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by trying to satisfy every kind of viewer , it's possible that sphere may end up pleasing no one .
action lovers will be bored by what they will see as an interminably boring setup .
audience members who crave more intellectual fare will be disgusted by the film's sudden collapse into mindless storytelling and by the ending , which is an insulting cop-out .
somewhere out there , maybe there's a small cadre of film-goers who will appreciate sphere's dubious charms , but i'm not among them .
i sincerely hope the novel is better than the movie ( i no longer read anything by either michael crichton or john grisham ) , because if the finished motion picture product is anything to go by , it's hard to understand why the rights were optioned .
sphere is the kind of first- class mess that only a top-line director with an a-list cast can create .
with expectations high ( and how could they not be , considering that another barry levinson/dustin hoffman collaboration , the excellent wag the dog , is still playing in theaters ? ) ,
something this bad can't help but look even worse .
the last time a big-name , big-budget film displayed this level of ineptitude was last year's batman & robin , and everyone knows how that movie was received .
sphere starts out a little like an amalgamation of contact and james cameron's the abyss , but , somewhere along the way , it collapses into the cellar with another recent science fiction effort , event horizon .
science and philosophy , which are used to good effect during sphere's first hour , give way to mindless , confusing action sequences .
attempts at characterization fall apart .
intelligent writing , which is evident early on , is replaced by hackneyed drivel .
special effects take over as the plotline devolves into incoherent silliness .
but all that is just in preparation for the ending , which is inexcusably awful .
this is the time-honored deus ex machina device used to its worst effect .
i left the theater feeling cheated by the way crichton and his screenwriters had chosen to end the film .
there is some promise , but it's all in the setup .
we're introduced to norman goodman ( dustin hoffman ) , a psychologist who once wrote a $35 , 000 report for the government about what to do in the event that a crashed space ship is discovered .
when one is found in the middle of nowhere , 1000 feet below the surface of the pacific ocean , norman is called in to be part of the welcoming committee .
on the team with him are beth halperin ( sharon stone ) , a biochemist who was once his student and lover ; harry adams ( samuel l . jackson ) , a mathematician who earned his first doctorate at the age of 18 ; ted fielding ( liev schreiber ) , an astrophysicist who is awed by the opportunity to explore alien technology ; and harold barnes ( peter coyote ) , the government operative in charge of the mission .
together , the five descend into the bowels of the ocean , where they rendezvous with a temporary sea base on the ocean floor from which they will attempt to make first contact .
for a while , sphere had me fooled into thinking it was going to take an astute approach to the man-meets-alien situation .
the overall scenario is not without promise and several plot twists ( such as the revelation that the enormous craft is actually an american space ship , apparently from the future ) offer intriguing possibilities .
then , right around the one-hour mark ( that's the time to sneak into the theater next door and check out whatever's left of titanic ) , the virtually non-stop action begins , and , once it starts , the script becomes superfluous .
this might be acceptable if director levinson generated some legitimate tension , but , instead , he relies on loud , overbearing music , strange camera angles , and quick cuts to make things " exciting . "
additionally , because none of the characters are well-formed ( a common failing in anything penned by crichton , who's more interested in technology than people ) , viewers don't develop much of a rooting interest .
it makes sitting through sphere a frustrating and pointless experience .
what about that a-list cast ?
not surprisingly , the most energetic performance is given by samuel l . jackson , but his harry isn't a person ; he's a walking plot device spouting occasionally-witty dialogue .
dustin hoffman isn't lively or particularly good -- it's ironic that this , which may be his worst work in a decade , has arrived in theaters on the heels of his best actor nomination ( for wag the dog ) .
sharon stone and peter coyote are both flat .
their characters exhibit little evidence of emotion ; automatons would have been as effective .
then there's queen latifa , who , despite getting fifth billing in the credits ( ahead of liev schreiber , who boasts at least quadruple her screen time ) , has less than a handful of lines and almost nothing to do other than inflate the body count .
i like to think that levinson and hoffman , recognizing how uninspired this movie was likely to be , chose to make wag the dog as a sort of penance ( the low-budget picture was filmed during sphere's lengthy pre-production phase ) .
if that's the case , forgiveness is granted .
i'm less inclined to look favorably upon crichton , although he has a few enjoyable titles on his resume ( jurassic park and the levinson-directed disclosure come to mind ) .
even if his novel was butchered in the adaptation process , crichton's credit as a producer disallows him absolution .
he was a willing participant in a creative travesty .
no wonder sphere is being released in february , in the midst of the early year's cinematic wasteland .
it deserves no better than to get sunk by the unstoppable titanic , which should plow sphere under on its way to a ninth-consecutive weekend atop the box office heap .
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