Two films called Leviathan revolving around the ill-effects of vodka, and which do you think is superior? The Russian social commentary/ political critique or the waterlogged George Pan Cosmatos rip-off of Alien/ The Thing? The latter is so unmemorable, I wasn’t even certain that I’d seen it before. Compounding this is how very familiar it feels. A pungent déjà vu lingers throughout, as the post-Alien tropes are lined up and ticked off but never in an interesting or remotely stylish manner.
David Webb Peoples’ (Blade Runner, Unforgiven, Twelve Monkeys) name is on the screenplay, asked for Alien underwater by the studio, but failing to delivering a screenplay that was quite Alien enough, which is why Jeb Stuart rewrote it. Possibly the presence of Cosmatos (Cobra, and the nominal director of Tombstone, though Kurt Russell was really calling the shots) incapacitates any positives in the script. Certainly, while the creature work isn’t Stan “Aliens” Winston’s best, the director has absolutely no idea of how to make the most of it, and Jerry Alien Goldsmith is unable to ring any atmosphere from the dripping sets. Additionally, in stark contrast to the bruising realism of James Cameron’s sub-aqua yarn of the same year The Abyss – Deepstar Six being the low budget third in a 1989 trio of underwater science fiction movies – Cosmatos could barely be bothered to take the plunge; it’s all-too obvious that he’s mostly opted for simulated underwater look (to be fair, Alex Thomson’s cinematography is solid in the main, but it’s a lost cause).
If one is so inclined, one can pass the time ticking off the genre clichés, which include Machiavellian corporate manoeuvring (“This company’s commitment is to the almighty dollar”) under the aegis of alien-eyed Meg Foster, keeping the crew of the Tri Oceanic Mining Corporation, with only a few days left in their 90-day shift, down below with the monster (it’s implied the company knew about it in advance, just like Alien). Which, we learn, is a genetic aberration. “No shit!” exclaims Ernie Hudson’s Justin Jones on learning this detail. Hudson also gets a line almost worthy of LL Cool J in Deep Blue Sea when, having surfaced, they hit more problems; “Sharks! Talk about having a bad day”. It’s a line only topped by “Gone? Bitch we’re still here!” in response to Foster’s “I realise you must have gone through hell”. None of which gives Ernie a free pass to the end credits, though.
The crew of Russian vessel Leviathan were subject to an unbeknownst experiment with a mutagen laced in their vodka, and there’s even a Thing-esque scene where Richard Crenna’s doctor views a computer simulation of the virus’ progress, the crew having already investigated a Thing-esque wreck with no survivors. Before long it’s necessary to break out the Thing and Alien-esque flamethrowers, always to hand in case of an aberrant freak, even deep down on the seabed.
Like Alien, the creature changes in form. Like The Thing it retains semblances of its victims (some of whom we assume are dead, but of course aren’t) and absorbs their intelligence (about the only aspect that isn’t derivative is victims remaining conscious as part of the creature, Michael Carmine’s DeJesus pleading for help). Occasionally Winston hits the mark in a Rob Bottin, kind of gross, way, but too often the creature amounts to a sub-Alien thing slithering through vents, or an unconvincing giant rubber fish thing. There’s even a chest-burster scene and a body part with teeth that isn’t a mouth. Most mirthfully, crewmember Sixpack’s leg escapes at one point and swims off.
And in the realm of brazen copying, Amanda Pays strips down to her skimpies, just like Sigourney. During the opening stages, there’s the occasional moment suggesting a better Peoples script that was thrown out; Peter Weller’s Beck rehearses extracts from The One-Minute Manager in an attempt to keep control of his disrespectful crew. But, mainly, this is a B-movie cast (Hector Elizondo, Daniel Stern is Sixpack, Richard Crenna, who worked with Cosmatos on Rambo: First Blood Part II, is the doctor; they go dutifully through their paces, but they’re all fully aware this isn’t going to be anything special) with B-movie dialogue (“Say ‘Ahhhh’, motherfucker!”, offers Beck, nursing the strange belief that blowing the creature up might put an end to its reign of terror; he then punches out Foster) and B-movie motivation (all are devoid of common-sense, in common with such movies but accentuated here, be it attempting to conceal the death of Sixpack or repeatedly straying near infected cremates).
Quite why Search and Rescue is still about when Foster has issued a press release announcing the death of the crew is beyond me, but then so little here follows rhyme or reason, including the survivors’ miraculous ability to decompress superfast thanks to a red light announcing “Decompression” (earlier, a skull and crossbones signals oxygen depletion, which is a bit indelicate). Cosmatos has zero grasp of suspense or terror, meaning everything happens in a noisy, careless and/or gory manner, which is fairly of-a-piece with his career. Leviathan arrived at the opposite end of a decade that began with numerous cheap and shoddy Alien imitators, but managed to learn nothing in the meantime.