Sphere (1998 film)


Theatrical release poster
Directed by Barry Levinson
Produced by
Screenplay by
Based on Sphere
by Michael Crichton
Music by Elliot Goldenthal
Cinematography Adam Greenberg
Edited by Stu Linder
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release dates
  • February 13, 1998 (1998-02-13)
Running time
129 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $73–80 million[1][2]
Box office $50.1 million[1]

Sphere is a 1998 American science fiction psychological thriller film directed and produced by Barry Levinson. It stars Dustin Hoffman, Sharon Stone, and Samuel L. Jackson. Sphere was based on the 1987 novel of the same name by Michael Crichton. The film was released in the United States on February 13, 1998.


An alien spacecraft is discovered on the floor of the Pacific Ocean, estimated to have been there for nearly 300 years. A team of experts, including marine biologist Dr. Beth Halperin, mathematician Dr. Harry Adams, astrophysicist Dr. Ted Fielding, psychologist Dr. Norman Goodman, and U.S. Navy Capt. Harold Barnes, are assembled and taken to the Habitat, a state-of-the-art living environment located near the spacecraft.

On examination of the spacecraft, they determine that it is not alien at all, but rather American in origin. However, its technology far surpasses any in the present day. The ship computer's logs cryptically suggest either a mission originating in the distant past or future, but the team manages to deduce that the long dead crew were tasked with collecting an item of scientific importance. Goodman and Halperin discover the ship's logs, which show the ship encountering an "unknown event" (thought to be a black hole) that sends the vessel back in time. Eventually, Goodman and the others eventually stumble upon a large, perfectly spherical ball of fluid hovering a few feet above the floor in the ship's cargo bay. They cannot find any way to probe the inside of the sphere, and the surface is impenetrable; the crew finds it odd that the surface of the sphere reflects its surroundings except for humans.

They return to the Habitat, and Harry comes to believe that everyone on this team is fated to die. His rationale is that if they survive, their reports will be known by the spacecraft's crew on their future mission, and the crew will be able to foresee and avoid the black hole, thus avoiding the "unknown event" referenced in the logs, and not ending up where Harry's team has found it. During the night, Harry returns to the spacecraft and is able to enter the sphere, then returns to the Habitat. The next day, the crew discovers a series of numeric-encoded messages appearing on the computer screens; the crew is able to decipher them and come to believe they are speaking to "Jerry", an alien intelligence from the sphere. They find Jerry is able to see and hear everything that happens on the Habitat.

A powerful typhoon strikes the surface, and the Habitat crew are forced to stay several more days. During that time, a series of tragedies strike the crew, including attacks from aggressive jellyfish and a giant squid and equipment failures in the base, killing Ted and the team's support staff. The survivors, Beth, Harry, and Norman believe Jerry to be responsible. While waiting for rescue, the three begin to realize that the hazards that the others had befallen were manifestations of their own fears. They all believe that they have entered the sphere, which has given them the ability to make their fears real. Norman discovers that they had misinterpreted the initial messages from Jerry and that the entity speaking to them through the computers is actually Harry himself, transmitted while he is asleep.

Under the stress of the situation, Beth has suicidal thoughts which causes the detonation mechanisms on a store of explosives to engage, threatening to destroy the base and the spacecraft. They race to the Habitat's mini-sub, but their combined fears cause them to appear in the spacecraft. Norman is able to see through the illusion and trigger the mini-sub's undocking process, allowing them to escape the destruction of the Habitat and spacecraft. The sphere is untouched by the explosions.

The mini-sub makes it to the surface as the surface ships return. As Beth, Harry, and Norman begin safe decompression, they realize that they will be debriefed and their newfound powers discovered. They all agree to erase their memories of the event using their powers; this assures that the "unknown event" paradox is resolved. The sphere rises from the ocean and then accelerates off into space.



Hoffman joined the cast because of Levinson's involvement. Hoffman and Levinson had collaborated on several prior projects, and Hoffman had faith that Levinson could raise the project beyond its script.[3] Due to budgetary concerns, production stopped in October 1996 and the script was revised. While Levinson waited for production to resume on Sphere, he directed Wag the Dog, which also stars Hoffman.[4] Shooting began again in March 1997 with a budget that Variety estimated at $80 million.[5] Shooting took place at a naval base on Mare Island in Vallejo, California.[6] Principal photography ended in July 1997 after 68 days.[7]


Sphere initially had a Christmas release date but was moved forward to avoid competition.[8] Warner Bros. released the film theatrically in the US on February 13, 1998, where it debuted in third place and grossed $37 million total.[2] The Los Angeles Times characterized it as a flop.[9] Sphere grossed $50.1 million worldwide.[1]


Sphere received mostly negative reviews from critics.[10] Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 12% based on 50 reviews, with the critical consensus that "Sphere features an A-level cast working with B-grade material, with a story seen previously in superior science-fiction films."[11] Todd McCarthy of Variety called it derivative of classic science fiction films and devoid of suspense.[12] Janet Maslin of The New York Times wrote, "While this is no quick-witted treat on a par with Mr. Levinson's Wag the Dog, it's a solid thriller with showy scientific overtones".[13] Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "The more the movie explains itself, the more ordinary it becomes."[14]


Soundtrack album by Elliot Goldenthal
Released February 25, 1998
Genre Classical, avant-garde, modernist
Length 35:36
Label Varèse Sarabande,
Cat. VSD-5913
Producer Elliot Goldenthal
Elliot Goldenthal chronology
The Butcher Boy
In Dreams
Review scores
Allmusic link
Filmtracks link

The score for Sphere was composed by Elliot Goldenthal.

Track listing

  1. "Pandora's Fanfare" – 1:17
  2. "Main Titles" – 2:49
  3. "Event Entry 6-21-43" – 0:53
  4. "The Gift" – 1:42
  5. "Sphere Discovery" – 2:08
  6. "Visit to a Wreckage" – 1:58
  7. "Water Snake" – 2:36
  8. "Terror Adagio" – 3:24
  9. "Wave" – 3:18
  10. "Fear Retrieval" – 3:48
  11. "Andante" – 2:20
  12. "Manifest Fire" – 3:48
  13. "Manifest3" – 3:47
  14. "Their Beast Within" – 1:44[15]

Crew credits


Following a review by Lisa Schwarzbaum in Entertainment Weekly that gratuitously mentioned Hoffman's Jewish heritage,[16] Levinson wrote Liberty Heights.[10] Samples of Sharon Stone's voice from the film are used in "Moments In Space" by Odessi.[17]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 "Sphere (1998)". The Numbers. Retrieved 2015-08-30.
  2. 1 2 "Sphere (1998)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2007-09-24.
  3. Harrison, Eric (1999-02-14). "Hoffman vs. Hoffman". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2015-08-30.
  4. Fleming, Michael (1996-12-02). "'Wag' snags Levinson in 'Sphere' time". Variety. Retrieved 2015-08-30.
  5. Johnson, Ted (1997-03-10). "WB clears 'Sphere' for production start". Variety. Retrieved 2015-08-30.
  6. Archerd, Army (1996-10-15). "Forman tells how film fest changed his life". Variety. Retrieved 2015-08-30.
  7. Archerd, Army (1997-07-02). "Smooth sailing for 'Sphere'". Variety. Retrieved 2015-08-30.
  8. Karon, Paul (1997-09-09). "WB spins 'Sphere' into Feb.". Variety. Retrieved 2015-08-30.
  9. Goldstein, Patrick (2001-02-13). "Levinson at War With DreamWorks Over 'Piece'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2015-08-30.
  10. 1 2 Hornaday, Ann (1999-11-14). "He's Digging Deeper Into Home Turf". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2015-08-30.
  11. "Sphere (1998)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved 2013-01-04.
  12. McCarthy, Todd (1998-02-10). "Review: 'Sphere'". Variety. Retrieved 2015-08-30.
  13. Maslin, Janet (1998-02-13). "Sphere (1998)". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-08-30.
  14. Turran, Kenneth (1998-02-13). "20,000 Leitmotifs Under the Sea". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2015-08-30.
  15. Track listing for the film soundtrack
  16. http://www.ew.com/article/1998/02/20/sphere
  17. "Odessi - Moments Of Space". YouTube. 2010-09-23. Retrieved 2015-10-18.
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