Matthew Davis as Ensign Douglas O’Dell
Bruce Greenwood as Lt. Brice
Olivia Williams as Claire Paige
Holt McCallany as Lt. Loomis
Scott Foley as Lt. Coors
Zach Galifianakis as Wallace
Jason Flemyng as Stumbo
Dexter Fletcher as Kingsley
Nick Chinlund as Chief
Jonathan Hartman as Schillings
Matthew Leitch as Zap
“The Process” Featurette
Feature Commentary With Director and Cast
Director Commentary for Deleted Scenes
Widescreen (1.85:1) – Enhanced for 16×9 Televisions
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound
Running Time: 105 Minutes
In the middle of World War II in the Atlantic Ocean, the submarine USS Tiger Shark picks up three survivors at sea. A U-boat recently attacked their ship and they were the only ones to make it off alive. However, soon after they are brought on board, strange things begin to happen. It quickly becomes apparent that a ghost is on board the sub and it is trying to kill everyone aboard. But why is it there and what does it want? The answer is the key to getting off the doomed submarine alive.
“Below” is rated R for language and some violence.
“Below’ hit theaters late in 2002 and then quickly disappeared from the sonar soon afterwards. Despite its brief theatrical run, I had heard good things about it. After all, the film was directed by Pitch Black’s David Twohy and written by Darren Aronofsky. However, even with that good pedigree, I still found “Below” to be a bit of a disappointment.
The cast of the film is excellent. Bruce Greenwood is great as Lt. Brice, the new commanding officer of the sub. He makes a great transition between a take-control Navy man and a person driven to the breaking point. Olivia Williams is also good as the damsel in distress Claire Paige. I had never seen Matt Davis before this, but he was also well cast as the young and naïve officer on the sub. Together they help raise the quality of the film quite a bit.
Unfortunately, the good cast is not enough. The story is somewhat predictable. You can figure out what’s going on in rather short order. I won’t spoil it here, though. One of the few novelties of the film is seeing how everything unfolds once you figured out what’s going on. The pacing is also agonizingly slow through most of the story.
As for being a submarine film, it’s not very realistic either. Submariners are shown scuba diving outside the sub in the middle of WWII. The crew doesn’t do things in a very realistic manner. It’s also very obvious that the set is stationary. There are numerous other things in the film that just don’t seem right. I guess all the other submarine films out there have spoiled us to anything that features a lesser degree of realism.
The effects are also rather shoddy. Opening scenes of the submarine on the surface are obvious miniatures. None of the ghost scenes are particularly creepy. One of the few imaginative scenes in the film featuring a group of manta rays also features poor CG effects. Maybe they looked better on the big screen, but they didn’t hold up particularly well on the DVD.
The only other nagging detail was about the ghost itself. Once its true identity is revealed, its malevolent nature no longer makes much sense. It doesn’t make sense for it to try and kill every sailor on board knowing whom it is. You’ll have to ponder that one yourself if you see it.
If you’re really bored and are looking for some weekend entertainment, you might want to take a chance on Below. I didn’t get much out of it, though.
The extras included with “Below” are pretty good considering how little attention was paid to the movie in theaters. You get more than you might otherwise expect:
Deleted Scenes – There are a handful of deleted scenes included on the disc. While most of them are hardly missed from the plot, one is quite exciting. A torpedo engine is set off while it is still inside the submarine. The crew must load and launch it before it detonates. It would have been cool to add it back in. Another deleted scene is an alternate ending in which the crew scrambles to fire off a flare in order to catch a passing ship’s attention. The final version of the ending is a little bit better paced than this, so it ends up being a good cut. You also have the option of viewing the deleted scenes with director David Twohy’s commentary.
“The Process” Featurette – This spiffy little featurette shows home movies made by director Twohy during the filming of “Below”. You get to see the cast and crew rehearsing scenes and then their rehearsals intercut with the final footage. One of the cool ones is a behind the scenes look at the final confrontation on the deck of the sub. You see the actors rehearsing and filming the final scene in the water tank at Pinewood studios. It’s pretty neat to check out. Between each of the clips you get to see a blueprint of the submarine and where the scene is taking place. It’s interesting to see it shown in the context of the geography of the boat.
Feature Commentary With Director and Cast – Twohy, Greenwood, Davis, and a number of the other cast members all team up to provide this commentary. When they do get rolling talking about the film, it’s rather interesting. However, there are frequent long moments where nobody’s saying anything and other long moments when they’re telling jokes and making each other laugh. In-between those times there are interesting bits of trivia to absorb. They talk about what it was like filming certain scenes, differences between reality and fictional submarines, and more. It’s worth listening to for a little bit.
Director Commentary for Deleted Scenes – If you have the time or interest to listen to a second commentary, this DVD has it for you. Twohy returns for a second one on the disc. However, you may not be up for a third viewing.
The Bottom Line:
You’ll probably enjoy Twohy’s “Pitch Black” more than this one, but I suppose Below is worth renting if you’ve seen everything else.