Sphere is a science fiction film that starts off with a tremendously fascinating story and ignores all of the possibilities that it entails. Four people (you know the drill a psychologist (Dustin Hoffman), a mathematician (Samuel L. Jackson), a biochemist (Sharon Stone) and an astrophysicist (Liev Schreiber)) are flown out to the middle of the ocean on a top-secret missions (even they don't know where they're going). We would be just as confused as they were about the details of their mission if we had never seen the previews, but even though we already know what they're going to find out there, it's just as interesting to learn about the details of this ship that has been found on the bottom of the ocean, and that appears to have been sitting there for 300 years (well, okay, 288). The story keeps getting better and better as we learn that there is a hum coming from the ship, indicating that there is still something running inside it, and then even more fascinating revelations once we are taken inside the ship.
There can be no doubt that Sphere contains some truly interesting and entertaining elements, and that things like the acting are just as superb as we would expect from such a spectacular cast, but as the movie progresses, we begin to realize how little the film is going to reveal. I can't say that I wasn't completely enraptured for at the least the first hour of the film, but there were just as many bitterly disappointing things about it as there were good things. Dustin Hoffman and Samuel L. Jackson, in particular, delivered absolutely brilliant performances in this film, delivering some of the best entertainment in the entire film by themselves. There is a mildly interesting but completely unconvincing ex-romantic tension between Sharon Stone's character, Dr. Beth Halperin, and Dustin Hoffman's character, Dr. Norman Goodman, that is there for little other reason than to complicate the lives of the characters as they try to solve the mystery of this undersea ship.
(spoilers) It's really too bad that the movie completely falls on its face in the second half, because the first half of the film is excellent and undeniably entertaining. There's nothing like a bit of time travel and the suggestion of extraterrestrial life to keep you entertained, and it is definitely a great scene when we find out that the ship is a human ship. This is one of the many things in the film that really makes you think. The thing that makes a great film is that it inspires thought. This is probably the one thing that all of the great films have in common with each other. There are surely a lot of things about Sphere that really make you think, which is another reason that the first half of the film is so good. We see that it's a human ship, which opens a whole new area of possibilities for the film. Harry (Samuel L. Jackson) speculates on the fact that the last entry in the ship's log is an entry into an `Unknown entry event,' indicating that they will never reach the surface to reveal what they've found.
There is also a possibly over-extensive excursion into the realm of the psychological element in the film, as the characters are all made to face their fears, some of which are not just your average fears, such as Harry's strange fear of finishing 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. The special effects are definitely nothing to brag about, but there are some interesting scenes that take place in the deep ocean, such as the death of Teeny Fletcher (hey, she's black, she had it coming, right?) in the midst of a mass of strange sea creatures, as well as the scene with the thousands of squid eggs. Weird looking things, I've wondered since I saw the film what kind of props they used for that scene. The conversation with `Jerry' is unfittingly childish, but there is definitely a significant element of tension introduced when Jerry gets mad, as well as the scene where Norman contemplated the implications of Jerry's expression of emotions, indicating his ability to get mad.
There are undeniably a lot of interesting things about Sphere, and it surely has the power to entertain, but it goes off the track later in the film, maybe because it tried to answer too many of its questions. There are some unanswerable things in the film, and the movie deals with them by having the characters have a weakly-written discussion about their fears and questions, and their ultimate decision to `forget' what they know using the power that they seem to have gained from the sphere. While this answers the question of how it could have been an unknown entry event when they all made it to the surface, it's probably the weakest ending that the film could possibly have had.
As a strange twist on the science fiction genre, Sphere succeeds, although only in the first half. Like Hollow Man, Sphere could have and should have been a much better film. The unfortunate fact about the film is that it contains a lot of very interesting and very entertaining things that are surely worth watching, but the disappointing ending almost makes them not even worth seeing.