25 Things You Didn’t Know About 1998’s ‘King Kong Prequel’ Deep Rising
Written and directed by Stephen Sommers (who went on to make The Mummy), Deep Rising is a fun but grisly blend of action and horror. The film sees a luxury cruise liner besieged by heavily armed thieves, only for the criminals to unexpectedly find themselves under attack from a mysterious and deadly threat. Here are some facts about this sea-faring creature feature that you might not have known.
25. The film was originally entitled Tentacle
Deep Rising is the fourth feature film made by American writer-director Stephen Sommers. As a horror movie geared towards older viewers, the film was a step in a different direction for Sommers. His previous films had included the more family-friendly The Adventures of Huck Finn and a 1994 live-action adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book.
When Sommers began working on the script in the mid-90s, he didn’t entitle the project Deep Rising. Instead, Sommers’ original working title was Tentacle – a more clear reflection of the film’s central threat. It’s not hard to see why it was instead decided to give the film a more ambiguous, largely spoiler-free title.
24. The film’s budget was slashed when Harrison Ford turned down the lead role
The male lead in Deep Rising is John Finnegan, the morally flexible captain who offers his services to criminals. Stephen Sommers wrote the role with a well-established loveable rogue in mind: Harrison Ford. When Ford was in the frame to take the role, studio interest in the project increased – and along with it, the budget.
Unfortunately for Sommers, Ford wound up turning down Deep Rising. Naturally, this had a knock-on effect for the film overall.With Ford gone, concern from financial backers saw the film’s budget greatly reduced to $45 million. The role of Finnegan was instead taken by Treat Williams, a seasoned actor but a considerably smaller name than Ford.
23. Claire Forlani was originally cast as Trillian, but left the movie three days in
With Treat Williams cast as Finnegan, the next order of business was casting female lead Trillian St. James. British actress Claire Forlani (of The Rock and the groundbreaking indie Mallrats) was originally cast as the sly thief and con artist. However, Forlani would only spend three days on the Deep Rising set before leaving the production.
Reports vary as to just what transpired, and whether Forlani quit or was unceremoniously fired from the movie. Either way it seems that the actress and director Stephen Sommers did not see eye to eye. 1998 would instead see Forlani appear opposite Brad Pitt in Meet Joe Black; roles in Mystery Men and Boys and Girls followed.
22. Famke Janssen almost wasn’t cast in Forlani’s place over concerns she was too famous
With Claire Forlani out of the picture, Deep Rising needed a new leading lady at very short notice. Ultimately the role was taken by Famke Janssen, although this had been a matter of some contention. After Harrison Ford turned the film down, it had been decided that Deep Rising should have a cast of comparative unknowns.
With this in mind, some were concerned that Janssen was too big a star because of her role in GoldenEye. Janssen proved to be one of the comparatively few ‘Bond girl’ actresses to enjoy a very successful career beyond Bond. Her biggest break came in 2000 when she was cast as Jean Grey in X-Men, a role she would reprise several times.
21. The film was shot in a giant water tank in Vancouver because Los Angeles was too expensive
As might be expected of any Hollywood movie, originally the plan was to shoot Deep Rising locally in Los Angeles. However, the filmmakers were trying to pull off an ambitious, large-scale movie on a comparatively limited budget, so they needed to cut a few corners financially. As Deep Rising is set entirely at sea, the filmmakers needed to shoot much of the film in a water tank.
However, they found they were unable to rent any such facility in LA for less than $200,000. For this reason, the filmmakers instead moved the production to a far cheaper equivalent in Vancouver, Canada. Ironically, this tank wound up bursting and flooding nearby housing, a misfortune that ultimately cost the film $600,000.
20. The special effects took so long that the film’s release was delayed by over a year
As you’ll know if you’ve seen Stephen Sommers’ later movies (most famously The Mummy and The Mummy Returns), the director really likes CGI. Sommers and his crew utilised this SFX technology extensively on Deep Rising, primarily for the sea monster sequences. Particularly back in the 90s, producing high-quality CGI was a costly and time-consuming business.
This became an issue on Deep Rising, as so much needed to be added digitally in post-production that it delayed the film’s release. Part of the problem was that at first Hollywood Pictures wanted Deep Rising’s CGI to be handled exclusively by Disney’s in-house computer animators. When it became clear that Disney’s team couldn’t manage the job alone, famed SFX company Industrial Light & Magic were hired to help complete the film.
19. Famke Janssen hated having to play another role that focused on her beauty
As a model-turned-actress, Famke Janssen was accustomed to being cast with her looks in mind. Even so, by the time of Deep Rising, the Dutch performer had been in the business more than five years. As a result of this, she had reportedly grown tired of being hired simply to look pretty all the time. Janssen is said to have complained on-set about the clothing and make-up she was given for Trillian.
She felt the character should be more down to earth, but director Stephen Sommers reportedly told Janssen should could look any way she wants when she isn’t playing the romantic lead in a movie. Still, it’s possible this may have been a factor in why Trillian changes from her glamorous red dress to a simple shirt and jeans later in the film.
18. The film was almost re-cut for a PG-13 rating
Deep Rising is not necessarily a film to be watched with all the family. There are a number of grisly death scenes, not to mention frequent use of profanity. Even so, at one point production house Hollywood Pictures attempted to tone the film down for a PG-13 rating. However, it eventually became clear that the film simply wouldn’t work with its R-rated content excised, so these plans were abandoned.
Editor Bob Ducsay referred to this attempt at a PG-13 cut of Deep Rising as a “Vietnam mission” (i.e. a lot of time and effort toward an insurmountable goal). Just about every movie Stephen Sommers has made since (The Mummy movies, Van Helsing, GI Joe) has been rated PG-13, with Sommers apparently finding a sweet spot for his moviemaking.
17. The ending was originally meant to set up a King Kong reboot
At the end of Deep Rising, the few survivors to escape the doomed cruise liner are washed up on the sandy beach of a small island. In the film’s final moments, they hear an almighty roar, suggesting their monster-fighting adventures are far from over. The idea was that they had landed on Skull Island, and it was hoped that this would set the scene for a King Kong reboot which Stephen Sommers would write and direct.
However, Sommers instead went on to make The Mummy, and the King Kong remake spent a few years in development. Eventually, Peter Jackson would direct the (second) King Kong remake for Universal Pictures in 2005. More recently, Warner Bros and Legendary have produced two movies starring the iconic giant ape – Kong: Skull Island and Godzilla vs. Kong.
16. Kevin J. O’Connor ad-libbed many of his lines
Taking sidekick duties on Deep Rising is Kevin J. O’Connor as Joey Pantucci, Finnegan’s first mate. This was the Chicago-born actor’s first collaboration with director Stephen Sommers (although he had previously co-starred with Deep Rising leading lady Famke Janssen in Lord of Illusions). Sommers took a shine to O’Connor, and has remarked that he was delighted by the lines of dialogue the actor improvised during the shoot.
O’Connor came up with a number of humorous asides, such as when Joey asks if a person can “suddenly get asthma.” The actor got along so well with Stephen Sommers that the writer-director would give him roles in later films. O’Connor would play key antagonist Beni in The Mummy, Igor in Van Helsing, and Doctor Mindbender in GI Joe: Rise of Cobra.
15. There were over 400 extras on set for the early cruise liner sequence
For the most part, Deep Rising centres on a fairly small ensemble of under a dozen characters exploring the cruise liner. At the very beginning, though, there are a whole lot more people on board the luxurious ship. To shoot this early sequence, the filmmakers had to bring in more than 400 extras. Capturing all the footage they needed with this large amount of people took the crew five days.
Unfortunately, one minor slip-up in the shooting of this sequence found its way into the final film. Watch closely, and you may notice that when Simon Canton (Anthony Heald) gives his big speech, there’s a moment when the boom mic operator is visible. Deep Rising is hardly the first film to make such a mistake; sometimes the errors just aren’t spotted until shooting has wrapped.
14. Kevin J. O’Connor wound up heavily bruised from the scene where he gets beat up
As we’ve seen time and again, making action-oriented movies can be a hazardous business for cast and crew. Actor Kevin J. O’Connor found this out the hard way shooting a particularly rough scene for Deep Rising. One particularly dark scene sees O’Connor’s Joey knocked down, kicked and punched by the mob of mercenaries.
For the actor’s safety, he was given a lot of padding to wear underneath his costume. Unfortunately, this didn’t entirely do the trick, as O’Connor wound up covered in bruises afterwards. Director Stephen Sommers has said that he felt “horrible” about the incident and was hugely apologetic to O’Connor. He might have had grounds to sue!
13. The film’s release was pushed back to avoid clashes with Con Air and Starship Troopers
Had things originally gone to plan, Deep Rising would have been released to cinemas in the summer of 1997. However, Deep Rising was a Disney production, and the studio had another big R-rated movie coming out at the same time. That film was Con Air, the legendarily ridiculous prisoners-on-a-plane action movie starring Nicolas Cage.
It was feared that opening Deep Rising at the same time might dent Con Air’s box office chances (which turned out to be a very respectable $224 million). Later, Deep Rising was set to open in November – but once again, there was another major R-rated movie opening that month, Starship Troopers. Starship Troopers wasn’t so successful, earning $121.2 million off a budget upwards of $100 million – but that’s still way better business than Deep Rising wound up doing.
12. The film was destroyed at the box office by Titanic
While Deep Rising’s release date had been changed multiple times to avoid clashes with other R-rated action movies, no one had expected what happened next. Hollywood Pictures wound up releasing the film to US cinemas in January 1998 – when a certain other movie set on a ship was still on screens. That movie was of course James Cameron’s Titanic, which had unexpectedly become a blockbuster of unprecedented proportions.
Even though the romantic disaster movie had been in cinemas for almost three months when Deep Rising opened, it was still dominating the box office. Titanic proved an insurmountable obstacle (you might even say an iceberg) to Deep Rising; Stephen Sommers’ film wound up grossing a mere $11.2 million. As for Titanic, it became the biggest box office hit ever at the time, and the very first film to earn upwards of $1 billion.
11. The marketing campaign centred on the special effects artists
Deep Rising did not boast any major stars in its cast (sorry, Treat Williams), nor was director Stephen Sommers that well known at the time. This, it seems, left those in charge of marketing the film at a bit of a loss for an angle. Ultimately, the decision was made to sell Deep Rising on the strength of its special effects work. We’re used to seeing the names of actors at the top of a poster, but one Deep Rising poster instead sported the words, ‘From the Special Effect Team who made Total Recall and Star Wars.”
True enough, Deep Rising’s FX team included Rob Bottin, who won an Oscar for his work on Total Recall. Bottin’s other credits include The Thing and RoboCop. Meanwhile, the CGI effects in the movie were largely handled by George Lucas’ SFX company Industrial Light and Magic, who have of course been industry leaders since their work on a galaxy far, far away.
10. The film’s box office failure sank a production company
While distributed by the Disney-owned Hollywood Pictures, Deep Rising was produced by production company Cinergi. Cinergi was founded by producer Andrew G. Vajna, who had previously co-founded mini-studio Carolco Pictures. While Cinergi produced such hits as Tombstone and Die Hard with a Vengeance, the company were also responsible for some notorious flops.
Cinergi were behind expensive failures Super Mario Bros and Judge Dredd – and having yet another money-loser in Deep Rising didn’t help their fortunes. The final nail in the coffin was their next release, the disastrous Burn Hollywood Burn: An Alan Smithee Film. When this critically reviled comedy made a truly abysmal $53,000 at the box office, Cinergi folded in mid-1998.
9. Roger Ebert declared it one of his most hated movies
In recent years, many fans and critics have hailed Deep Rising as one of the best monster movies of the 90s. However, back when the movie was first released in 1998, it was a rather different story. With only a few exceptions, the initial reviews that Deep Rising received were overwhelmingly negative, and from some hugely famous and powerful industry voices.
Stephen Sommers’ film got a particularly venomous welcome from one of the most influential American critics: Roger Ebert. The famed and respected movie reviewer listed Deep Rising among his most hated films of that year. Despite the cult status Deep Rising enjoys today, it still has a low Rotten Tomatoes score: 28% from critics, and 43% from audiences.
8. Kevin J. O’Connor’s character originally died, but he was kept alive after test audiences objected
It would seem that writer-director Stephen Sommers wasn’t the only one to develop a soft spot for Kevin J. O’Connor in Deep Rising. Originally, O’Conner’s Joey Pantucci was not intended to survive the monster battle on the Argonautica. However, test audiences loved the character, and voiced their displeasure when he was killed off.
This prompted a rethink, and a reshoot, to make Joey a survivor alongside Treat Williams’ Finnegan and Famke Janssen’s Trillian. In the years since Deep Rising, Kevin J. O’Connor has not only enjoyed further collaborations with director Stephen Sommers, but also with acclaimed filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson. The actor has taken supporting roles in both Anderson’s There Will Be Blood and The Master.
7. Treat Williams described the making of the movie as “fun, fun, fun”
Treat Williams is said to have summed up his experience on Deep Rising in three words: “Fun, fun fun!” The 1998 movie is one of the few big-budget films to have given Williams a leading role. Born in Connecticut in 1951, Williams would break into acting through theatre, appearing in Grease and other musicals on Broadway.
He broke into movies in the late 70s, with roles in Hair and Steven Spielberg’s widely forgotten misfire 1941. Williams has tended to specialise in supporting roles, with parts in Once Upon a Time in America, Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead and the bad guy role in The Phantom. Williams’ only other notable leading action man role has been in three direct-to-DVD sequels to 1996 thriller The Substitute.
6. The edited-for-TV version makes Stephen Sommers cry
Pretty much all filmmakers have to deal with seeing their vision compromised to some degree for the sake of commerce. On the Blu-ray commentary for Deep Rising, Stephen Sommers remarks that he’s delighted the film’s home entertainment releases avoid that. The writer-director notes that, when Deep Rising is shown on US television, it’s in a significantly different cut.
For one thing, the film’s content is censored, which naturally hurts the film (hence the filmmakers ditched their attempts at a PG-13 cut). In addition, cuts are also made to allow space for commercial breaks; so overall, Deep Rising’s TV version runs about 30 minutes shorter. Sommers remarked that screenings of this condensed version are “good for my pocketbook, but it makes me cry sometimes.”
5. The film was supposed to begin with an epic underwater sequence
Writer-director Stephen Sommers had always hoped to make Deep Rising the biggest monster movie he could on a limited budget. However, time and money constraints meant that this ambitious vision had to be pared-back somewhat. Until late in the day, the film was originally going to open with a large-scale underwater sequence.
Well into the post-production process, this sequence (the details of which have not been disclosed) was still part of the film. Unfortunately, with multiple teams of CGI artists working overtime and deadlines looming, the underwater opening had to be scrapped. This was probably for the best, given the water tank issues they’d had shooting other parts of the film.
4. Several cast members went on to appear in films featuring Marvel characters
Within a few years of Deep Rising’s release, Marvel comic book adaptations became the next big thing at the box office. Small wonder, then, that a good few members of Deep Rising’s cast would go on to appear in Marvel movies. The most famous of these is of course Famke Janssen, who played Jean Grey in X-Men and several of its sequels (admittedly a Sony property).
Also, Djimon Hounsou would appear as Korath in Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain Marvel. Meanwhile, Leila actress Una Damon would go on to make an uncredited appearance in 2002’s Spider-Man, as the scientist who gives Peter Parker’s class a tour of the laboratory that houses the super-spiders. In addition, Derrick O’Connor would appear as Father Everett in 2003’s Daredevil, and Jason Flemyng as Azazel in X-Men: First Class.
3. The character of Captain Atherton was named after the film’s cinematographer
Deep Rising co-stars the late Irish actor Derrick O’Connor as Captain H.W. Atherton, captain of the cruise liner the Argonautica. Writer-director Stephen Sommers named the character in honour of one of the key members of his crew. The character is named after Howard Atherton, who was Deep Rising’s director of photography.
The other credits of British-born cinematographer Atherton include Fatal Attraction, Mermaids, Indecent Proposal and Bad Boys. Atherton has said that Deep Rising was an unusual professional experience for him, as he got on very well with Sommers. The cinematographer remarked that he tends to thrive off tension between himself and the director, but this didn’t happen on Deep Rising because he liked Sommers too much.
2. Famke Janssen’s character takes her name from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Anyone who’s seen Deep Rising will no doubt have noticed that Famke Janssen’s character has a somewhat unusual name. The sharp-witted and gutsy thief has the attention-grabbing moniker of Trillian St. James. It’s possible that some viewers have never heard the name Trillian before – whilst others might be wondering where they know it from.
Writer-director Stephen Sommers borrowed the name from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. British writer Douglas Adams’ classic science fiction comedy (which was first a radio play, then a novel, then a TV show) features a character named Trillian. Trillian was portrayed by Sandra Dickinson in the 1981 Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy TV series, and later by Zooey Deschanel in the 2005 movie.
1. Director Stephen Sommers would reunite with composer Jerry Goldsmith on The Mummy
Deep Rising was the first time that director Stephen Sommers worked with composer Jerry Goldsmith. After starting out in TV in the 50s, Goldsmith became one of the most esteemed composers of film scores in the business. Throughout his illustrious career Goldsmith earned 17 Oscar nominations, winning only once for The Omen.
Sommers was clearly pleased with Goldsmith’s work on Deep Rising, as he decided to hire the composer again on his next movie. Goldsmith provided the score for Sommers’ best-loved film The Mummy, although he sat out the slightly less respected sequel The Mummy Returns. Sadly, the composer passed away from cancer in July 2004 at the age of 75.