ⓘ Sphere (1998 film)

Sphere (1998 film)

ⓘ Sphere (1998 film)

Sphere is a 1998 American science fiction psychological thriller film directed and produced by Barry Levinson, and starring Dustin Hoffman, Sharon Stone, and Samuel L. Jackson. Sphere is based on the 1987 novel of the same name by Michael Crichton. The film was released in the United States on February 13, 1998 and received negative reviews.


1. Plot

An alien spacecraft is discovered on the floor of the Pacific Ocean, estimated to have been there for nearly 300 years. A team of experts, including marine biologist Dr. Beth Halperin Stone, mathematician Dr. Harry Adams Jackson, astrophysicist Dr. Ted Fielding Schreiber, psychologist Dr. Norman Goodman Hoffman, and U.S. Navy Capt. Harold Barnes Coyote, are assembled and taken to the Habitat, a state-of-the-art living environment located near the spacecraft.

Upon examination of the spacecraft, they determine that it is not alien at all, but rather American in origin. However, its technology far surpasses any in the present day. The ships computer logs cryptically suggest a mission that originated either in the distant past or future, but the team manages to deduce that the long dead crew were tasked with collecting an item of scientific importance. Goodman and Halperin discover the ships logs, which show the ship encountering an "unknown event" thought to be a black hole that sends the vessel back in time. Goodman and the others eventually stumble upon a large, perfect sphere hovering a few feet above the floor in the ships cargo bay. They cannot find any way to probe the inside of the sphere, and the fluidic surface is impenetrable; the crew attaches importance to the fact that the sphere reflects its surroundings but not the humans.

They return to the Habitat, and Harry comes to believe that everyone on this team is fated to die. His rationale is that the black hole is referred to as an "unknown event" in the logs, but due to time travel they have foreknowledge of the entire mission. During the night, Harry returns to the spacecraft, is able to enter the sphere, and then returns to the Habitat. The next day, the crew discovers a series of numeric-encoded messages appearing on the computer screens; the crew is able to decipher them and comes to believe they are speaking to "Jerry", an alien intelligence from the sphere. They find Jerry is able to see and hear everything that happens on the Habitat.

A powerful typhoon strikes the surface, and the Habitat crew is forced to stay in the Habitat several more days. During that time, a series of tragedies strikes the crew, including attacks from aggressive jellyfish and a giant squid, and equipment failures in the base, which kill Ted and the teams support staff. The survivors, Beth, Harry, and Norman, believe Jerry is responsible. While waiting for rescue, the three realize that the hazards are manifestations of their own fears: all of them have entered the sphere, which has given them the ability to make their imagination real. Norman discovers that they had misinterpreted the initial messages from Jerry, and that the entity speaking to them through the computers is actually Harry himself, transmitted while he is asleep.

Under the stress of the situation, Beth has suicidal thoughts which causes the detonation mechanisms on a store of explosives to engage, threatening to destroy the base and the spacecraft. They race to the Habitats mini-sub, but their combined fears cause them to re-appear back in the spacecraft. As a psychologist, Norman is able to see through the illusion. He triggers the mini-subs undocking process and overrides the others fears that they will not escape the destruction of the Habitat and spacecraft. The sphere is untouched by the explosions.

The mini-sub makes it to the surface as the surface ships return. As Beth, Harry, and Norman begin safe decompression, they realize that they will be debriefed and their newfound powers discovered. They agree to erase their memories of the event using their powers; this assures that the "unknown event" paradox is resolved. The sphere rises from the ocean and then accelerates off into space.


2. Cast

  • Huey Lewis as Helicopter pilot
  • Queen Latifah as Alice "Teeny" Fletcher
  • Marga Gomez as Jane Edmunds
  • Liev Schreiber as Dr. Ted Fielding
  • Bernard Hocke as Seaman
  • Ralph Tabakin as OSSA Official
  • Peter Coyote as Capt. Harold C. Barnes
  • Sharon Stone as Dr. Elizabeth "Beth" Halperin
  • Dustin Hoffman as Dr. Norman Goodman
  • Samuel L. Jackson as Dr. Harry Adams
  • Michael Keys Hall as OSSA Official
  • James Pickens, Jr. as OSSA Instructor

3. Production

Hoffman joined the cast because of Levinsons involvement. Hoffman and Levinson had collaborated on several prior projects, and Hoffman had faith that Levinson could raise the project beyond its script. Due to budgetary concerns, production stopped in October 1996, and the script was revised. While Levinson waited for production to resume on Sphere, he directed Wag the Dog, which also stars Hoffman. Shooting on Sphere began again in March 1997, with a budget that Variety estimates was $80 million. Shooting took place at a naval base on Mare Island in Vallejo, California. Principal photography ended in July 1997, after 68 days.


4. Release

Sphere initially had a Christmas release date but was moved forward to avoid competition. Warner Bros. released the film theatrically in the US on February 13, 1998, where it debuted in third place and grossed $37 million total. Sphere grossed $50.1 million worldwide.


5. Reception

Sphere received mostly negative reviews from critics. The Los Angeles Times characterized it as a flop. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 12% based on 51 reviews, with an average score of 4/10; the sites critical consensus states, Sphere features an A-level cast working with B-grade material, with a story seen previously in superior science-fiction films". On Metacritic, the film has a score of 35 out of 100, based on 21 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews". Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film a grade "C-" on scale of A to F.

Todd McCarthy of Variety called it derivative of classic science fiction films and devoid of suspense. Janet Maslin of The New York Times wrote, "While this is no quick-witted treat on a par with Mr. Levinsons Wag the Dog, its a solid thriller with showy scientific overtones". Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "The more the movie explains itself, the more ordinary it becomes." Roger Ebert gave the film 1.5 stars out of 4 and stated, Sphere feels rushed. The screenplay uses lots of talk to conceal the fact that the story has never been grappled with."


6. Soundtrack

The score for Sphere was composed by Elliot Goldenthal.

Crew credits

  • Recorded and mixed by Joel Iwataki
  • Film music editor: Curtis Roush
  • Conducted by Stephen Mercurio and Jonathan Sheffer
  • Electronic music produced by Richard Martinez
  • Music composed and produced by Elliot Goldenthal
  • Additional orchestrations by Deniz Hughes
  • Orchestrated by Robert Elhai and Elliot Goldenthal

7. Legacy

Barry Levinson said he had been inspired to write the basic plot line for his subsequent film, Liberty Heights, based on a review of the film for Entertainment Weekly ; its critic, Lisa Schwarzbaum, specified that Hoffman played "the empathetic Jewish psychologist. Okay, so he’s not officially Jewish; he’s only Hoffman, who arrives at the floating habitat and immediately announces, noodgey and menschlike, I’d like to call my family. You do the math." Levinson remarked:

Samples of Sharon Stones voice from the film are used in "Moments In Space" by Odessi.