I recall going to see 'The Deep' in the cinema at the time of its release and being rather puzzled by it. Here we had an adventure that had the name Peter Benchley splashed all over it - a name that could have, then, sold almost anything to the general public, but was a different kettle of fish to his most famous underwater frightener. Indeed, the feeding frenzy that followed in the wake of 'Jaws' back in 1975 caused an interest in almost everything aquatic and previously unheard of movies like 'Namu-Killer Whale' and 'Piranha' suddenly had an audience. However, such movies were simply low budget 'cash ins' and we had to wait until 1977 for the release of 'The Deep' which was based on Benchley's second best selling novel. At the time there were great expectations for this suspenseful film adaptation which was directed by Peter Yates ('Bullitt','Krull') and had a screenplay by Benchley himself and Tracy Keenan Wynn ('The Net', 'The Longest Yard'). The picture also featured a music score by Oscar winning composer John Barry, who added the atmosphere to many a Bond movie as well as 'Zulu' and 'Dances with Wolves'.
It featured Hollywood hot property Robert Shaw who'd also starred in 'Jaws' but who will forever be remembered for his portrayal of the psychopathic killer Red Grant in 'From Russia with Love'. The lovely Jacqueline Bisset ( 'Bullitt' and 'When Time Ran Out') steals the show in the opening sequence while swimming underwater in a see-through T-shirt, providing a couple of good reasons to watch it. 1970's beefcake actor Nick Nolte ('The Prince of Tides','48 Hrs') and the menacing Louis Gossett Jr. ('Iron Eagle', 'Roots') complete the ensemble.
So, great credentials and cast - but what's it all about?
Well, you need to know that there's no man eating shark in this one - although there is a pretty toothy giant eel.
The film revolves around a scuba diving couple, David Sanders (Nick Nolte) and Gail Berke (Jacqueline Bisset) who find the wreckage of the Goliath (a ship that sunk during World War II in Bermuda) and among the artifacts they discover a medallion from 1714. While searching the wreckage, in a pretty scary sequence, something unseen grabs Gail and tries to pull her into some rocks, but after a struggle she manages to escape.
When the two return from their search, they attract the attention of certain unsavoury locals due to the items they have found. With their research into the medallion going nowhere, the group enlist the help of lighthouse-keeper and treasure hunter Romer Treece (Robert Shaw). As Sanders and Treece show several people an ampoule brought up from the wreck, the local drug baron Henri Cloche (Louis Gossett, Jr.) takes note.
While the couple and Treece have their sights set on finding sunken treasure, Cloche is only interested in getting the cargo of morphine from the Goliath and will do whatever it takes to get it. What follows is a journey into terror for the treasure hunters.
The film was originally released in two forms, with a 123 minute theatrical print and a 3-hour extended version for television. The film on this Blu-ray release is the 123 minute version, but there are some selected scenes from the 3 hour version included in the extras.
'The Deep' raised much interest at the time of its release as it showcased the Bermuda islands and the beautiful blue ocean, however the marketing of the movie did nothing to dilute the expectations of fans that'd been hooked by 'Jaws' and had high hopes that they would get another equally terrifying underwater escapade.
In this aspect they were largely disappointed as, while there were scenes in 'The Deep' that could be seen as frightening, the film was more of an adventure with equal portions of romantic drama, suspense and even a killer eel thrown in for good measure - although unlike the shark in 'Jaws' it is not the main threat.
In general, the storyline of 'The Deep' is not very strong and while it does manage to generate enough action to keep the viewer interested it is not really in the same class as 'Jaws' - but then it never set out to be in the first place.
Seen now, thirty years further on from the ballyhoo of the 'Jaws' phenomenon, 'The Deep' can at last be seen as a movie in its own right without direct comparison by a modern day audience. It can now be seen for what it is - a good, well made tale that's told at a leisurely pace and one which set the style for many movies thereafter. It's a movie that can be enjoyed for its beautiful underwater photography and the excellent John Barry score which displays his trademark use of the brass and string sections of the orchestra.
Is it a classic? Probably not, but it's still an enjoyable movie - and then there's always Jacqueline Bisset in her T-shirt.
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