Movie Debaters 2013 Fear-a-thon Spectral-tacular! #19: Leviathan

We’re presenting a special series of articles this October on Movie Debaters. Every week day we’ll give you a write up of a movie that evokes fear into the viewer and sends chills down the spine. (Or, just, you know movies in the horror/thriller genre.)

We call it The Movie Debaters 2013 Fear-a-thon Spectral-tacular!

If you want to be uncharitable to Leviathan you can call it a ripoff of Alien and The Thing. “Ripoff” is pretty harsh term in of itself. It’s not like Alien or The Thing have a stranglehold on that type of movie. Other people are allowed to make a movie about a strange monster picking off people one by one while they work in an extreme environment. But on the other hand, Leviathan is about crew members of a mining operation who battle a monster that absorbs the features of a host. Not only that, but the corporation in charge of the mining expedition is less than ethical in their intent.

In other words, Leviathan is a ripoff.

The thing is that the movie still mostly kind of works. It’s owes so much debt to Alien and The Thing that in spite of its generic nature, it’s still an effective, claustrophobic monster movie.

Two things about the movie surprised me. One when the opening credits were scrolling by I got excited that Stan Winston was involved in making the monsters. Unfortunately, I feel like this is one of his lesser efforts. Most shots of the monster were generic tentacles and snake-ish monsters. At the end we got some full shots of the monster and they just looked cheap and cheesey. There’s movies from 30 years ago that Stan Winston worked on and the effects still hold up. He was the king of special effects and it’s hard not to hold him to a higher standard.

The second thing to surprise me was the character work. It’s not like the characters in the movie were deep and complex. They were all pretty one note. But they were strong, easily identifiably one note. Almost all of the characters had personality traits that I thought were pretty unique. One of the crew member’s is obsessed with the stock market. Another really wishes to live in Switzerland — despite being raised in New York City. The captain of the mining expedition, Peter Weller, is in charge on paper but he’s an ineffectual leader. He starts the movie by reading a cheap self-help book about leadership.

Up until the very end the movie was playing it safe by sticking to the Alien/The Thing formula. Sure it wasn’t original, but in sticking to a pre-made plot it wasn’t overly terrible. The last 10 minutes show how toothless the movie really was. Unlike Ridley Scott or John Carpenter — two filmmakers who have the guts to be daring filmmakers — the filmmakers of Leviathan succumbed to the Hollywood credo of happy endings. It completely flies in the face of the nihilism of The Thing and the hopelessness of Alien.

If you’re jonesing for a movie like Alien or The Thing I guess Leviathan could satiate your needs. I think the bigger draw to the movie is seeing Ernie Hudson do his thing. That’s always welcome in any movie.

-Harrison

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