In this edition of Commentary Commentary, we listen to writer/director Stephen Sommers and editor Bob Ducsay talk about 1998’s Deep Rising.
Stephen Sommers has made nine feature films, and his debut indie aside, only two of them failed to earn a profit at the box-office. One is his recent adaptation of Dean Koontz’s Odd Thomas, and the other is this late 90s creature feature. Neither film is one he’s best-known for, obviously, and instead, he’s tied to the most successful adaptations of Hammer horror favorites with The Mummy (1999), The Mummy Returns (2001), and Van Helsing (2004). Laugh if you must, but the three films have earned over $1.1 billion worldwide so your chuckles are falling on deaf ears.
Deep Rising is a fun flick, though, and it’s new to Blu-ray from Kino Lorber loaded with new extras including numerous interviews and a commentary track. So, of course, I threw on my snorkel gear and jumped right in for a listen.
Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary track for…
Deep Rising (1998)
Commentators: Stephen Sommers (director/writer), Bob Ducsay (editor)
1. The film originally opened with a much bigger underwater sequence that was still a part of it through much of post-production, but special effects delays cost them nearly a year of extra time and eventually lead to them dropping the sequence. “The original visual effects team couldn’t figure out the animation,” so they eventually brought ILM aboard. What should have been the first big monster movie hitting theaters in years instead ended up riding a wave of films like Anaconda, Mimic, The Relic, and more.
2. This was the first of two collaborations between Sommers and composer Jerry Goldsmith. The second was The Mummy (1999).
3. Sommers wrote the script but is delighted every time Kevin J. O’Connor improvises a line.
4. A boom operator is visible in the crowd scene during Simon Canton’s (Anthony Heald) speech.
5. A different (unnamed) actor was originally cast as the female lead, but she “didn’t work out” so Famke Janssen got the job. She had previously worked with O’Connor on Lord of Illusions (1995).
6. O’Connor wore pads for the scene where the mercenaries take turns hitting and kicking him, but at the end of the shooting day he covered in bruises. “I felt so horrible,” says Sommers.
7. They originally planned to film in Los Angeles, but the water tank rental alone was going to cost $200k so they shot it in Vancouver, Canada instead. “They built a water tank there, and it burst and flooded several blocks nearby.” It ended up costing them roughly $600k.
8. Janssen was irritated on her first day because “everybody always wants me to look beautiful” in character. She wanted to just look normal, but Sommers told her she could look however she wants when she’s not the romantic lead in a movie.
9. Sommers recalls seeing some smaller film years later that re-used footage from the ship’s interior here, and as it wasn’t a Disney film (like this, via Hollywood Pictures) he couldn’t figure out how they were allowed to recycle the shots. “I guess they were trying to find some way to recoup the money they spent on the movie and somehow made an arrangement,” suggests Ducsay.
10. Cinematographer Howard Atherton told Sommers he was having “a lot of problems” working with him and further explained that he normally derives most of his creative juices from his antagonism towards directors. He liked Sommers too much to find that rage.
11. Both believe that current digital technology makes it impossible to tell if something was shot digitally or on film. “They figured out how to put the warmth into it.”
12. Ducsay was approached by the studio to see if they could edit it down to a PG-13 rating to no avail. “That’s what I call a Vietnam mission,” he says referring to spending an enormous amount of time and effort on something he knew wouldn’t be achieved.
13. The hallway standoff as the creature attacked the door was called out during production by a producer who insisted the scene be re-color corrected “darker and bluer.” Atherton would have nothing to do with it, so Ducsay made the adjustments which the producer loved, but everyone else knew the truth so it remained as the cinematographer intended.
14. Sommers is grateful for people buying the Blu-ray as watching it edited on TV comes with nearly thirty minutes trimmed to allow for commercials. “It’s good for my pocketbook, but it makes me cry sometimes.”
15. Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski worked with Sommers on his second feature, The Adventures of Huck Finn (1993) and has since gone on to become a Steven Spielberg regular. Sommers takes the opportunity to remind people that Kaminski also shot Cool as Ice (1991).
16. Rob Bottin handled creature design for the film, and while they don’t mention it there’s a hallway shot here with the floorboards flipping as the creature moves quickly underneath that was borrowed from John Carpenter’s The Thing.
17. Sommers asked Bottin for a rubberized piece of the creature for the shot at 57:03 that they could just toss into frame, and weeks went by with nothing until finally, six crates arrived on set containing tubing for a cannon and tentacle pieces to fire. Neither Treat Williams nor Janssen was excited about having a cannon fired in their direction.
18. Talking about lighting and cinematography leads Sommers to recall seeing a film he “won’t name” where a character carried and used a flashlight through most of it despite the lighting being bright enough that it made no sense. “It takes place at night in a museum…”
19. Talking about how Disney used to have Touchstone and Hollywood Pictures Sommers comments that “now all they have is Star Wars and Marvel.”
20. Mason (Clifton Powell) originally died earlier in the script, but Sommers told him he could live an additional twenty pages if he knew how to swim underwater. Powell said he did… but neglected to mention that he was afraid of the murky water.
21. A shot of a nearby island at 1:17:53 leads one character to say (offscreen) “An island!” and Ducsay hopes it was a studio note and not one they added intentionally. Sommers adds that the only thing that knocks him out of watching a movie is when dialogue is ADR’d like that when a character’s mouth isn’t visible. It pretty much always means studio representatives or test audiences didn’t understand something and needed the exposition.
22. Jet skis and waverunners are different?
Best in Context-Free Commentary
“It didn’t do a ton of business, but it has a very fervent following.”
“I hate gross stuff like that in movies.”
“You want to avoid actually going out on the water as much as possible.”
“The graphics are Escape from New York-ish.”
“This shit just got real.”
“There’s some good dumb-guy stuff in this movie.”
“This was called the ‘half-digested Billy’ scene.”
“I love when movies have rules.”
“A lot of movie-making is actually very low tech.”
Buy the new Blu-ray of Deep Rising from Amazon
Deep Rising is good fun complete with a solid cast, bloody bits, and a big, slick sea creature, and this is an equally entertaining listen. Both men are enthusiastic about the film, and Ducsay has a lot more to offer than editors typically do on commentaries. They share anecdotes and insight into the production commenting on what works, what doesn’t, and more. Sommers *really* wants listeners to remember he directed The Mummy, which is fair, but hopefully, he’s given another big-budget tentpole soon as he knows how to deliver silly but solid big-screen entertainment.
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