Leviathan (1989) – A Review
Underwater deep-sea miners are nearing the end of a six-month gig digging up precious minerals on the ocean floor. They’re all going a bit stir crazy and are all anxious to return to the surface with their own plans and get back to living in the open air.
But then a member of the crew encounters something unexpected – a sunken Russian ship named the Leviathan.
After salvaging some items from the safe of the ship an overzealous miner returns to his comrades with a treasure trove of goods not knowing the sinister force that he’s just exposed them to. Very soon a horrific creature will be unleashed onto their rig and will be threatening all their lives.
Ok, so this is an Alien/The Thing knockoff. Instead of space or the arctic we have a bunch of characters at the bottom of the ocean when a deadly sci-fi/horror creature begins to pick them off one by one. Even the most casual moviegoer will see the blatant similarities with this setup.
Leviathan was also one of the handful of underwater action/horror movies that cropped up in the late-80’s/early 90’s – DeepStar Six, The Evil Below, Lords of the Deep, The Rift, The Abyss. I’m not sure what made the bottom of the ocean so popular during this period.
I started to think maybe they all grew out of the discovery of the Titanic wreck in 1985. It got a lot of attention and suddenly we were seeing all these nifty ghostly images sitting on the ocean floor. Perhaps that inspired filmmakers to tell some stories in that cold pressurized setting. That’s just a rough guess though.
One thing that sets Leviathan apart from the rest of the pack of these underwater flicks is the impressive cast we get to watch run for their lives in this pressurized oil rig.
Peter Weller is a geologist who becomes the reluctant commander of this mining crew. Richard Crenna is the rigs doctor that wishes he could leave his mark on mankind. Amanda Pays spends her time training to be an astronaut. Hector Elizondo, Daniel Stern, Ernie Hudson, Michael Carmine and Lisa Eilbacher are the rest of the colorful crew who become expendable pawns by their icy, impersonal Tri-Oceanic boss Meg Foster.
Yep, we’ve seen this before. Suspicions begin that the Leviathan was actually sunken on purpose. Weller and Crenna determine that the crew of the Leviathan were being experimented on with some kind of genetic mutagens and the ship was sunk when things got a bit out of control.
Unfortunately Stern pockets an innocuous vodka flask off the Leviathan, shares a shot of it with Eilbacher and then really strange things happen to the crew.
As the infection begins to spread from one character to another the rest do their darndest to dispose of the creature and save themselves. The odds aren’t in their favor though with no way off the rig, no help from Foster on the surface and this creature getting bigger and slimier scene by scene and taking apart the rig.
Flamethrowers, large metal doors closing, long dark hallways and this creature popping out of sorts places are how the crew get to spend their remaining time on the ocean floor.
This is a quintessential B-movie creature feature. The high points are the beginning of the movie with this cast of actors just hanging out bouncing lines off each other. I probably would have been content just to hang out with them watching them work. Plus, Pays and Eilbacher are both looking good here.
I always found it interesting Leviathan was filmed dry-for-wet and how convincing those underwater scenes look. Thinking back on how much money James Cameron spent to film and create that underwater environment in The Abyss, Leviathan was able to pull off the same thing with less work and less money and it all works fairly well.
Once the terror of the deep begins it becomes a very paint-by-numbers experience where there are little surprises and you know where it’s all headed. There are a few fun lines, some nifty special effects here and there and a decent score by Jerry Goldsmith, but those few things don’t make the whole thing worth sitting through.
I remember first seeing Leviathan when it first came out and really hoping to like it. Wanting it to be a special kind of horror film, but it just ended up being an awfully standard one.
On top of it being a retread of better films that doesn’t offer anything new, another major disappointment that I’ve always had with Leviathan is that we’re never allowed to get a nice look at the creature. With special effects maestro Stan Winston creating this thing I would have thought his work would have been prominently featured. But no.
I understand the whole sense of mystery and the philosophy of ‘it’s scarier what we don’t see’ and all that, but give us something! We never get a sense of what this thing looks like or how exactly it’s moving through this rig and able to pop up at just the right moment to grab an unsuspecting crew member. I’ve since seen pictures of the models and puppets and it was all news to me. I would always think, “oh so that’s what it looks like!”