'The Deep' is anything but. After the phenomenal success of 'Jaws' as both a book and movie, author Peter Benchley immediately set about working on a follow-up tale of aquatic adventure. Rather than a direct sequel or another monster epic, his 1976 novel 'The Deep' focused on those old literary chestnuts of sunken treasure and pirates, with a little bit of a modern spin. The book was pure pulpy entertainment and went on to become reasonably successful. If nowhere near the same level as 'Jaws', it was still fairly popular. A movie version directed by Peter Yates ('Bullitt') followed quickly to similar results.
A young and studly Nick Nolte stars with the exquisite Jacqueline Bisset. They play David and Gail, a couple on vacation in Bermuda. In the novel, they were honeymooning, but here they can't quite commit. The pair spend their days scuba diving around old shipwrecks in the hope of dredging up valuable trinkets. On one excursion to an old WWII wreck that the government has prohibited anyone from exploring, they find an interesting medallion and a tiny bottle. Almost immediately upon returning to shore, they're approached by a Haitian man (Louis Gossett, Jr.) claiming to be a glass collector, who offers them an exorbitant sum for the bottle. Suspicious of his motives, they feign ignorance and brush him off. The next day, they seek out a famous local treasure hunter named Treece (Robert Shaw) who can tell them what it really is and appraise its worth.
It turns out that the bottle is an ampoule of morphine, one of thousands from the medical supply of a military munitions ship lost in a hurricane. The drugs were thought destroyed in the storm. No one had previously recovered the ship's cargo due to the danger of the live, unexploded ordnance strewn throughout the wreckage. Further, the medallion once belonged to an 18th Century Spanish noblewoman, whose property was sunk with a vessel that's apparently located beneath the WWII ship. That Haitian is really a notorious drug-runner and pirate named Cloche who believes he can make millions from the morphine. Treece wants to blow up the ship before Cloche can get to the drugs, but David and Gail are desperate to find more of the Spanish booty first.
Thus follows a fizzy concoction of romance and high seas adventure. Nolte makes a charismatic leading man, and is the very definition of '70s macho with his bushy mustache and perpetually unbuttoned shirt. Robert Shaw, if not quite as flamboyant as his role in 'Jaws', still manages to steal most scenes he's in. But this movie really belongs to Jacqueline Bisset, whose infamous wet T-shirt diving scene instantly catapulted her into the ranks of major cinematic icons. Beyond the sex appeal, beyond the beauty, she's also a very fine actress, and delivers a compelling performance mixing plenty of intelligence and raw emotion.
'The Deep' is, admittedly, an insubstantial movie. It's a picture postcard of scenic locations and beautiful underwater photography. As much of the film is spent below the ocean's surface as above it. Long stretches of scuba action go by without any dialogue at all. The plot is thin, but just sufficient to string the story along. The picture has a little action and suspense, mostly focused on the claustrophobic conditions in the shipwreck. A touch of voodoo, a fistfight or two, some sharks, and one giant scary eel also liven up the proceedings. By modern standards, the movie's pacing drags a bit, but it develops enough of a charming exotic atmosphere to make the time go by pleasantly enough.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment unearths 'The Deep' on Blu-ray. Unlike most releases from the studio, this disc has no obnoxious promos or trailers before the main menu.
The Blu-ray contains only the 124-minute theatrical cut of the film. However, a handful of scenes from the longer 3-hour TV version have been included in the supplement package.
'The Deep' is filled with lovely scenic and underwater photography in 2.35:1 Panavision widescreen. As a production of the 1970s, the movie has a fair amount of soft lighting, soft focus, and mist filters that limit its potential sharpness. Nonetheless, the Blu-ray's 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer appears to be accurately transferred. The disc has a solid level of detail, and a nice film-like quality.
The footage under the opening credits is quite grainy, possibly due to the optical compositing used for the titles. The problem clears up soon afterwards, just in time for that wet T-shirt scene. The remainder of the movie has a light but appropriate grain texture. No artifacts from Digital Noise Reduction or artificial sharpening are in evidence. The underwater scenes usually look hazy, but that's entirely appropriate given the shooting conditions.
Colors are soft but accurate for a '70s Metrocolor production. The contrast range is also well delineated, even during the Day-for-Night photography. Unlike some other recent Sony titles, no artificial contrast boosting has taken place here. Some minor banding artifacts underwater are the transfer's only noticeable demerit, but even those are not severe enough to fuss over.
According to IMDb, 'The Deep' was originally mixed for mono or 4-track stereo back in 1977. The earlier DVD edition had a Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround soundtrack. For this new Blu-ray, Sony has remixed the audio into 5.1 Surround, here encoded in lossless Dolby TrueHD format.
The film was nominated for a Best Sound Academy Award, no doubt due to the interesting use of sound effects and ambience in the underwater scenes. Unfortunately, the fidelity of the soundtrack doesn't nearly hold up to modern standards. Dialogue in particular is very poor. It sounds as though the original location recordings from the beach and open water were simply run through a heavy notch filter to tune out background noise. Under normal circumstances, scenes like that would be redubbed later in post production. When ADR work is used, it stands out as artificial.
Scenes underwater, for which all of the audio was dubbed or foleyed, sound better than those above water. As mentioned, the picture makes some interesting use of scuba sounds and aquatic ambient noises, some of which are subtly bled to the rear channels.
John Barry's musical score comes across thin and brittle, with shrill highs and exaggerated bass notes. Sadly, 'The Deep' sounds every bit of its three decades age.
As far as I've been able to determine, the DVD edition released back in 1999 had no bonus features at all. As such, all of the supplements on the Blu-ray can be considered high-def exclusives.
'The Deep' may not be a great lost masterpiece, but it's an entertaining couple of hours that have held up pretty well in the three decades since the movie's release. The Blu-ray has a very fine video transfer that emphasizes Jacqueline Bisset's stunning assets like never before. The sound quality is just acceptable, and the bonus features are only somewhat interesting. Perhaps not an essential purchase, this is nevertheless a strong catalog release and certainly worth a look.