Monday, June 1, 2009

Tonino Ricci's Encounters In The Deep (1979)

Steven Spielberg's Jaws (1975) and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) made massive amounts of cash at worldwide box offices, entertained countless numbers of viewers, and would become influential films for future generations of film makers. However, there was an elder generation of film makers savvy enough to recognize that blockbusters made temporary film markets; and if a truly resourceful film maker, like Tonino Ricci, could move quickly with a production, then he would be able to snag at least a few of those film fans, like a rogue shark after a frenzy. Ricci would follow his similar The Shark's Cave (1978) and bring back its star, Andres Garcia in his hybrid of the two Spielberg 70s classics, entitled Encounters In The Deep (1979). Whatever is down there in the deep, like sharks, aliens, and divers in skimpy bikini briefs, Ricci, like the master craftsman that he is, will scrounge up what he can. Legendary Stelvio Cipriani returns with Ricci for Encounters, and genre stalwart, Gianni Garko, dumps the six-shooters and dons some flippers, while not forgetting the dog treats. Encounters In The Deep begins with a voice-over and an image montage of natural disasters. The voice-over introduces the theme of UFOs and does not dispute their existence. The only issue of dispute is their origin: Earth or outer space? A chronicle of history is presented of unexplained disappearances, explosions, and sightings. The film cuts to a sequence presumably aboard a naval ship, where the sailors are talking about fear and bad dreams: there's something in these waters, and then all of the sudden, dreaded green light, bubbling up from out of the ocean, attacks the ship with accompanying throbbing audio. Encounters cuts once again to a lovely beach setting to introduce beautiful Mary (Carole André) about to embark on a pleasure cruise to the Bahamas with new husband, John. Soon after the two are on course and having a wonderful time, Mary decides to call her father, Mr. Miles (Gabriele Ferzetti). While in the middle of their conversation, the ominous bubbling reappears and the dreaded green light and throbbing audio bursts on the scene. Miles starts flipping out and John and Mary disappear. The Coast Guard attempts to locate John and Mary without success, so Miles goes and sees Professor Peters (Manuel Zarzo). Peters is famous for his scientific theory that there exists a mysterious current, located where John and Mary disappeared, capable of capturing planes and boats under the water. Miles has hopes that this is true and agrees to finance Peters investigation of his theory on the condition that he locate John and Mary. Peters agrees, and Encounters cuts to its final opening sequence, a dive bar where diver, Scott (Andres Garcia) is in a fight with the most stereotypical-looking pirates (in fact, if title cards with the words BAM! and POW! were inter cut, they wouldn't be out of place). Peters rouses Scott from his bedroom and recruits him to go on the investigation. Whew! Damn! Now Encounters can move out to sea on the boat. Encounters In The Deep runs for eighty minutes and Ricci spends almost the first half of it with sputtering beginnings and set-up. The paint-by-numbers plot of Encounters becomes a Pollock painting of padding. Like The Shark's Cave, Ricci does not show any real enthusiasm through the exposition. It's the underwater scenes with the sharks and aliens where Ricci shines, but the viewer is going to have to wade quite a bit before getting to those scenes. Gianni Garko appears as Mike on the ship and he does a few tricks with his canine. This expedition still appears more like a pleasure cruise, as Ricci attempts to channel the camaraderie vibe of Shaw, Scheider, and Dreyfuss in Jaws. Peters, over dinner, relates his theory again, as a sort-of low-brow Lovecraft tale: aliens visited the Earth millions of years ago and never left. They went underwater and are responsible for a lot of the recent disappearances. How about the water, fellas? Want to strap on some of that scuba gear and play with the sharks?
Unfortunately, no. Andres Garcia is an extremely handsome man and looks like a runway model in his bikini briefs. Garko puts on a pair of dainty, black bikini briefs, but not even a nibble at the toes by the sharks at these two divers happens. The sharks must have been bored to tears, as well. Mike does mysteriously pass out under the water and comes back on board a little bit changed. Garko manages to stoically sleepwalk through the rest of the film. Peter, Scott, and Ronnie don the scuba gear and go down for an investigation. Who the eff is Ronnie? Ronnie is the auxiliary character who doesn't come back. Peters finds a rock below and says it's full of plutonium. He hands the rock to Garcia who smells it. Encounters goes on to have a relatively long Mary Celeste sequence and Peters's alien theory is proven true. For whatever reason, Ricci doesn't reach for any sensational scenes. Encounters is an ambivalent film which doesn't know if it wants to go for Jaws-like excitement or Close Encounters-like sweetness. More of the viewers of this film are likely to generate more hostility than any of the sharks or aliens. However, I am willing to forgive Ricci. The man made quite a few gems in his career that I keep coming back to. Unfortunately for a film made for a temporary market, Encounters In The Deep might have snagged a few film fans' money, but it would have been nice if it snagged a few of our attentions, as well.

1 comment:

Mr.LargePackage said...

I am still afraid of sharks, but I am more afraid of the shoggoth. My man Danforth, though, is large and in charge.