Next Thursday, April 6, yours truly will host a special 35mm screening of Renny Harlin’s Deep Blue Sea at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Yonkers, NY (buy your tickets here!). Back in 1999, it was the first major-studio shark flick in over a decade, and arguably paved the way for the flood of made-for-cable/video killer-fish flicks in the 2000s. What fans of the form may not know is that Warner Bros. intended to produce a DVD sequel to Harlin’s film for the Warner Premiere label.
Launched in 2006, Warner Premiere was a home for original animated features starring Scooby-Doo and DC Comics characters, as well as sequels to the studio’s theatrical hits like The Dukes of Hazzard: The Beginning, Return to House on Haunted Hill, Lost Boys: The Tribe and Ace Ventura Jr.: Pet Detective. In 2009, the powers that be went fishing for filmmakers to write and direct Deep Blue Sea 2, and chose Jack Perez, a talented and resourceful filmmaker whose Asylum flick Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus had become a viral sensation, and who had previously taken the plunge into DTV-sequel waters with Wild Things 2.
“I went in with a pitch,” recalls Perez, whose credits also include the cult horror/comedy Some Guy Who Kills People. “I didn’t know exactly what they were looking for, but it seemed that the natural way to go was to jack it up the way Aliens had jacked things up into a combat film. So that’s what I pitched, and Matt Bierman, the senior vice president at Warner Premiere, essentially said, ‘That sounds great.’ It was one of those rare circumstances where you pitch something and they just say, ‘Good, you’ve got the job to write and direct it.’ It was funny, because I had gone up for different directing jobs at Warner Premiere and hadn’t landed anything, but I think it was because Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus was in the air, and their thinking was, ‘Well, this guy knows sharks, so he’s perfect for Deep Blue Sea 2.’ ”
The scenario Perez came up with was more a conceptual than a direct sequel to Deep Blue Sea, as the studio put him under no obligation to continue its story. “What they were interested in was keeping the theme of shark experimentation,” Perez recalls. “The script is about this scientific research ship that is seized by Somali pirates, and a team of Navy SEALs have to go in and take them out. The whole ship is basically a gigantic floating laboratory, with a maze of tunnels that the sharks can travel through that open up into tanks.” Into this seabound shark Habitrail go Sgt. Nate Pickett, NSA geneticist/marine biologist Dr. Alexandra Cruz and Pickett’s multiculti team of bad-ass soldiers. “My thinking was that this was Sgt. Rock vs. sharks, so I developed this platoon kind of based on my favorite Sgt. Rock characters. To a certain degree, it was similar to what they did in Predator; there were definitely echoes of that sort of motley group.”
Taking several steps beyond the makos in the first Sea, which are simply bigger and smarter than average, Perez’s sharks have been surgically altered to incorporate machine guns, torpedoes and other weapons. It’s hard not to think of Dr. Evil’s famous request for “sharks with frickin’ laser beams attached to their heads!”, though Perez says, “I honestly didn’t even think of Austin Powers when I came up with that. My whole intention was to play it as straight as possible, so that the kind of stuff that was used in Austin Powers as a gag, or later in things like Sharknado purely as camp, would be done pretty direct and dark. On paper, it seems absolutely comical, but my intention was to make these sharks Frankenstein-style mutations that were tragic and violent. With the exception of the quipping between the soldiers, it wasn’t going to be played for humor. It would have been tricky with the budget I had [under $5 million], but I figured I could keep the pace going and make it relentless, and that would have been the key to its success.”
All went swimmingly through development, with very few notes and tweaks during the writing process. But during pre-production, the plug was pulled on Deep Blue Sea 2. “They were really happy with the script, I was already meeting with different special effects facilities and we were about to begin casting,” Perez recalls. “That’s when they decided it just wasn’t physically possible, even though the budget was relatively low. At the time, DVD sales were suffering, and I think they just made an accounting decision to not do it, along with other movies.”
Indeed, by 2010 Warner Premiere was pretty much out of the live-action sequel business, and devoted itself to animation until the label folded in 2013. Perez, who shared with us the conceptual video seen below of the scientific vessel that he prepared for Warner executives, still laments the film that got away. “I was there and ready to do it, and it’s always heartbreaking when you’re that close. I guess it can be worse—you can actually be shooting, like Terry Gilliam was [on The Man Who Killed Don Quixote], and get cancelled—but this one was right on the verge.”
Live near Yonkers? Get your tickets here!