Special Edition

Details At A Glance

Category Science Fiction Theatrical Trailer(s) Yes, 1 plus 3 TV spots
Rating Other Trailer(s) Yes, 1 - All The President's Men
Year Released 1998 Commentary Tracks Yes, 1 - Dustin Hoffman (Lead Actor) and Samuel L. Jackson (Supporting Actor)
Running Time 129 minutes Other Extras Featurette - "Shaping The Sphere: The Art of the Special Effects Supervisor" (15 minutes)
Production Notes
Cast & Crew Biographies
RSDL/Flipper RSDL (66:54)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Movie
Region 4 Director Barry Levinson 

Warner Brothers
Starring Dustin Hoffman
Sharon Stone
Samuel L. Jackson
Peter Coyote
Liev Schreiber
RRP $29.95 Music Elliot Goldenthal

Pan & Scan/Full Frame No MPEG None
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Dolby Digital 5.1
16x9 Enhancement Yes Soundtrack Languages English (Dolby Digital 5.1)
Audio Commentary (Dolby Digital 2.0 )
Theatrical Aspect Ratio 2.35:1    
Macrovision Yes    
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Audio Commentary

Plot Synopsis

    What do you get when you combine the talents of Writer Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park), Director Barry Levinson (Rain Man), Lead Actor Dustin Hoffman (Rain Man, Tootsie, Outbreak, Wag The Dog, etc.), Lead Actress Sharon Stone (Basic Instinct) and Supporting Actor Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction, Die Hard 3)? A formula for a sure-fire box office success? A classic in-the-making? Bzzzt! Wrong! What you end up with is a curious mish-mash of styles that ends up leaving you wondering just how much better this film could have been if they had developed the very promising concept in a different way. Sphere is a film that can't decide whether it is a horror film, an action film, a  thriller, or pure science fiction. The film is very much like a combination of The Abyss, Leviathan and Contact.

    The premise is simple enough - an apparently alien spaceship of immense proportions is found at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. A team of five is sent to investigate - Dr Norman Goodman (Dustin Hoffman) who is a psychologist, Beth Halperin (Sharon Stone) who is a biochemist, Harry Adams (Samuel L. Jackson) who is a mathematician, Ted Fielding (Liev Schreiber) who is an astrophysicist, and Barnes (Peter Coyote) who is a military type.

    They discover that the spaceship is apparently American. Along the way, we get several very decent scares, which makes you think we are in for a horror movie. They also discover an immense golden Sphere which appears to be intelligent. Harry enters the Sphere.

    Pretty soon, bad things begin happening to the crew, and the apparent intelligence inside the Sphere contacts the remaining crew members. Things go from bad to worse, until only three crew members remain.

Transfer Quality


    The video transfer of this movie is generally very good, with a number of irritating minor faults marring the overall quality slightly.

    The transfer is presented at an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, 16x9 enhanced.

    The transfer was razor sharp all of the time. Shadow detail was pretty much always excellent, something which is important for a movie such as this one which takes place mainly in low lighting conditions. No low level noise interfered with the picture.

    The colours were well rendered, though they were marginally undersaturated at times for my tastes. There were certainly no problems with oversaturation.

    No MPEG artefacts were seen, except perhaps for some graininess in the sky very early into the movie (the upwards pan over the helicopter of the opening shot).

    Virtually no aliasing was seen, which was a definite plus given the nature of some of the scenes in this film which are dead-set sitters for aliasing artefacts. Other than that, no film-to-video artefacts were seen. In particular, I would like to comment on the frequent computer and video displays which were all clear and free of aliasing.

    There were far too many film artefacts for the film's age. They appeared mainly to be as a result of dirt on the negative, as they were virtually all white flecks. The problem was worse early on in the movie, and was a significant distraction.

    The disc is an RSDL disc, with the layer change occurring at 66:54, between Chapters 23 and 24. The layer change is very well placed and causes a minimal disruption to the flow of the movie.


    There are two audio tracks on this DVD. The default is English Dolby Digital 5.1. This is the one that I listened to first. The other track present is a Commentary Track in English Dolby Digital 2.0, surround-encoded.

    Dialogue was always clear and easily understood, which is a big plus for this soundtrack, since there is a lot of competing ambience.

    The musical score by Elliot Goldenthal was very dull and derivative, sounding like a combination of other scores. I must admit that I have heard a number of Elliot Goldenthal's scores, and they all seem to sound alike, and all sound like a conglomeration of other movies' soundtracks. I felt that the music added little to the atmosphere of the movie.

     The surround channels were used aggressively for ambience, action and music. They were active almost all of the way through the movie, mainly with subtle ambience, but also with special effects at times. Overall, the experience was pleasingly enveloping.

    The .1 channel was lightly worked with music and special effects.


    The menu on the disc is the standard Warner Brothers menu system.

    The major extra of this disc is the audio commentary by Dustin Hoffman and Samuel L. Jackson. Unfortunately, this commentary track is not as it seems. Dustin's so-called commentary is merely a 15 minute audio interview that he recorded at some stage that has been chopped up and pasted into the gaps in Samuel's commentary. Virtually none of Dustin's comments are specific to the scene they occur in and in the end they just cause irritation rather than enlightenment. Samuel, on the other hand, is obviously watching the movie, as he speaks for the majority of the time, with some gaps. His insights into the movie are somewhat limited, however. Of specific note are his comments regarding his acting towards the non-existent Sphere - he imagined the Sphere to be silver rather than gold, and specifically feels that he would have given a different performance if he knew that the Sphere was gold. Overall, the commentary track was of limited benefit, and a commentary from either the Visual Effects Supervisor or the Director would have been far better.

    The next biggest extra of this package is a 15 minute documentary entitled "Shaping The Sphere: The Art of the Special Effects Supervisor", enthusiastically narrated by the Visual Effects Supervisor. This is presented at a 4:3 aspect ratio with a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. Other than significant aliasing and chroma noise during the pans down the storyboards, the video is well presented. The content of this documentary is excellent, and offers a great deal of insight into the movie-making process.

    The theatrical trailer is present on this disc, presented with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, 16x9 enhanced and with a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. Also present are 3 TV spots for the movie, presented in a 4:3 aspect ratio, and also with a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. Rounding off the trailers, for the first time in a Warner Brothers Region 4 release, there is a theatrical trailer in the Reel Recommendations section - for All The President's Men. This is presented with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, 16x9 enhanced with a compressed mono Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack.

    Extensive Cast & Crew biographies are present, including the very interesting entry in Sharon Stone's filmography of Antz (1999).

    Rounding off the extras are extensive Production Notes.


    Sphere as a movie started with an excellent premise, but failed miserably in its delivery, which is quite a pity given the powerhouse talent involved in making this movie.

    The video quality is generally good, with some irritating artefacts.

    The audio quality is nicely enveloping, but somewhat uninspired.

    The extras are variable in their quality, from excellent, to a merely so-so audio commentary.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Michael Demtschyna
24th December 1998

Review Equipment
DVD Pioneer DV-505, using S-Video output
Display Loewe Art-95 95cm direct view CRT in 16:9 mode, via the S-Video input. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Audio Decoder Denon AVD-2000 Dolby Digital AddOn Decoder, used as a standalone processor. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Amplification 2 x EA Playmaster 100W per channel stereo amplifiers for Left, Right, Left Rear and Right Rear; Philips 360 50W per channel stereo amplifier for Centre and Subwoofer
Speakers Philips S2000 speakers for Left, Right; Polk Audio CS-100 Centre Speaker; Apex AS-123 speakers for Left Rear and Right Rear; Yamaha B100-115SE subwoofer