. We learn a lot about what went into some of the effects sequences in the movie, and also a good deal about the steps of a production as well. The featurette lasts about 14 minutes.
There's also the usual: Trailers(on this particular DVD: Sphere, All The President's Men, Sleepers, Above The Law), text notes/bios and 3 TV spots for "Sphere".