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I want to say right up front that I applaud Warner Home Video for releasing a special edition of SPHERE on DVD at a bargain suggested retail price of $19.98. That price is fantastic and I think that if other home video companies would support this pricing structure, DVD would supplant vhs in the sell through market. At $19.98, SPHERE is a fantastic bargain and if one shops in the discount clubs, the price drops below $15.00. That is truly amazing since it makes the ownership of the film cheaper than two people going to the movies to see it.

As far as science fiction films go, SPHERE is a bit slow moving and doesn’t break any new ground. However, the film is well acted and offers tremendous production values. Dustin Hoffman stars as Dr. Norman Goodman a psychologist who designs the government’s "First Contact" plan and is called into action when an alien space craft is discovered at the bottom of the ocean. The craft has been submerged for over three hundred years and the government gathers an investigative team based upon Goodman’s plan. Additional team members include biologist Beth Halperin (Sharon Stone), mathematician Harry Adams (Samuel L. Jackson), astrophysicist Ted Fielding (Liev Schreiber) and a government watchdog named Barnes (Peter Coyote).

The team is assembled and trained for their underwater mission. They are then moved into a submersible station next to the alien craft. The investigation into the craft uncovers an unexpected origin, as well as an unknown object that looks like a huge rippling golden sphere. Since there is no life on the craft the mission is to be cut short, until Harry Adams takes it upon himself to enter the sphere. As Goodman goes to retrieve Harry from the sphere, a sudden violent storm leaves them all stranded in the underwater station. Harry is discovered unconscious, but alive. As the team awaits the storm’s passing, strange things start occurring, leading to the deaths of some of the station’s personnel. Things become progressively worse after the team is contacted by an alien intelligence that refers to itself as Jerry. As a film, SPHERE has a couple of big problems. First, the film treads too close to FORBIDDEN PLANET territory for its own good. Second, SPHERE takes too long to arrive at its final destination. I am surprised that a director like Barry Levinson would allow the film to meander; tighter pacing and a few more shocks would have helped SPHERE immensely.

Warner Home Video has done an amazing job with their special edition DVD. SPHERE is presented in an absolutely gorgeous Letterboxed transfer that features the anamorphic enhancement for wide screen televisions and comes fairly close to the full 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio. Image quality is phenomenal; the level sharpness and detail show off the virtues of the DVD format. Color reproduction was exemplary; saturation was excellent without a hint of distortion. MPEG-2 compression artifacts were virtually undetectable.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack made great use of the discrete capabilities of the format to present a mix that was atmospheric while offering clean delineated directional effects and superb bass. Other soundtrack options include a matrixed Dolby Surround compatible track, plus a French language track. Subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish.

The interactive menus offer access to the DVD’s supplemental features, plus the usual setup and scene selection features. The chief supplement is an audio commentary featuring Dustin Hoffman and Samuel L. Jackson. The commentary seems to be culled from two separate commentaries. Hoffman talks about acting quite a bit, while Jackson’s more engaging talk covers a somewhat wider variety of subjects. Neither man gets into the nuts and bolts of the film. Other supplements include a documentary, Shaping The Sphere, which covers the film’s impressive visual effects. Additionally, a theatrical trailer, TV spots, production notes and cast biographies are included.

Warner Home Video deserves the support of DVD consumers for making this caliber release available at this breakthrough price level. If you want to insure that more DVDs are released at this price, purchase SPHERE. Remember that this DVD is cheaper than an evening out for two and you get to keep the movie.





DVD reviews are Copyright 1998 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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