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Barry Levinson
Dustin Hoffman, Sharon Stone, Samuel L. Jackson, Liev Schreiber, Peter Coyote, Queen Latifah
Writing Credits:
Steven Hauser, Paul Attanasio Synopsis:
A spaceship is discovered under three hundred years' worth of coral growth at the bottom of the ocean.

Box Office:
$75 million.
Opening Weekend
$18,586,765 on 2,814 Screens.
Domestic Gross

Rated PG-13.

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1/16X9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Surround 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 135 min.
Price: $12.97
Release Date: 7/14/1998

• Audio Commentary with Actors Dustin Hoffman and Samuel L. Jackson
• “Shaping the Sphere: Art of the Special Effects Supervisor” Featurette
• TV Spots and Trailers
• Cast and Crew Information
&bill; “History of the Science-Fiction Film” Text


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


Sphere (1998)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 27, 2016)

Take a cast of highly-respected actors, a well-regarded director, a story from an extremely successful writer, lots of major studio megabucks, and even toss in a cameo from Huey Lewis, and what do you get? In the case of Sphere a big stinking mess, that's what.

That seems to be the general consensus, at least. When it came out in January 1998, it received a critical drubbing and sold roughly $87 worth of tickets. It looked like a high profile disaster.

But not one that deserved such a terrible fate. While not a classic, Sphere works better than its reputation might indicate.

Led by psychologist Norman Goodman (Dustin Hoffman), a team of specialists heads to check out a mysterious craft submerged in the ocean. They initially believe this to be an alien vessel, but they quickly realize it was made in the USA – they just don’t know when or why. Plenty of strange actions crop up as the participants explore the secrets of the sphere.

At this point, I've watched Sphere a handful of times but I'm still not quite sure what I think of it. Is it as bad as I had heard? No, not even close.

Granted, it has numerous faults, most of which seem to be related to the script. The plot makes some sense, but not much, and the actors have to speak some extremely tired and cliché dialogue. (If you create a drinking game that requires you to chug a shot every time someone says "My God!", you'll be trashed about 20 minutes into this thing.)

Despite the major handicap of the script, the cast and crew make Sphere about as watchable as it could have been. Really, it's the actors that turn the film into a semi-enjoyable experience. They all seem to realize that the project is doomed so they spice it up as much as they can. Director Barry Levinson also seems looser than usual; he rarely displays the heavy-handedness that pervades and ruins many of his films.

Yes, the movie tends to move slowly at times, and it should have been trimmed down a bit; at 135 minutes, it's simply too long. And while I won't give away the ending, I will note that it's pretty weak.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed Sphere the times I watched it. It won't make anyone's list of classic science fiction films, and it definitely disappoints considering what could have been done with the material, but the film contains enough plot twists and excitement to make it worth viewing.

The DVD Grades: Picture C-/ Audio B/ Bonus C

Sphere appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. When I first watched this disc in 1998, I thought it looked great. In 2016? Not so much.

Though I didn’t think the image looked awful, it showed its age, partially due to digital artifacts. The flick took on a grainy appearance due to compression concerns, and it could seem a little blocky as well. Overall definition was lackluster. Close-ups demonstrated decent delineation, but otherwise the movie seemed moderately fuzzy and bland.

No issues with jagged edges or shimmering appeared, but edge haloes cropped up through the movie. Source flaws were an occasional concern. Not a ton of defects materialized, but I saw sporadic instances of specks, nicks, marks and blemishes.

Colors were mediocre. Granted, the film went with a subdued palette, especially given the muted undersea setting. Nonetheless, the hues still seemed fairly bland, as they failed to demonstrate much presence.

Blacks were similar; they looked reasonably dark but could be a bit muddy. Shadows suffered from moderately excessive opacity; while they weren’t terribly thick, they failed to deliver good clarity. I liked enough of the transfer to give it a “C-“, but it was a close call; I was very tempted to knock it down to a “D+”.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack pleased, though I didn't think it dazzled. The mix worked more to create a sound environment than to impress with effects, and it did so reasonably well. The rear channels could have been used a bit more actively - they seemed quiet through too much of the film - but overall the sound design helped immerse the viewer in the film.

Audio quality was positive. Speech came across as natural and concise, without edginess or other issues. Music was a little muted but usually seemed reasonably vivid and full. Effects worked fine, as they showed good range and heft for the most part; like the music, I thought they could’ve been a bit more dynamic, but I didn’t have any real problems with them. The track was good but unexceptional.

With that we head to the extras. We begin with an audio commentary from actors Dustin Hoffman and Samuel L. Jackson. Both sit separately for this edited track. They cover various aspects of their experiences during the shoot.

We don’t hear much of Hoffman here, and when he does chat, he tends to complain. Hoffman gripes about how much he dislikes working in effects-heavy flicks and generally mopes about his experiences.

Jackson shows more of a “whatever it takes” attitude and comes across as more pleasant. He seems to accept the various issues that come during a movie shoot, and he offers some good stories and insights. There’s way too much dead air for this to be a satisfying piece, but Jackson does at least make it decent.

The 14-minute, 40-second Shaping the Sphere: The Art of the Visual Effects Supervisor is moderately interesting. Essentially, it's an audio commentary from effects supervisor Jeff Okun as he discusses his trade while images from the film appear on the screen. It's okay, but not terrific.

Other features include short cast and crew biographies; these cover writers Stephen Hauser and Paul Attanasio, novelist Michael Crichton, director Barry Levinson and actors Dustin Hoffman, Samuel L. Jackson, Sharon Stone, Liev Schreiber and Peter Coyote. We also find a brief but interesting written history of science fiction films. Neither of these segment is essential but both are well-executed.

Other than that, we get some ads: Sphere's theatrical trailer and three TV Spots. Under Reel Recommendations, the disc also includes a few actor-related trailers for other films; we find promos for All the President’s Men, Sleepers, and Above the Law.

Despite some big-name talent behind it, Sphere tanked at the box office. I didn’t think it deserved such a fate 18 years ago, and I still think it’s a decent movie. Would I ever classify it as a great movie? No, but it’s better than its awful reputation signifies.

As for the DVD, it’s a pretty lackluster affair. Audio seems good, but the picture suffers from a mix of concerns, and the smattering of supplements fail to engage in a significant way. This DVD hasn’t aged well.

To rate this film, visit the Blu-ray review of SPHERE

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