There was a glut of undersea action film in 1989. The only one that really had any credibility was James Cameron’s The Abyss. Although it was not a box office success, the film gained a following over time and was substantially improved by the release of the special edition in 1993. Leviathan conversely, is one of the forgotten titles from that aquatic sub-genre. The plot follows a team of undersea miners that find a sunken Russian vessel. A case of recovered vodka turns out to be a genetic mutagen, resulting in crew members mutating into an aquatic human hybrid. It’s all conspicuously derivative and the embodiment of the term formulaic. Yet despite these flaws it does have a few virtues that merit a viewing, if you’re feeling undemanding.
Competently directed by George Pan Cosmatos, the movie features a solid cast of support actors. Peter Weller, Richard Crenna, Daniel Stern, Hector Elizondo, Ernie Hudson and Meg Foster all do the best they can. The creature effects are handled by the Stan Winston Studios, the production design is convincing and the film looks far from cheap. So what went wrong? Well the whole enterprise reeks of studio interference; story re-writes and post production editing. Fangoria reported heavily on the animatronics for this film at the time of filming, yet precious little is visible in the final cut. Also one character dies off screen and is explained away with a few lines of dialogue.
These clues point to a major shift of direction somewhere in the films production. Perhaps the studio thought that suspense was a better option than a gorefest. But Leviathan is no Alien and simply doesn’t have a compelling enough narrative to pursue that angle. So what we are left with is a failed entry in an obscure sub-genre, which is still mildly entertaining. However any film with a Jerry Goldmsith score can’t be all bad. So if you set your expectations low, or feel like playing film cliché bingo, you may find this aquatic escapade an adequate way to fill one hour and forty minutes.