I’m really not sure exactly how The Deep snuck into the Saturday morning kids movie line up back when I was younger and it had just come out, but there it was, and therefore there were my best friend at the time and I sitting in the front row watching it and… well, let’s just say being completely fascinated by it’s opening ten or so minutes. And if you’ve ever seen the movie, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.
As a matter of fact, there are those who will argue that those first ten minutes are the only ones worth watching in the whole film.
I beg to differ, however.
Coming off of the enormous success of Jaws just a couple of years earlier, it seems obvious that Hollywood would again try to score big with another adaptation of a Peter Benchly novel. And scoring Robert Shaw, who had put in such an incredible performance as shark Hunter Quint in the earlier film had to also be seen as a coup.
So why is the former movie remembered as one of the best and most terrifying movies of all time, a movie that sparked thousands of nightmares and kept thousands away from beaches for the next few summers while the latter is remembered mostly as the film that sparked thousands of wet t-shirt competitions?
I suppose there could be a number of reasons. First, let’s face it, director Peter Yates is not Steven Spielberg. Of course, at the time Steven Spielberg wasn’t “Steven Spielberg!” either, and the fact that Jaws became such a hit was, as has often been documented as a case of luck (and making the most of some bad luck), fortuitous timing, and a huge amount of word of mouth.
Second, though The Deep does have a rather terrifying moray eel, it really doesn’t stand a chance against Bruce the Shark.
Third, though as noted above, though both films feature Robert Shaw in critical roles, he really isn’t given the kind of material to work with in The Deep that he had in Jaws, especially the highly celebrated USS Indianapolis scene, nor, in Nick Nolte and Jaqueline Bissett does he have the supporting players to play off of that he does in Jaws‘s Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss.
Finally, there is a palpable man vs nature aspect to Jaws that is missing in The Deep which is much nore of a man vs man story.
At the same time, in making those comparisons, I feel as though I am doing The Deep the same disservice that too many people do, because The Deep was not intended to be any kind of sequel to its predecessor, and not letting the film stand up on its own is unfair. There are not many movies that wouldn’t fail in the comparison.
So when I actually had a chance recently to rewatch the film, I took it, and I have to say that despite my own misgivings going into it, I found myself quickly drawn into it.
The plot revolves around Nolte and Bisset’s vacationing David and Gail, a pair of vacationing scuba divers who, while diving off the Bermuda coast happen upon a previously unexplored wreck which seems to house two different treasures. The first, and the one that interests David the most, is a storehouse of Spanish artifacts which could be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. The second is a massive quantity of morphine ampules which could be worth even more if they fall into the wrong hands.
It’s this second treasure, the morphine that bring David, Gail and Shaw’s Romer Trece into conflict with Louis Gossett Jr.’s Henri Cloche who wants the morphine ampules and could care less about the other treasure. Trece meanwhile, is determined not to let the drugs hit the streets.
This conflict leads to plenty of action, voodoo terrorism, and a climactic and explosive underwater showdown.
So, is The Deep a masterpiece? No. But I do think it is a movie which deserves to be seen more than it is, and which is much better than its reputation.
Here’s a trailer: