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Director: George P. Cosmatos
Writer: David Webb Peoples
Cast: Peter Weller, Ernie Hudson, Amanda Pays
Length: 98 min.
Label: Scream Factory
Release Date: August 19, 2014
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0
- Leviathan: Monster Melting Pot: Interviews with the SFX Crew including Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff Jr
- Dissecting Cobb with Hector Elizondo
- Surviving Leviathan with Ernie Hudson
- Theatrical Trailer
As luck would have it, 1989 was an important year for the aquatic creature feature. By August of 1989, Hollywood had witnessed the birth of three deep-sea monsters, appearing in the films DeepStar Six, Leviathan, and, by far the biggest budget of the three, James Cameron’s The Abyss. Whatever the studios thought might be in the air, they were wrong. All the films performed poorly at the box-office, and for mainstream filmgoers, with the possible exception of The Abyss, have been lost in the recesses of time. These films remain alive in the minds of horror and sci-fi fans alike and, thanks to post-theatrical releases, they have been able to retain a fan base. While not as low budget as DeepStar nor as much as a commercial failure as The Abyss, the more modest Leviathan emerges as the first of the three to reach the Blu-Ray format. Available now, as part of Shout! Factory’s imprint Scream Factory, and more than fifteen years following its original release, Leviathan is leaving new audiences “gasping for air…”
The plot follows a team of deep-sea miners who, after discovering a wrecked Soviet ship, are endangered when they mistakenly return to their ship carrying a mysterious ailment. Beginning as what would appear to be a disease, the crew is slowly infected, one by one, and metamorphosed into a growing amalgamation. A parasitic being, the disease uses the miners’ bodies as hosts, further developing with each new prey. Isolated in the recesses of the sea, the crew is forced to fight against the creature in order to survive.
Levianthan, directed by George P. Cosmatos (Rambo: First Blood Part II, Cobra) from a script by David Webb Peoples (Blade Runner), could be chastised for its clear homages. The film is not so secret about its attempts to market off of the success of prior horror films of the decade; as one of the poster’s tagline reads, “Aliens thrilled you… The Fly shocked you… Now experience real fear.” A mash up of the Alien franchise, The Thing’s creature design, and the body horror imagery of Cronenberg’s The Fly (among others), Leviathan wasn’t trying to break new grounds in the horror world, but just add another worthy addition at the end of a remarkable decade for the genre; and, in that regard, they were successful. Despite a rather lackluster box-office gross, the film is far from stale.
In retrospect, thanks to Cosmatos’ direction and a fairly large team of SFX specialists, Leviathan retains a big-budget look and feel that helps to drive the film forward. Deciding to forgo the use of actual underwater spaces, Cosmatos utilized blue filters and slow motion to make the scenes appear to be in the deep sea. Dressing the deep-sea sets with bits of floating debris, a sense of depth is successfully achieved, resulting in a feel that is equal parts aquatic, as it is dreamlike.One of the strangest aspects of the film is the creature itself. Through each stage of its transformation, the creature looks remarkably different. Even by the final stage, at the film’s end, the creature still resembles more of a mish mashing of ideas than a cohesive whole. The reason for this anomaly is addressed in the collection’s special features. While SFX maestro Stan Winston (Terminator 2, Aliens)was in charge of the production, his SFX crew—which included Tom Woodruff Jr. (Starship Troopers, Tremors) and Alec Gillis (Aliens, Tremors)—describe the process as extremely collaborative. When a member had a visual idea for the creature they developed it, and Winston encouraged his crew to take the reigns. The result may be a fusion of styles, but it is certainly never boring.
Composed by Jerry Goldsmith (Alien, Poltergeist, and The Omen), Leviathan’s score is the one aspect of the film that, without argument, ages the best. The larger than life orchestral numbers give the film both a sense of urgency, but also legitimacy. The integration of composed music with natural whale sounds puts the finishing touches on the atmosphere that Cosmatos fashioned. It is a near perfect representation of what a soundtrack should be: an aural translation of the visual world and feel.Finally, the cast of actors must be addressed, including solid performances by Peter Weller (Robocop, Naked Lunch), Richard Crenna (Rambo franchise), Daniel Stern (Home Alone), Ernie Hudson (Ghostbusters), Meg Foster (They Live), and Hector Elizondo. Stern’s strengths are exploited to the max, utilized at every turn for his comedic sensibilities as the loud mouth, grotesque Sixpack. While Weller and Hudson form the film’s more serious core, emerging as the heroes. Unfortunate for Hudson—and he is quick to mention it during his interview, where he speculates that the film would have performed better had he survived—his character Justin Jones perishes in the film’s final moments. Surviving for most of the film, it would seem as if Leviathan would be defying the age-old cliché that the black characters die first; but, in an almost sick twist of convention, the film uses him as—almost unnecessary—creature fodder before the final hurrah. Much like her portrayal in They Live, Meg Foster’s ominous eyes do most of the acting for her. Her large, ice-cold eyes alert the audience that all is not as it seems, blending perfectly into the duplicitous role.
The 2.35:1 AVC encoded 1080p transfer emerges as one of the better Scream Factory acquisitions. Overall, colors are strong and deep, details are crisp, and the black levels are bold, without wandering into crushed territories. There are no signs of compression, sharpening, or any other digital restoration processes, leaving a faithful representation of the filmic elements. In addition, there is a fine representation of film grain intact. There only real issue that could be voiced is more a problem with the shooting style. As previously mentioned, there is a strong blue filter used in the underwater scenes, which at times causes the image to lose definition. The result is a rather uniform image in color and contrast. These sequences, however, are brief and not too distracting.
Scream Factory has included both a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0 mix for viewers. Both audio mixes are well handled, and, as you may expect, the 5.1 mix is preferable for those wanting a rich, deep auditory experience. Taking center stage, the 5.1 mix gives Goldsmith’s score the platform its needs to really shine; while in the 2.0 mix the soundtrack sounds great, but doesn’t hit the full range of registers quite as boldly. In both the 5.1 and 2.0 tracks, the mix of elements is adequate, with only minor issues where dialogue can be a bit hard to hear. Overall, both are excellent audio tracks that leave little to no room for complaints.
First up is the aptly named featurette, Leviathan: Monster Melting Pot. In this featurette Scream Factory have gathered some of the key SFX crewmembers together to discuss working on the film and with the late Stan Winston. Alec Gillis makes yet another appearance in the cast of interviews, however, this inclusion proves more enjoyable than the past (Deadly Eyes). Monster Melting Pot is an engaging piece, that gives the SFX team a chance to discuss some of the humorous moments on set, the reasons behind the varying visual look, and what it was like working with Winston. Next up are two separate interviews with cast members: Dissecting Cobb with Hector Elizondo and Surviving Leviathan with Ernie Hudson. Both interviews are entertaining, but this reviewer found the Hudson piece to be the shining star. It is clear that Hudson still hasn’t gotten over the death of his character, and his mild annoyance with this fact—matched with his description of the monster as a chicken—makes the piece amusing. Similar to Hudson, Elizondo has a charismatic energy that makes his interview very appealing and worth investing time into viewing. There is no audio commentary track, but the absence is probably a good thing as a few of the principal creators of the film have passed away. However, it may have been interesting to hear a cast commentary but the lack of this feature is not missed. Finally, there is the standard inclusion of the theatrical trailer.
While certainly overshadowed by Cameron’s The Abyss, Leviathan is an entertaining film that deserves to be seen. Leviathan is a bit rough around some of its corners, and has aged a bit since its release, but there are more than enough elements of the film to engage with. A great set-design, SFX team, cast of performers, and the hefty and haunting score by Goldsmith, resonate strongly, despite some of the film’s more campy components. With Scream Factory behind the release, you can rest assured knowing that you are getting a high quality release, with great attention to detail.