The Deep (1977)


The Deep
Dir. Peter Yates
Premiered June 17, 1977

This project has already brought us one terrible Jaws ripoff, and it will bring another. In the meantime, Peter Yates’ The Deep is a rare pleasure: the good Jaws ripoff! Adapted from Peter Benchley’s follow-up to Jaws, and co-starring Robert Shaw, things are already off to a better start than they were with, say, Tentacles. It’s also a very different kind of story: an old-fashioned mystery/adventure with all the resources the 1970s had to offer.

On holiday in Bermuda, treasure-hunting couple David (Nick Nolte) and Gail (Jacqueline Bisset) explore the Goliath, a sunken World War II vessel that’s off-limits to tourists– and not for no reason; it’s loaded with unexploded munitions. But as the two discover, it also has another treasure: thousands upon thousands of vials of morphine. Looking for assistance, David seeks out the island’s resident explorer Romer Treece (Robert Shaw), but word of the payload has already gotten out, placing the lot of them in the crosshairs of Hatian gangster Cloche (Louis Gossett, Jr.), and arousing the displeasure of one of the Goliath’s original crew (Eli Wallach). Undeterred, David and Gail return to the wreck with Treece, where a chance rockslide uncovers an even bigger treasure: under the Goliath is another shipwreck far older and far more valuable.

The Deep’s main draw is its underwater sequences, which rank among the best I’ve ever seen. The film has a handful of flaws around its periphery: For every three minutes of great shipwreck footage, there’s one minute of bad day-for-night scenes. The villains were ill-defined; I never got a feel for Cloche, or much understood his plan– and his gang is awfully ostentatious for such a small community, engaging in stereotypical voodoo rituals for effect. Nonetheless, The Deep remains a tense thriller with a real sense of adventure and mystery.

Signs This Was Made in 1977
The Deep’s score is not exactly timeless, but it’s classy. At least until the credits roll, when it descends into an embarrassing disco medley.

How Did It Do?
The Deep was the #8 film of 1977, earning $47.4 million against a $9 million budget. It also received Academy Award nominations for Best Sound and Best Original Song. For those of you who took umbrage with my mild disinterest in Stroszek, Eraserhead, 3 Women, and Iphigenia, let me balance it out: I’m thoroughly in the minority in liking The Deep, which earned a 36% fresh rating on RottenTomatoes, and was slammed by the majority of critics as a terse attempt to recapture the box-office success of Jaws. To that I say that aside from the involvement of Benchley, Shaw, and the Atlantic, The Deep is not Jaws, nor is it trying to be, and it’s much appreciated.

Next Time: Exorcist II: The Heretic


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