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Movie Review


MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sci-fi action including some startling images

Reviewed by: David Peterson

Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Teens Adults
118 min.
Year of Release:

Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Sharon Stone, Samuel L. Jackson, Peter Coyote, Queen Latifah, Liev Schreiber, Marga Gómez / Director: Barry Levinson / Released by: Warner Bros.

Over 1,000 feet beneath the surface of the ocean, partially buried beneath a coral bed, lies a mysterious spacecraft. Under a blanket of total secrecy, the U.S. government assembles a special research team comprised of a psychologist (Dustin Hoffman), mathematician (Samuel L. Jackson), physicist, and biologist (Sharon Stone) and the obligatory military personnel. The team is led by the psychologist, Norman and is ordered by guidelines from a document he wrote years earlier in a half-hearted effort to provide the U.S. government with rules of first-time contact with an ULF (unknown life form).

After establishing a base in a special underwater research lab, the small team goes inside the space craft to investigate further. The huge craft (over ½ mile long!) has been untouched in nearly 300 years. After making some startling discoveries about the origins of the strange ship, the team finds its most intriguing cargo—the sphere. A large, geometrically perfect sphere made of an unknown material. The sphere is obviously alien, but what is its purpose?

During the analysis of the strange orb, the team discovers a strange code being played through their computer systems. After deciphering the code, they are shocked to find that the sphere is communicating with them! Or is it? A number of strange and terrifying events occur and certain members of the team are killed in bizarre accidents. Seemingly playing on their fears, the sphere causes the remaining members of the team to distrust one another which results in even further distressing situations. Eventually, key members of the team figure out what is happening and make a last ditch effort to escape.

“Sphere” is an exciting psychological thriller that keeps you guessing through most of the film. Is it the alien sphere or the team members that are the problem? What is real and what is not? Have all the team members been “inside” the sphere, or not? The film is also interspersed with moments of humor that help lighten the mood accordingly.

While not totally original in its concept (this film definitely borrowed elements from “Contact”, “The Abyss”, and other such sci-fi movies), the film contains many original elements and some fine acting. As with many films of this nature, I am always left wanting more information about the alien. The ending does answer some key questions, but will leave you curious nonetheless.

“Sphere” contains some offensive language (including taking the Lord’s name in vain) and some very intense scenes of psychological terror. The “death sequences” surprisingly lacked the gratuitous gallons of blood and creature ooze normally associated with this genre of films. What is shown is certainly shocking enough and may still be offensive to some. It is definitely not a film for children and adults will need to be discriminating due to the intensity of some scenes (the woman behind me in the theatre was so frightened on a couple occasions that she nearly kicked me out of my chair!).

Viewer Comments
The writer, Stephen Hauser is a graduate of Wheaton College and began his screenwriting career in a class “Advanced Screenwriting” taught by Dr. Myrna Grant of the graduate communications department at Wheaton.
I totally echo Tim Blaisdell’s comments about “Sphere”. This was my favorite Crichton book and I waited and waited for the movie release; and the teasers at the theater and on TV looked good. What a disappointment! They should have dealt more with the sphere itself and what it was like inside. And the ending was really dumb. What a waste.
—Leigh Dawson, age 38
Just to set the record straight, “Contact” (1985) was written before “Sphere” (1987), which in turn was written before “The Abyss”(1989). Furthermore, “Contact” has basically nothing to do with the other 2 films except that they’re all science fiction. Also, for anyone who has read more than a few Michael Crichton novels (that doesn’t include flipping to the end :^), I think most will agree that “Sphere” is by far his best work. Since it’s basically a psychological novel, transferring it to the screen obviously didn’t do the story justice.
—Bryan, 20
I found “Sphere” to be quite a disappointment, esp. considering the quality of the stars. I did not become more than minimally involved in caring about any of the characters and, largely for this reason, had a tough time staying awake! It doesn’t qualify as a good sci-fi, horror, or thriller. Fortunately, I am certain that at least Dustin Hoffman and Samuel L. Jackson have many fine films to star in in the future.
—Gene Schumacher, age 48
The film was based on a Michael Crichton book that was written before either CONTACT or THE ABYSS, therefore the idea that this movie borrowed anything from either should actually be stated the other way around.
—Michael Keller
I really hated this movie. I read part of the book and for bordome’s sake, I skipped to the end—it was really bad, too. The whole movie reaked of New Age ideals that I didn’t care sniff from the plot. The acting was weak, granted, the actors had a sorry script to deal with. Queen LaTeefa had an insignificant part the dumbed her down quite a bit. I just don’t see the point in watching this movie. It has no redeeming qualities, especially for Christians.
—Jeff James, age 23
I found the movie’s theme (as I understood it) to be most insightful—the theme being that, given the ability to make one’s thoughts and dreams real, the result would be evil, not good. And, once these “good” people realized they had in their grasp the power to create, they concluded that the evil they would create would destroy them. Therefore, “Sphere” to me came quite close to being a definitive case study in the doctrine of the total depravity of man.
—Jim Cannon
It is sad to me that people could not read the underlying themes of “Sphere”. What is this world coming to? I watched “Event Horizon” (a movie with the same worldy themes as this one) a few months ago and had the same reaction. This film was shocking in its open display of New Age ideas and the fact that “we are not ready” for a higher intelligence. Too often the people of today are searching for satisfaction in a higher realm or an alien intelligence, believing they have all the answers. As we know, though, Christ is the only one with the answer and we cannot replace or let something become him. It is sad that most Christians didn’t recgonize the subliminal views of mind control, inward spiritual searches, and other inately world views. This was a digustingly humanistic film that I think should be ignored and dismissed by any Christian trying to increase his faith and not degrade it.
—Todd Burns, age 17
I thought it was a very good movie. I really didn’t know a whole lot about it going in and I really enjoyed it. The only detractors were that it left you with a lot of questions and the ending was very lame. The excitement was intense in this film and made it even somewhat scary. Overall, I give this a thumbs up.
—Thomas Burke, age 16
Religiously speaking, “Sphere” promotes a “New Age” concept: the idea that it’s possible for us to think or imagine things into existence. In the movie an alien gives people the power to “conceptualize” reality into existence. New Agers believe we create reality by what we think, believe or imagine (we can “project” our thoughts). The movie dialog even mentions Deepak Chopra, who is a New Age guru and promotes these ideas. Of course, this ability would make us equal with God (the only one who can actually speak things into existence). Me being “god” is bottom line in New Age religion. It’s also the original sin, isn’t it?
—Leo DePaul, age 48
I looked forward to this film because I’m a big fan of science fiction, and there are notable actors/actresses in this film. What I got was about two hours of plodding story line and a completely lame ending. The special effects were good—the evil critters spun out by each actor/actress were well done, and the sphere itself was great, but there was so much more that could have been done with this film. How about a little more on the sphere itself? From a Christian standpoint, one person did say that, “These are not God’s creatures.” (Meaning, I suppose, that it is accepted knowledge that God did do the creating.) As the reviewer stated, this film borrowed from other movies: I’d like to include “Stargate” for the effect of going into the sphere. (Just what “did” it look like inside?)
—Jerome Bush, age 45
…“Sphere” was one of my favorite Crichton books. My anticipation was high as I entered the theatre to see Hollywood’s rendition of this great story. I left feeling like I had been ripped off. The entire last sequence, from the point that they enter the minisub to the end of the film, was pure mindless jibberish. Random scenes put in for no reason. Huge parts of the book—important parts—were just cut out! I couldn’t figure out how anyone in the theater who hadn’t read the book was able to follow anything! And then they cut off the twist at the end!!! This almost made me want to shout! I was very disappointed. My advice is, if you liked the book, don’t waste your money on this movie. Its someone’s sorry attempt to capitalize on the popularity of Michael Crichton’s name (notice, by the way, that Crichton had no part in the authorship of the screenplay, he’s only credited as “based on the novel by….” He did write the screenplay for “Jurassic Park”, “JP2”, and “The Andromeda Strain”).
—Tim Blaisdell
It’s been a premise of mine that Hollywood writers can’t outwrite the authors whose books they adapt for film. Especially when it comes to a great writer like Michael Crichton, Hollywood just can’t make it better. Still, when I read the book, “Sphere,” a few years ago, I didn’t like the story much. Truthfully, I never finished the book. The new movie, however, moves along pretty well, and held my attention till the end. From a Christian perspective, this film leaves a lot of room to start conversations with people. It’s a story about where the mind goes, and the depravity of it, and how uncontrollable it is. Also, at one point one character asks another, “You a religious man?” The reply, “No, but I’m flexible,” could provide an open door into the value of religious faith, especially in the face of adversity.
—Carrie Rostollan, age 29