The ocean seems to figure in a number of movies this year, with a pair of Oscar hopefuls, including Tom Hanks’ role as “Captain Phillips” in Paul Greengrass’ thriller, as he fights off Somali pirates who have taken over his shipping vessel and Robert Redford trying to keep his own boat afloat wrecked at sea in J.C. Chandor’s one-man epic of survival “All is Lost.”
And while frigid temperatures make any thought of taking a dip in freezing waters unpleasant (Polar Bear Club, anyone?), there’s nothing wrong with kicking back in your toasty living room and checking out the following Streampix flicks that take place on, and below, the waves. Here’s a brief sampling, including three different iterations of “Jaws”:
“Jaws 2”: This 1978 sequel to Steven Spielberg’s 1975 original finds Roy Scheider returning as police chief Martin Brody of the fictional New England resort of Amity Island, terrorized by yet another man- (and woman-) eating great white shark. A troubled production like its predecessor, original director John D. Hancock was replaced by Paris-born Jeannot Szwarc when he proved unable to handle the action sequences. The movie takes place four years after the events of the original, when a pair of divers photographing the wreck of the Orca are suddenly attacked and devoured by another great white. The film, whose tagline, “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water,” is one of the most famous in cinematic history, was the highest grossing sequel ever at the time, until “Rocky II” beat it the very next year.
“Jaws 3-D”: This eye-popping 1983 three-quel finds a great white wreaking havoc at a Florida aquatic amusement park dubbed SeaWorld, with Dennis Quaid, Louis Gossett Jr. and Bess Armstrong trying to fend off the murderous shark. The alternative title, “Jaws III,” is used for all showings on TV, VHS, DVD and now, streaming. After a mechanic dives in the water to secure the gates of a dolphin pen, leaving his severed right arm bobbing to the surface, the mayhem begins.
“Jaws: The Revenge”: The fourth and last of the “Jaws” films, released in 1987, finds police chief Martin Brody’s widow (Lorraine Gary) being stalked to the Bahamas by a great white which also killed her son. Like the first film, the movie was shot in Martha’s Vineyard, standing in for Amity Island, where her husband has apparently died of a heart attack from “fear of sharks.” While clearing a log from a buoy a few days from Christmas, Ellen Brody’s son Sean, a deputy police chief, has his arm ripped off by a massive great white, which drags him under water and sinks his boat. In the Bahamas visiting her older son and his family, Ellen encounters Michael Caine as a carefree airplane pilot, and Mario Van Peebles, who is partnered with her son, working as marine biologists. Look also for Mario’s father, legendary Blaxploitation director Melvin Van Peebles, with a small role in the film. The movie was nominated for seven Razzie awards, earning a rare 0% approval rating from Rotten Tomatoes.
“Sphere”: This 1998 Barry Levinson-directed sci-fi adventure, based on the best-selling 1987 novel by Michael Crichton, follows a scientific team recruited by the Navy to study a mysterious alien spacecraft on the ocean floor, which has apparently been there for more than 300 years. The movie boasts an all-star cast including Dustin Hoffman, Sharon Stone, Samuel L. Jackson, Liev Schreiber, Peter Coyote and Queen Latifah. The team are housed in a state-of-the-art underwater living environment called the Habitat, where they encounter an alien named “Jerry,” who can hear everything they are talking about… shades of H.A.L. the omniscient computer in “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
“Free Willy”: With the release of this year’s controversial documentary “Blackfish,” about SeaWorld’s alleged mistreatment of Orca whales, this 1993 classic about an orphaned boy who befriends a neglected 7,000-pound killer whale at an aquatic theme park takes on added layers of irony. Directed by Aussie Simon Wincer with tear-jerking efficiency, the box office hit stars Lori Petty, kid actor Jason James Richter and Michael Madsen, among others. The film is perhaps better known for its credit-closing Michael Jackson number, “Will You Be There,” which earned a 1994 MTV Movie Award for “Best Song.”
“Lady in the Water”: M. Night Shyamalan’s troubled 2006 production about an apartment handyman (Paul Giamatti) who discovers a sea nymph named Story (Bryce Dallas Howard) in his complex swimming pool and tries to return her home has echoes of her dad Ron Howard’s “Splash,” even as the gal in question turns out to be a character in a children’s bedtime story. Shyamalan plays an author enlisted by Howard to write a book to change the course of history, with a supporting cast which includes Jeffrey Wright, Bob Balaban, Mary Beth Hurt and Freddie Rodriguez. The movie now is probably best-known for Michael Bamberger’s book, “The Man Who Heard Voices,” which revealed Shyamalan burning his bridges with Disney executives, refusing to revise the film after they expressed doubt in the project.
“The Fight for Water”: According to this 2009 documentary, we don’t have to worry just about going in the water, but drinking it, as it reveals a previously untold tale of contamination in the Amazon caused by giant corporations, with 14,000 barrels of crude oil leaking into the river. Director Joshua Spencer turns this unnatural disaster into a compelling, real-life murder mystery, complete with paramilitary death squads, negligent oil companies and corrupt environmental agencies.
“Under Siege”: In this Anthony Davis-directed 1992 thriller, a former Navy SEAL officer played by none other than our favorite action hero Steven Seagal, now serving as a cook, must defend his battleship against terrorists. Take that, Captain Phillips. Tommy Lee Jones, Gary Busey and Patrick O’Neal try their best to stay out of the man’s way.
“SoLa: Louisiana Water Stories”: In this 2010 documentary, director Jon Bowermaster takes a look at a 100-mile stretch of the Mississippi River in Cajun country, called “Cancer Alley,” that has become a dumping ground for petrochemical plants, which may be harming the surrounding Louisiana wetlands, not to mention destroying the local tourism and fishing industries.
“McHale’s Navy”: If all those beware of the water stories got you down, settle in with this daffy 1997 remake of the TV series, with none other than Tom Arnold in the title role made famous by the late, great Ernest Borgnine, who has a cameo in this reboot directed by the immortal Bryan Spicer. The cast of characters includes Tim Curry as the world’s second-best terrorist, Dean Stockwell, David Alan Grier and Debra Messing.