Both 'DeepStar Six' and 'Leviathan' (1989) are undersea monster movies, their plots are vaguely similar and they both were released the same year, 'DeepStar Six' came first beating 'Leviathan' by a couple of months.
Both of these films are fun to watch and I personally have a fondness for both of them equally.
However I wanted to examine them and find out which one is the better film of the two, indeed they are very similar but also very different.
Now it's nothing new that similar films are made and released the same year as each other, it happens all of the time, and the fact that James Cameron's 'The Abyss' also came out that year featuring an underwater theme, comes as no coincidence or surprise.
It seems apparent that both distributors TriStar (DeepStar Six) and MGM (Leviathan) wanted to beat 20th Century Fox to the punch with their undersea venture 'The Abyss' slated for release in August.
With James Cameron's success with 20th Century Fox's 'Aliens' (1986) it is no surprise that both TriStar and MGM would presume the film to be a standard monster movie romp, which 'The Abyss' was not… however misguided they were, they still produced two entertaining and interesting films.
Trivia: 'DeepStar Six' Writer Lewis Abernathy was friends with James Cameron who at the time was working on 'The Abyss', Cameron asked Abernathy to delay 'DeepStar Six', to avoid competing with 'The Abyss,' Abernathy went ahead with the script anyway breaking a friendship, until years later where Abernathy accompanied Cameron on the filming of the Titanic wreckage, for his 1997 film Titanic.
I will be going through both films analysing them side by side, this is a critical analysis and therefore based on my opinion, whatever the outcome they are still both entertaining films.
DeepStar Six (1989)
DeepStar Six is a deep-sea US Naval facility, testing underwater colonisation, a mixture of civilian and military crew work the facility, overseeing a new nuclear silo being built underwater.
They discover a cavern underneath the site, which they destroy creating a giant fissure in the ocean floor, the science division curious with their new findings send in a probe to study the possible new marine life inside, they lose contact with the probe and send in a manned sub, which is attacked and destroyed by an unseen creature.
The creature escapes the cavern and begins to attack DeepStar Six, in the chaos the nuclear warheads are inexplicitly detonated causing the life support systems to malfunction.
While they wait for decompression of the escape pod, our two main protagonists fight off the sea monster one last time before escaping to the surface where they think they are safe…
The crew of a corporate undersea mining facility stumble upon a sunken Russian ship called The Leviathan, they salvage some of the wreckage finding a bottle of vodka unbeknownst to them it contains some sort of experimental bio-organic virus, which infects some of the crew killing them, then turning them into some sort of marine monster.
The monster hunts the crew around the ship and they fend it off the best they can.
Finally, the remaining survivors decide to blow up the undersea facility and escape to the surface where they think they are safe…
'DeepStar Six' takes a more standard monster movie approach, the protagonists release a monster from a cavern that terrorizes the facility, while 'Leviathan' tries to take a more scientific approach, 'Leviathan' is trying to be original and masks its source of inspiration very well, however it is clear that 'Leviathan' is just another 'Alien' (1979) and 'The Thing' (1982) clone.
'DeepStar Six' does not try and hide what it is, clearly self-aware; the simplistic one-note story helps the film feel grounded in some sort of reality, as a viewer, I can believe that hidden away in the depths of the ocean there are these beasts lurking in the darkness of the abyss.
The mining crew in 'Leviathan' get their exposition through VHS tapes found in a safe that was salvaged from the sunken ship, apparently the Russian's were trying to grow gills on a human or something but the experiments went terribly wrong, resulting in the test subjects turning into a 'The Thing' like creature, which is just unbelievable.
'Leviathan' misses the reality, the suspension of disbelief is shattered by a crazy coincidence, which just so happens to be the entire plot: The sunken ship, the bottle of Vodka containing an experimental liquid, which was hidden in a safe that could never have possibly been found, but was!!! The film asks way too much from the audience and creates more questions than it wishes to answer.
'DeepStar Six' is not without fault as the film does procrastinate for over an hour setting up all of the relevant plot devices, and building suspense, with the monster only making an appearance in the last twenty minutes.
However once the giant fishy does show up, 'DeepStar Six' becomes good old-fashioned monster madness, combined with a more believable atmosphere than 'Leviathan'.
'Leviathan' on the other hand has the pacing of a man with his head on fire, the film rushes past so much, and is packed so tight, and with seemingly random encounters and events, one just waits for the next monster attack and death scene. 'Leviathan' comes at you like a series of unfortunate and highly improbable coincidental events and one too many subplots that are never developed or just forgotten.
'Leviathan' also feels like the studio had a script set in space and decided to change the setting to underwater, just for the competition of recent scheduled undersea movies by other studios.
Where 'DeepStar Six' comes across as an honestly original written underwater monster movie.
Simpler is always better so I think in the story department 'DeepStar Six' wins.
'DeepStar Six' stars Nancy Everhard as Joyce and Greg Evigan as Mcbride our romantic heroes, their chemistry is pure and you really do feel emotionally attached, largely their performances are solid, even if Mcbride does come across as a poor man's Kirk Russell at times.
Nancy Everhard gives a strong performance as the female lead and both she and Greg Evigan are equally balanced in strength, you really feel that they both support each other emotionally.
'DeepStar Six' supporting cast also give great performances, Miguel Ferrer, of 'Robocop' fame, gives a great frenemy performance, with amazing subtlety, always on edge and constantly mocked by the other crew, even though he screws up a lot in the film you cannot help but sympathise with him.
The lovely braless Nia Peeples is believable and strong and Matt McCoy has the best comedic jokes, which don't seem out of place, and they don’t detach you from the immersion of the story.
'DeepStar Six' also stars Cindy Pickett as the doctor, Marius Weyers as Van Gelder the project overseer, Taurean Blacque as the captain and Elya Baskin in a brief but memorable role.
The cast of 'DeepStar Six' are all believable in their roles, and authentically look and sound like a professional deep-sea colony of military and civilian professionals, there is no overacting and for the most part, all of the fear is portrayed subtly throughout.
Now 'DeepStar Six' has no A-list actors, most of them had just come straight from TV, so 'DeepStar Six' was a big deal for these guys, and you can tell that they were giving it their best.
I genuinely believe this helped 'DeepStar Six' a lot; because the actors are not so recognisable, they feel more real.
Also, American TV actors have a better discipline than seasoned movie actors, as they are so used to having to shoot under strict time restraints meaning their performances have to be spot on nearly every take.
'Leviathan' stars Peter Weller as Beck the captain, Richard Crenna as the Doctor, Ernie Hudson as Jones, Amanda Pays as Willie, Daniel Stern as Sixpack, Hector Elizondo as Cobb, Michael Carmine as DeJesus and Lisa Eilbacher as Bowman.
Now 'Leviathan' is filled with recognisable faces, and B-list regulars, and for the most part they give good performances, however, the acting is not believable, and I genuinely feel this was a paycheck job, with not much effort given to their roles.
Peter Weller is a master at downplaying, and he is usually very subtle, but here he seems distracted, and the romantic subplot between him and Amanda Pays is forced and lacking chemistry.
Michael Carmine and Ernie Hudson's performances are over the top and out of place with the rest of the movie. However Ernie Hudson does seem to be having fun with the role, and towards the end of the film, his character moves more towards the action archetype.
Richard Crenna does give a captivating performance as the doctor with a shady past; he always keeps you guessing if he is good or bad.
Daniel Stern is always a treat to watch, he is a great character actor and he does steal most scenes, giving us his best misogynistic slob impression. Although when your sexist white trash hic is the most fleshed out character amongst the crew, you know that the script must have been rushed into development.
The casting is almost a dream team of actors to have, but somehow this does not work, 'Leviathan' is way too distracting as you sit watching the film all the while playing the "Hey, it's that guy!" game… Oh look, it's Robocop! And there's Winston… And the Rambo colonel guy! It's Marv; you know Marv the Wet Bandit… was she in Beverly Hills Cop… And look, the concierge from Pretty woman.
Personally, for me I blame the script, not the actors of 'Leviathan', however, this does not change the fact that the characters become one-dimensional and highly unbelievable because the cast is so great you expect a lot more from them.
So again 'DeepStar Six' wins the point for best characters.
Sean S. Cunningham of 'Friday the 13th' (1980) and 'Last House on the Left' (1972) fame, directed 'DeepStar Six'.
Predominantly Cunningham is a producer and has only directed a couple of films, however, he seems to be a competent visionary given the right material and 'DeepStar Six' is no exception.
George P. Comatos of Cobra (1996) and Tombstone (1993) fame directed 'Leviathan'. Comatos is an experienced action film director and has a fluctuating artist style.
Comatos had also worked with Peter Weller before on the estranged horror creature feature 'Of Unknown Origin' (1983).
'Leviathan' was made for an estimate of $20million and 'DeepStar Six' I am guessing was made for half of that, judging from the cast and production aesthetics.
However Sean S. Cunningham's film is not bad looking, the set design is good with some interesting cinematography and creepy dark lighting, which helps build a foreboding atmosphere.
The lack of budget meant that the sets were created much smaller, but this helps with the claustrophobic feel.
'Leviathan' on the other hand is very standard and looks at times more like a space station than an undersea facility. Everything is well lit and there seems to be no atmosphere until the creature shows up.
Cunningham's vision of aquatic horror is dark and mysterious, where Comatos's has that Hollywood sheen to it, overall it’s a hard one to call but I feel Cunningham's 'DeepStar Six' looks better either by design or limitation so another win for 'DeepStar Six'.
This could be a deal breaker for most viewers…
Both films mix wet for wet and dry for wet miniatures and live action sets.
If you do not know, dry for wet is when filmmakers use smoke and particles to give the illusion of filming underwater, as things become blurry or loose depth of field when filming in actual water, but the main reason is that real water creates more problems and is harder to film in.
The effects of 'DeepStar Six' do look dated, this was one of the first movies of its kind, but that gives the film no excuse for poor execution.
'DeepStar Six' miniatures sometimes look like Stingray (1964) or Thunderbirds (1965), the darkness does cover up a lot of the film's rough edges, but one cannot deny the bad quality of the exterior undersea facilities, most of which do not look like they are in the water at all.
However 'Leviathan' does not fair much better in the miniature department, though things are visible and clear.
'Leviathan' boasts a rich assortment of special makeup effects, the film is slathered in gore and interesting designs as the infected crew mutate into the creature or are dispatched in a number of inventive ways.
This is something 'DeepStar Six' misses, there is blood and a couple of shock moments but nothing stands out as a pinnacle gore moment, many of the onscreen deaths are obscured and or hidden.
'Leviathan' wins the point for effects; 'Leviathan' showcases an assortment of strange ideas and inventive creations, as well as having some decent fake underwater miniature photography.
'Leviathan' has a very creative looking beast, the result of a man-made virus that is capable of mutating its host, this gives the creature much variety and variation between stages of development.
The monster looks cool and is very interesting; one can tell that a lot of time was spent on the design, maybe a little too much time; as once you get to see the thing it just looks laughable.
However much it tries to be original the creature is basically just a rip off of the alien from 'The Thing', the monster seems to absorb its victims and mutate into whatever seems appropriate for its hiding places as it stalks the crew around the facility.
I am genuinely surprised this came out of Stan Winston's workshop, although the creature is cool at first, it become clear that its overall on screen evolution becomes more elusive than the abundance of coincidences within the films many plot holes.
The undersea monster of 'DeepStar Six' looks vicious and tactile; the creature looks like a real sea creature, resembling a giant prehistoric Arthropod.
For much of the film, the monster is hidden and is only revealed in the last 20minuets, which does create some good suspense, however, once we see the creature it becomes clear that the filmmakers knew that it looked silly and kept it hidden.
The beast itself is oversized and way too large to for the spaces which it inhabits, though the look of the creature is good, the way it is manipulated comes across clumsy, as all it seems to do is thrash around in the water and bash into the walls of the set.
The creature of 'DeepStar Six' does look like a real sea monster, and in some ways more inventive than the crazy creation of 'Leviathan'. However the Arthropod of 'DeepStar Six' is poorly produced with limited movements, 'Leviathan' wins on monster effects by the skin of it's teeth.
In conclusion, I personally prefer 'DeepStar Six', the script is better, the acting is better and the overall tone and mood of the film is better. However 'Leviathan' boasts a great gory monster with plenty of creative effects, even if they are reminiscent of other films.
'DeepStar Six' is a more solid film with a clear direction; 'Leviathan' on the other hand is a jumbled mess of ideas and clichés.
I give 'DeepStar Six' a solid 3 out 5 stars... I feel the story flows better and there is an aura of mystery about 'DeepStar Six', with believability to the overall situation.
I give 'Leviathan' an exceptionally high 2 out of 5 stars... Now, 'Leviathan' does have higher production values, and better special effects, But... The deal breaker for me was the story, 'Leviathan' has no believability and is just one big coincidence.
Neither of these films are masterpieces... But both films are loads of fun, as a movie 'DeepStar Six' is better, but if you are looking for gore and dumb entertainment 'Leviathan' is the film for you.
Watch both films and make your own decision; let me know what you think in the comments.
Steve Sunpire (author) from England on December 28, 2015:
Yes 'Leviathan' has higher production values, however after a recent re-watch I felt the cast were destracting and unbelievable... especially Peter Weller who is stale and wooden... and I love Weller.
Lords of the Deep is an amazingly bad film, I only have a VHS copy so it looks even worse lol
also The Rift 1990 which is almost so bad its good... lol and always a treat to see R. Lee Ermey in a film.
The Neptune Factor (1973) will always be the staple of the genre for me... there are others but watching the Cabbie from Escape from New York captain a sub is just awesome.
Keith Abt from The Garden State on December 28, 2015:
It's been a long time since I've seen either of these movies, and I enjoyed both, but I remember liking "Leviathan" better mainly because of its superior cast (Richard Crenna, Peter Weller, Daniel Stern) and its higher production values.
Both films were pretty blatant attempts to steal the thunder from James Cameron's underwater adventure film, "The Abyss," which came out later in the same year (1989).
There was yet another "underwater" movie called "Lords of the Deep" that came out in 1989 too, it was an extremely low budget flick from Roger Corman's New Horizons studio. It looked laughable even when it was new, I'm sure it looks even worse now.