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Sphere is a 1998 American science fiction psychological thriller film directed and produced by Barry Levinson and starring Dustin Hoffman, Sharon Stone, and Samuel L. Jackson. Sphere was based on the 1987 novel of the same name by Michael Crichton. The film was released in the United States on February 13, 1998.

Plot

An alien spacecraft is discovered on the floor of the Pacific Ocean, estimated to have been there for nearly 300 years. A team of experts, including marine biologist Dr. Beth Halperin (Stone), mathematician Dr. Harry Adams (Jackson), astrophysicist Dr. Ted Fielding (Schreiber), psychologist Dr. Norman Goodman (Hoffman), and U.S. Navy Capt. Harold Barnes (Coyote), are assembled and taken to the Habitat, a state-of-the-art living environment located near the spacecraft.

Upon examination of the spacecraft, they determine that it is not alien at all, but rather U.S. in origin. However, its technology far surpasses any in the present day. The ship's computer logs cryptically suggest either a mission originating in the distant past or future, but the team manages to deduce that the long dead crew were tasked with collecting an item of scientific importance. Goodman and Halperin discover the ship's logs, which show the ship encountering an "unknown event" (thought to be a black hole) that sends the vessel back in time. Goodman and the others eventually stumble upon a large, perfect sphere hovering a few feet above the floor in the ship's cargo bay. They cannot find any way to probe the inside of the sphere, and the fluidic surface is impenetrable; the crew attaches importance to the fact that the sphere reflects its surroundings but not the humans.

They return to the Habitat, and Harry comes to believe that everyone on this team is fated to die. His rationale is that the black hole is referred to as an "unknown event" in the logs but due to time travel they have foreknowledge of the entire mission. During the night, Harry returns to the spacecraft and is able to enter the sphere, then returns to the Habitat. The next day, the crew discovers a series of numeric-encoded messages appearing on the computer screens; the crew is able to decipher them and come to believe they are speaking to "Jerry", an alien intelligence from the sphere. They find Jerry is able to see and hear everything that happens on the Habitat.

A powerful typhoon strikes the surface, and the Habitat crew are forced to stay several more days. During that time, a series of tragedies strike the crew, including attacks from aggressive jellyfish and a giant squid and equipment failures in the base, killing Ted and the team's support staff. The survivors, Beth, Harry, and Norman believe Jerry to be responsible. While waiting for rescue, the three realize that the hazards are manifestations of their own fears - all of them have entered the sphere, which has given them the ability to make their imagination real. Norman discovers that they had misinterpreted the initial messages from Jerry and that the entity speaking to them through the computers is actually Harry himself, transmitted while he is asleep.

Under the stress of the situation, Beth has suicidal thoughts which causes the detonation mechanisms on a store of explosives to engage, threatening to destroy the base and the spacecraft. They race to the Habitat's mini-sub, but their combined fears cause them to re-appear back in the spacecraft. As a psychologist, Norman is able to see through the illusion. He triggers the mini-sub's undocking process and overrides the others' fears that they will not escape the destruction of the Habitat and spacecraft. The sphere is untouched by the explosions.

The mini-sub makes it to the surface as the surface ships return. As Beth, Harry, and Norman begin safe decompression, they realize that they will be debriefed and their newfound powers discovered. They all agree to erase their memories of the event using their powers; this assures that the "unknown event" paradox is resolved. The sphere rises from the ocean and then accelerates off into space.

Cast

Production

Hoffman joined the cast because of Levinson's involvement. Hoffman and Levinson had collaborated on several prior projects, and Hoffman had faith that Levinson could raise the project beyond its script.[3] Due to budgetary concerns, production stopped in October 1996 and the script was revised. While Levinson waited for production to resume on Sphere, he directed Wag the Dog, which also stars Hoffman.[4] Shooting began again in March 1997 with a budget that Variety estimated at $80 million.[5] Shooting took place at a naval base on Mare Island in Vallejo, California.[6] Principal photography ended in July 1997 after 68 days.[7]

Release

Sphere initially had a Christmas release date but was moved forward to avoid competition.[8] Warner Bros. released the film theatrically in the US on February 13, 1998, where it debuted in third place and grossed $37 million total.[2] The Los Angeles Times characterized it as a flop.[9] Sphere grossed $50.1 million worldwide.[1]

Reception

Sphere received mostly negative reviews from critics.[10] On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 12% based on 51 reviews, with an average score of 4/10. The site's critical consensus states, "Sphere features an A-level cast working with B-grade material, with a story seen previously in superior science-fiction films"[11] On Metacritic, the film had a score of 35 out of 100, based on 21 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews".[12] Todd McCarthy of Variety called it derivative of classic science fiction films and devoid of suspense.[13] Janet Maslin of The New York Times wrote, "While this is no quick-witted treat on a par with Mr. Levinson's Wag the Dog, it's a solid thriller with showy scientific overtones".[14] Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "The more the movie explains itself, the more ordinary it becomes."[15]

Soundtrack

Main article: Sphere (soundtrack)

The score for Sphere was composed by Elliot Goldenthal.

Legacy

Following a review by Lisa Schwarzbaum in Entertainment Weekly that gratuitously mentioned Hoffman's Jewish heritage,[16] Levinson wrote Liberty Heights.[10] Samples of Sharon Stone's voice from the film are used in "Moments In Space" by Odessi.[17]

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "Sphere (1998)".. Retrieved on 2015-08-30.
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Sphere (1998)".. Retrieved on 2007-09-24.
  3. Harrison, Eric (1999-02-14). "Hoffman vs. Hoffman", Los Angeles Times. Retrieved on 30 August 2015. 
  4. Fleming, Michael (1996-12-02). "‘Wag’ snags Levinson in ‘Sphere’ time".. Retrieved on 2015-08-30.
  5. Johnson, Ted (1997-03-10). "WB clears ‘Sphere’ for production start".. Retrieved on 2015-08-30.
  6. Archerd, Army (1996-10-15). "Forman tells how film fest changed his life".. Retrieved on 2015-08-30.
  7. Archerd, Army (1997-07-02). "Smooth sailing for ‘Sphere’".. Retrieved on 2015-08-30.
  8. Karon, Paul (1997-09-09). "WB spins ‘Sphere’ into Feb.".. Retrieved on 2015-08-30.
  9. Goldstein, Patrick (2001-02-13). "Levinson at War With DreamWorks Over 'Piece'", Los Angeles Times. Retrieved on 30 August 2015. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 Hornaday, Ann (1999-11-14). "He's Digging Deeper Into Home Turf", Los Angeles Times. Retrieved on 30 August 2015. 
  11. "Sphere (1998)".. Fandango. Retrieved on March 19, 2018.
  12. "Sphere Reviews".. CBS Interactive. Retrieved on March 19, 2018.
  13. McCarthy, Todd (1998-02-10). "Review: ‘Sphere’".. Retrieved on 2015-08-30.
  14. Maslin, Janet (1998-02-13). "Sphere (1998)", The New York Times. Retrieved on 30 August 2015. 
  15. Turran, Kenneth (1998-02-13). "20,000 Leitmotifs Under the Sea", Los Angeles Times. Retrieved on 30 August 2015. 
  16. "Sphere" (in en-US), EW.com (1998-02-20). 
  17. "Odessi - Moments Of Space".. YouTube (2010-09-23). Retrieved on 2015-10-18.

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