Black Ops (Deadwater)
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Black Ops (Deadwater)

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One the trickiest thing to do in film is try to straddle several normally unrelated genres. Some types of films go naturally together like the romantic comedy or the horror and thriller genres. When a director attempts to meld very different kinds of movies it is like creating a new dish in the kitchen. You can take spices that on their own taste great but when combined the results are not very good at all. One recent example of a strong concept that falls short in execution is ‘Black Ops’. You might have heard of it under the original theatrical name of ‘Deadwater’. That is another red flag when the studios feel they have to change the name for the DVD release. This flick begins with elements of espionage, forensic investigation, naval action and a military drama. If they had stopped here the film might have worked out better but at the last minute they threw in some horror flick plot devices. It is almost understandable why the studio executives push for additions such as this. They are hoping to appeal to a greater demographic and thereby increase their profit margins. What suffers in decisions like this are the film makers and ultimately the audience. In today’s marketplace there is no need to make a reasonably good niche film and turn it into a jack of all trades; master of none flick.

The film feels forced in many places as if executives that only know the bottom line business tried to make creative decisions. This was a film written and directed by teams instead of the usual individual efforts. Some times such collaborations can work but in this particular case it diluted a basically strong idea. The men in charge of the script were Ethan Wiley and Roel Reiné. Reiné also was part of the team that directed as well. Wiley has had some previous experience mostly in horror flicks and their sequels. Listed on his resume are flicks like ‘House’, ‘House 2: The Second Story’ and ‘Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror’. He also served as director and producer for many of his scripts. This at least demonstrates that the man knows his way around a movie set and knows what to do. Most of Reiné’s work was concerned with production, direction, cinematography and editing. He has a few previous scripts made in several different genres. Together the pair worked out a strong initial story that touches on topics hot in the head lines today. An old World War II battleship is re-commissioned in order to serve in the Persian Gulf. Its new mission is a top secret black operation that is vital to national security. When the ship stops its radio communication with its handlers after a distress call a crack special operations Marine task force is dispatched to find out if terrorist have taken over the ship. Along with the Marines are a NCIS investigator and a couple of specialized scientist. So far, so good; this is a character mix that sure ensure a rousing good time. Then all of a sudden they go off on the horror tangent and the movie spirals down hill. In today’s political climate a good terrorist driven story should be enough without the puerile addition of second rate horror plot devices.

The team that handled the direction of the movie consisted of Reiné and Rebel Wan. Reiné has a lot of directorial experience in German television and a variety of film genres. Wan is a new comer with this as his first film. Reiné also put on the hats of producer and cinematographer here and does well in all aspects of his involvement in this movie. The style is straight forward with a few camera angles and lighting tricks of the trade to keep things interesting. The camera is an active participant instead of just a voyeur helping to set the stage and drive the emotional impact of the film. The movie is dark and moody which does set the stage for the regrettable twist to horror. The pacing moves the film along at a good clip that does a very good job at creating suspense that would make this a great spy thriller. Tension is built slowly pulling the audience into the story.

The film opens with some stock footage of the military might of the United States. There is a cargo plane in the sky and a sweeping view of an air craft carrier. A line of text on the screen tells us that this is the USS Nimitz berthed in Saudi Arabia in the present day. Captain John Willets (Lance Henriksen) comes on board in full battle gear complete with an assault rife at the ready. On deck he meets with Commander Combs (James Russo). Willets is only six months away from retirement and is certain that Combs as ‘fouled’ things up again. Willets has been looking for a terrorist but Combs explains that he was just taken into custody. The scene shifts to four ago previously on a ship at sea where two men are rushing another man in a hood below deck. Under a light is a lone metal chair with ominous gears. Obviously the hooded man is about to experience some ‘alternate methods of interrogation’. A group of ‘interrogation specialist’ joins the men and pushes the hooded man into the chair. Before he goes into the chair the men tie the prisoner upside down and dunk him in a vat of water. I guess they don’t get CNN on the ship and are unaware of the Congressional investigation of water boarding usage. As the interrogation continues the rest of the crew go about their normal routine. At least the cook washes his hands before handling the food. Suddenly something happens to most of the crew. They begin to savagely attack and brutally kill each other. Back on the Nimitz Combs explains the situation to Willets. A ship commissioned for blacks ops for the CIA has fallen out of contact while holding the terrorist that Willets has been chasing all over the Middle East. He is to lead a team of investigators with specially trained Marines for back up and find out what has happened and get the terrorist back. It seems simple enough and would have made for an entertaining time until the supernatural causes of the ship wide madness is discovered.

The best way to watch this movie is to put out of your mind what it could have been. Instead accept it as a horror flick and embrace it as a member of that genre. Thanks to the behind the scenes talent and the always professional job by Henriksen the movie is better than the all too common slash and dash gore filled flicks that overflow the DVD shelves. It is snot bad it just could have been better.

Posted 04/15/08

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