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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
English Dolby TrueHD 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 135 min.
Price: $14.98
Release Date: 9/8/2009

• Audio Commentary with Actors Dustin Hoffman and Samuel L. Jackson
• “Shaping the Sphere: Art of the Special Effects Supervisor” Featurette
• TV Spots and Trailer


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 [Blu-Ray] (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 Blu-ray Grades: Picture B-/ Audio B/ Bonus C

Sphere appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Though the image was usually pretty good, it never became exceptional.

Sharpness was the main concern. Most of the movie showed good clarity, but a mild amount of softness crept into the presentation. I think some of this stemmed from the smoky settings and the original photography, but I still felt the flick looked less precise than I’d expect.

I noticed no issues with jagged edges or moiré effects, and edge enhancement remained absent. Source flaws were minor. I noticed a couple of small specks but that was it.

Colors were fine. The film went with a subdued palette, especially given the muted undersea setting. The hues showed good fidelity, though they remained a bit bland. Blacks were reasonably dense and tight, while shadows offered good clarity. The image didn’t excel, but it was more than acceptable.

The Dolby TrueHD 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.

How did the Blu-ray compare to the original 1998 DVD? I thought the two soundtracks were fairly similar. The TrueHD version added a little pep but not a lot.

Though I didn’t feel especially impressed with the Blu-ray’s transfer, it clearly topped the muddy, murky image of the DVD. The Blu-ray boasted stronger definition along with clearer colors, deeper blacks, fewer source flaws, and smoother shadows. The DVD’s presentation didn’t age well, so the Blu-ray offered a visual upgrade.

The Blu-ray includes most of the same extras as the DVD. 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 makes it decent.

The 14-minute, 36-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 than that, we get some ads. The disc includes Sphere's theatrical trailer and three TV Spots. It drops a few text components and some promos for other films from the DVD.

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 Blu-ray, it presents generally good – though not great – picture and audio along with some average supplements. New bonus features would’ve been nice, and nothing about this release really impressed. However, fans will feel pleased with it, as it gives them a good upgrade over the old DVD.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.0714 Stars Number of Votes: 14
13 3:
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