As a kid growing up in Queensland, Australia, screenwriter Duncan Kennedy witnessed firsthand the horrific effects of a shark attack when a victim washed up on a beach near his home. "There was really not much left of him," Kennedy recalled. In the years that followed, the memory of that attack might have contributed to a recurring nightmare Kennedy had about being in a passageway with sharks that could read his mind. He finally purged those dreams by sitting down and writing a screenplay that eventually evolved into Warner Bros. new thriller, "Deep Blue Sea," which opens Wednesday. The script, co-written by Donna Powers and Wayne Powers, tells the story of scientists at a midocean research facility who have genetically engineered mako sharks in their quest for a cure to human disease. The unintended side effect, however, is that the sharks gain intelligence, with terrifying results. The big-budget $82-million film represents a test for director Renny Harlin, who hasn't had a big hit since "Cliffhanger" in 1993, which took in $84 million. His last two films slumped at the box office: "The Long Kiss Goodnight" in 1996 grossed $33.4 million domestically, while "Cutthroat Island" a year earlier was an epic bomb, taking in a mere $9.9 million. But Warners is upbeat about the prospects for "Deep Blue Sea." Recent tracking data shows that interest in the film is high among its core young male audience, though not nearly as high as the small-budget horror film "The Blair Witch Project," which could offer "Deep Blue Sea" stiff competition. Kennedy, meanwhile, realizes that whenever anyone mentions a shark movie, they naturally think of Steven Spielberg. "The problem with approaching a shark movie," Kennedy says, "is how do you do it without repeating 'Jaws' ?" Kennedy noted that in "Jaws," the shark was 25 feet long, so Harlin had to do Spielberg one better. "He increased [our shark] to 26 feet," Kennedy said.
'Bad Bad Thing' Is Good Indeed for Isaak
Will the moviegoers flocking to "Eyes Wide Shut" open their ears this week to the film's soundtrack--or will the film's signature song by Chris Isaak steal the spotlight (and sales)? The soundtrack to the Stanley Kubrick film is an eclectic collection of classical selections, standards and jazz, but it also contains one pop song: Isaak's "Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing", a song that veers from smoky to scorching and was used as a powerful backdrop in trailers for the film. The song has become a favorite on radio listener request lines--so does that mean the soundtrack will be a hit? It sold a modest 8,500 copies last week and retailers say they don't expect to see a big jump on that when this week's charts arrive Wednesday. That's because the song is also available on Isaak's 1995 album "Forever Blue," which has enjoyed a recent spike in sales (it sold 3,000 copies a week ago, triple its one-week totals from last month). For Isaak, it's the second time that Hollywood lightning has struck and given him a major sales jolt. His biggest hit, "Wicked Game," was released on a 1989 album but didn't become a Top 10 hit until a year later when it was featured in David Lynch's "Wild at Heart" and on that film's soundtrack. "Wicked Game" also had a lusty video that featured Isaak and a supermodel--a tactic he has duplicated with the new "Baby" video, directed by Herb Ritts. Did the "Wild at Heart" experience help Isaak land his song a spot in the high-profile Kubrick film? "I wish," the singer said. "I had nothing to do with it. Nicole Kidman was doing nude scenes and Kubrick told her if she was nervous to bring music to play, and she brought my album. He liked it." Isaak has tapped into the buzz around the song by dubbing his current road trek the "Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing Tour," which includes an Aug. 29 show at the Greek Theatre.
With 'Teen Files,' UPN Takes a Higher Road
Television in general, and the UPN network in particular, hasn't received much good press lately. General concerns include media violence in the wake of the shootings at Columbine High School and a lack of racial diversity. Specific criticism has centered on UPN's decision to add a wrestling show to its prime-time lineup, "WWF Smackdown!," seen as a semi-desperate attempt to elevate the network's sluggish ratings. Perhaps it's worth a brief pause, then, to point out that TV, and UPN, do occasionally provide more pro-social programs. Case in point: "The Teen Files," two topical specials UPN will air Thursday, subtitled "The Truth About Sex" and "The Truth About Hate," seeking to engage and inform teens on these issues. Hosted by Leeza Gibbons, the programs come from Arnold Shapiro, the Emmy-winning producer of "Scared Straight!," and follow "The Truth About Drinking," which was nominated for an Emmy last week as outstanding children's program. UPN has also announced plans to repeat Shapiro's documentary sequel "Scared Straight! 20 Years Later" on Aug. 6, with more "Teen Files" to come. All of which goes to show that a network can try to do some good, even if it's not doing all that well.
--Compiled by Times Staff Writers