17 Facts About Deep Blue Sea For Its 20th Anniversary

Stellan Skarsgård in Deep Blue Sea (1999).
Stellan Skarsgård in Deep Blue Sea (1999).
Warner Bros.

This so-bad-it's-good shark flick swam into theaters on July 28, 1999. Here are a few things you might not have known about it.

1. Deep Blue Sea was inspired by a macabre experience.

When he was growing up in Australia, Deep Blue Sea screenwriter Duncan Kennedy saw the remains of a shark attack victim, which had washed up near his home. "There was really not much left of him," Kennedy told the Los Angeles Times. Kennedy had nightmares about being trapped in a passageway with sharks that could read his mind, and channeled those dreams—and his childhood experience—into the script about sharks whose brains have been modified by a scientist conducting Alzheimer’s research, making them smarter and much more deadly.

2. Many of the sharks in the film are real.

Most of Deep Blue Sea was shot at Baja Studios in Mexico, where the team constructed sets above the massive tanks that James Cameron built to make Titanic. There, the cast worked with animatronic sharks and used their imaginations to sub in for CG sharks that would be filled in later. But after the shoot at Baja wrapped, director Renny Harlin insisted that the cast head to the Bahamas to shoot with real sharks. Thomas Jane, who played shark wrangler Carter, was not thrilled: “I’ve been scared of sharks all my life, ever since I saw Jaws," Jane said in a DVD special feature.

Jane later recounted the experience for Entertainment Weekly: "The first day, I was in a cage, but the next day, they swam me 30 feet down ... Then this guy yanks the breather off me and the water's churning with blood and guts and stuff ... It was so terrifying that I don't want to remember it."

3. director Renny Harlin made tweaks to the sharks to take on Jaws.

"The problem with approaching a shark movie," Kennedy told the Los Angeles Times, "is how do you do it without repeating Jaws?" Kennedy said that in order to “do Spielberg one better,” Harlin made Deep Blue Sea’s makos 26 feet long. In real life, shortfin mako sharks reach 10 feet on average (although specimens as large as 12 feet have been caught), and longfin makos reach as long as 13.7 feet.

4. The animatronic sharks were really believable.

Deep Blue Sea’s filmmakers created its monstrous makos with a combination of visual effects and animatronic sharks. “My whole approach to this movie was, no more hiding sharks,” Harlin said in DVD special features. "This time you’re going to really see them. That’s a challenge. We’ve seen sharks on the Discovery Channel. We know what they look like, so our sharks had to be totally convincing.”

The special effects team, headed by Walt Conti—who built Willy in Free Willy and the snakes in Anaconda—spent eight months on the animatronic sharks. “The number one thing about capturing sharks is getting their energy,” Conti said in the film’s production notes. “They're always cruising kind of slowly, then they snap and just go with this incredible burst of energy. In that way, most of the time, sharks are somewhat lethargic. So probably our biggest challenge was replicating that speed and energy for those lunges. Also, sharks' jaws actually float in their skulls, giving them a specific kind of motion. As far as I know, we're the first animatronics team to totally mimic the multifaceted jaw of the shark.”

To get the job done, the team watched video of real makos swimming frame by frame, then borrowed equipment and technology that’s typically used in 747s and built the sharks as self-contained units. The remote-controlled machines had 1000hp engines, weighed 8000 pounds, and swam on their own, without the use of external wires or apparatus, at up to 30mph. They built 4.5 sharks: Three 15-foot makos, which played the first gen sharks; and 1.5 generation-two sharks, which represented that first generation’s 26-foot-long progeny. The effect was quite realistic: “The first time I saw one of those animatronic sharks, I thought it was a real one,” Stellan Skarsgård, who played Jim Whitlock, said in a special feature created for the DVD.

“When they first brought [the animatronic shark] into the lab we were all in awe of the size of this machine,” Jackson said. “It was a real monster. I would walk up to it slowly and touch it and they said it felt like a real shark. The gills moved and it had a mind of its own sometimes.”

Harlin recounted one of those times in the DVD commentary. “[One shark] was sitting in [McAlester’s] room and just as we were getting the computer programming finished, all of a sudden it leapt up [and] went through the ceiling,” he said. “All these 2x4s flying away like matchsticks. It was a good warning for us. It gave us an idea of the awesome power of these creatures and how careful we had to be in terms of the cast and crew being close to them, and how the computer program had to have failsafe procedures so nobody got hurt.”

5. Samuel L. Jackson was originally offered a different role.

In the original script, there were two men in the kitchen; Harlin initially thought Jackson would play Preacher, the head chef. But Jackson turned it down, “because my agent didn’t like it or the part wasn’t big enough or something,” the Oscar-nominated actor said in DVD commentary. So Harlin cast LL Cool J as Preacher and came up with a different part for Jackson.

“He said, ‘Now you’re going to be the richest man in the world, and you’re going to have the greatest scene in the movie, and it’s going to be a shock to everyone!” Jackson recalled. “He sent it back, [and the part] was Russell Franklin, and I was like ‘Yeah, this was great.’ I’ve done a lot of different things in movies, or had a lot of things happen to me in the movies, but nothing like what happens to me in this one.” (More on this later.)

Jackson told the Las Vegas Sun that he was motivated to take the part because “I watched a lot of monster pictures growing up and we would go home and someone would pretend to be Dracula or Frankenstein and chase us and we would run from them. This was an opportunity to finally be in a movie like that and run away from something that's bigger and stronger, with sharp teeth and claws. I got to say stuff like ‘Look out, look out! Go this way! Ahhh! Ahhh!’ Even though I didn't get to be that panicky.”

6. If you pay close attention, you'll see a special nod to Jaws.

In the beginning of the film, shark wrangler Carter, played by Thomas Jane, removes a license plate from the teeth of a tiger shark, then gives it to Russell Franklin. Take a closer look, and you’ll notice that it’s the exact same license plate taken from the stomach of the tiger shark that’s cut open in Jaws. Harlin called it “a little nod to the grand master, Spielberg.”

7. Harlin makes a cameo—and he was not a natural.

Director Renny Harlin attends a photocall for "Cleaner" during 55th San Sebastian International Film Festival on September 27, 2007 at Kursaal Palace in San Sebastian, Spain
Carlos Alvarez, Getty Images

As the workers of Aquatica—the lab where the research takes place—are heading home for the weekend, you can see Harlin walking past. “I had a moment of temp insanity—a friend of mine was visiting the set and we decided to walk through the scene,” he said in DVD commentary. “It took 20 takes to get me just walking through it without walking into the other actors or falling off the dock. There’s a reason why some people should stay behind camera.”

8. An accident made it into the finished film.

According to Jackson, working in the water so much wasn’t just unpleasant—it actually led to an accident that made it into the final film. “When we get Stellan [Skarsgård] hooked up to the helicopter and we're trying to get back to the elevator during the storm, the waves are supposed to rush in front of us and behind us,” Jackson recounted. “At one point three tons of water got thrown on us by accident and we got swept toward those cargo bays and everyone thought we were going into the drink and people were tumbling around this metal grating ... We scrambled up and kept acting ... Everyone was kind of [upset] because they hit us full on with three tons of water. That was not supposed to happen and we didn't have safety harnesses on and we were flailing around on this deck.” Still, Jackson said, “I thought that was pretty funny when I saw it in the final film. I said, ‘Oh, they kept that.’”

9. The parrot was not a professional.

There wasn’t a huge budget on the movie, and in DVD commentary, Harlin said that there was “lots of discussion about should we have the parrot, should we not have the parrot” for LL Cool J’s character, Preacher. They opted to have the bird, but, Harlin said, “we couldn’t afford a Hollywood parrot—a parrot that is fully trained and comes with its professional trainers and does tricks and speaks on cue and so on. So we decided to go with a parrot from Mexico City.” The production actually used two parrots: one that was good at flying, and one that was adept at sitting on LL’s shoulder.

10. Deep Blue Sea reused some props from other films.

The plane that McAlester and Franklin fly out to Aquatica had been used in the Harrison Ford-Anne Heche film Six Days Seven Nights; Harlin had it repainted for Deep Blue Sea. The facility’s red escape sub had previously been used in another Samuel L. Jackson movie, Sphere.

11. The filmmakers used tricks to make the sets look like they were underwater.

Some of the sets were built on top of the Baja Studios tanks, and were designed to submerge. Others were built on sound stages, so the production designers put fish tanks full of water outside portholes and lit them to make it appear as though the facility was underwater.

12. Jackson’s big death scene became an instant classic.

Harlin really wanted to surprise the audience, and to do that, he took a cue from Alien. “Most of the cast is unknown, and the only person we really recognize is Tom Skerritt,” Harlin explained in DVD commentary. “He was the captain, and when things start going wrong, we relied on him ... he’s going to lead us to safety. And then halfway through the movie, he gets taken away, and it’s a shock and you don’t know what to trust.”

So Harlin cast Samuel L. Jackson early in the process with the intent of killing him off, and made the rest of the cast relative unknowns. “We cast Sam in this part where he’s very powerful, very smart, he’s the oldest of the group. You really think, he’s a movie star. He’s going to take care of business, he’s the one we can rely on, he’s going to be saved,” Harlin said. They made the character’s speech long and corny and pompous on purpose. “I knew the audience would be groaning and saying ‘Oh, come on, this is pompous,' but it had to be pompous for the surprise to work,” Harlin said. “It had to take you to a place where you get a little uncomfortable and start squirming in your seat, and saying, ‘Oh, these filmmakers are stupid, they think we’re going to buy this whole story.' It’s just a little too much. And just when we get to that place, we’re going to take everything away that you believe, and everything that you thought was going to happen in this film, and then you have the audience hooked.”

13. In the original ending, Saffron Burrows’s character lived ...

But test audiences, who saw the film less than a month before it was to open in theaters, hated it. “Basically what had happened was that the audience felt so deeply that the scientist character, the woman who was behind the whole experiment with the sharks, that it was all her fault,” Harlin said in 2013. “In their minds, she was the bad guy … I remember us all sitting down and going, ‘Holy sh**, we are in trouble. How do we fix this?’ It was my idea, I said, … ‘When she falls in the water, what if she doesn’t survive? She gets eaten by the sharks and L.L. Cool J is the hero. Everybody likes him, and Thomas Jane.’”

The team did a quick one-day reshoot in the Universal Studios tank. “We did some CG work on the sharks and stuff like that,” Harlin said, “but it was a super fast fix and it saved the movie because the audience got what they wanted.”

14. ... And LL Cool J’s character was supposed to die.

“He was originally going to be shark meat quite early on,” Harlin told the Reading Eagle, “but he was so good we kept him around.”

The rapper-turned-actor did many of his own stunts, and Harlin said he also complained the least out of all the actors. “LL was really determined to do a good job on the film, to do whatever it took to make it work,” the director said in DVD commentary. “LL was pretty great. He had some very uncomfortable situations because he really has to come face to face with the sharks a lot and even ends up in the shark’s mouth at the end of the film, but he was always game, he was really determined to show that he was not a rap artist who wanted to do little movies but he’s a real actor who wants to do something really powerful and interesting.”

15. LL Cool J channeled a shark in the music video for the movie's theme song.

He had a hard time putting in the contact lenses for the "Deepest Bluest (Shark's Fin)" music video.

16. There are a number of shark myths in the movie.

Harlin asserts in DVD commentary that “a lot of this information regarding sharks is very very accurate. Obviously because it’s a movie we take license with some of the stuff they’re doing [in terms of the Alzheimer’s research]… the fact is, sharks have been used a lot to study and find out why these creatures have been around for 400 million years, why they never get cancer, why they never sleep, why they never stop moving.” And maybe it was accurate, at the time. But now we know that sharks do get cancer, and although they don’t sleep like humans, they do have periods of rest. The idea that sharks never stop moving comes from the thought that they need to keep water flowing over their gills, or they’ll die, but that doesn’t apply to all sharks.

Deep Blue Sea’s makos somehow develop the ability to swim backward—and as one character notes, that is, in fact, a physical impossibility. No matter how big a shark's brain is, that's not going to change. You can enjoy a more thorough takedown of the film’s “science” and leaps in logic here.

17. Deep Blue Sea was the first movie Stephen King saw after he was nearly killed in an accident.

Author Stephen King reads from his new novella "Ur", exclusively available on the Kindle, at an unveiling event for the Amazon Kindle 2 at the Morgan Library & Museum February 9, 2009 in New York City
Mario Tama, Getty Images

“My first trip out after being smacked by a van and almost killed was to the movies (Deep Blue Sea, as a matter of fact; I went in my wheelchair and loved every minute of it),” he wrote in Entertainment Weekly.

This story has been updated for 2019.

7 Fast Facts About RollerCoaster Tycoon

Amazon
Amazon

For Windows gamers, 1999 was dominated by RollerCoaster Tycoon, a now-classic strategy and building game that tasked users with erecting an amusement park and gauging the popularity of rides while maintaining a profit margin and keeping patrons from barfing all over the landscape. For the game’s 20th anniversary, check out some facts about its origins, its association with pizza, and how it became a pinball machine.

1. The first RollerCoaster Tycoon sold 4 million copies.

RollerCoaster Tycoon was the brainchild of Scottish programmer Chris Sawyer, who had enjoyed success with his line of Transport Tycoon games in the 1990s that allowed players to build and operate their own railroad, truck, and ship lines. Sawyer decided to marry that concept with his love of roller coasters. An independent effort—Sawyer enlisted only two collaborators, artist Simon Foster and musician Allister Brimble—the first Tycoon game that was released in 1999 sold a staggering 4 million copies.

2. RollerCoaster Tycoon came free with frozen pizza.

In the early 2000s, packaged food companies offered products that came with promotional offers for CD-ROMs. In 2003, Pillsbury offered a free copy of RollerCoaster Tycoon to anyone who sent in proof of purchase barcodes from specially-marked boxes of Totino’s Pizza Rolls or Pillsbury Toaster Strudel.

3. There’s a RollerCoaster Tycoon pinball machine.

A pinball machine released to coincide with 2002’s RollerCoaster Tycoon 2 took the spiraling coasters of the game and put them under glass. Players could try and direct the pinball—a substitute for the park guest—around and through coasters like The Flying Ghost and The Rocket.

4. RollerCoaster Tycoon helped inspire Minecraft.

If you or a loved one has spent countless hours absorbed in the popular world-building game Minecraft, you have RollerCoaster Tycoon to thank. Minecraft creator Markus Persson was a fan of Tycoon for the way it allowed players to construct elaborate designs. He also enjoyed Dungeon Keeper, which had a fantasy element. Together, the two games encouraged him to develop Minecraft. The game debuted in 2009 and went on to become one of the biggest interactive success stories of all time.

5. RollerCoaster Tycoon inspired real roller coaster designers.

The laborious construction undertaken by players of RollerCoaster Tycoon weaned a number of players on the excitement of the amusement industry. Park designers hoping to break into the industry have used screen shots from the game as examples of their design prowess at trade shows.

6. You can get a spooky update of RollerCoaster Tycoon in time for Halloween.

Atari distributes an Android and iOS version of RollerCoaster Tycoon for mobile phone users. For 2019, the company is offering a Six Flags Fright Fest update to the game that adds a Halloween component. Players can add Skull Mountain, an actual Six Flags coaster, as well as a Demon Rock statue.

7. A RollerCoaster Tycoon fan spent 10 years building a park.

In 2017, a Reddit user declared he was finished building out his own custom park on RollerCoaster Tycoon 2. The 34 coasters and 255 attractions were all minutely detailed, offering a sprawling virtual park with themed areas covering everything from Egyptian attractions to a forest. In comparison, it took only four years to build the actual Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

10 Wild Scooby-Doo Fan Theories

Warner Home Video
Warner Home Video

For 50 years, the hard-working teens (and dog) of Mystery, Inc. have been investigating the paranormal. What began as a single Hanna-Barbera cartoon series—Scooby Doo, Where Are You!—in the 1960s quickly morphed into a franchise with multiple spin-off shows, comic books, and a few questionable movies. That adds up to a lot of spooky stories, which have inspired fans to come up with their own creepy (or just plain crazed) tales about Scooby and the gang. Here are some of their best theories, including one that somehow connects to Patrick Stewart.

1. Scooby is a Soviet space dog.

For all the cases that Fred, Daphne, Velma, and Shaggy solved, they never got to the bottom of the show’s most enduring mystery: How and why does Scooby Doo talk? Some fans think he can’t really speak—that it’s just something his buddy Shaggy imagines while he’s high. But one Redditor has a much more complicated and compelling theory based on the show’s 1960s setting. At that time, America and the USSR were locked in the so-called “Space Race,” competing to see who could claim the first achievements in spaceflight. The Russians famously shot Yuri Gagarin into the stratosphere in 1961, but he wasn’t the first Soviet in space. Canine cosmonauts like Laika beat him by several years, and if the USSR was willing to put a dog in a rocket, who’s to say they didn’t experiment on him first?

According to this fan theory, Scooby is a runaway from the Soviets’ classified space dog program, designed to breed pups capable of operating satellites and understanding radio commands. Scooby was the best of the bunch, the rare test subject who could understand and imitate human speech. Naturally, one of the scientists got attached and defected with Scooby to the USA. When that scientist died, Scooby found a new family with a group of friendly teenagers. But the CIA never stopped searching for this Soviet wunderpup, which is why Mystery, Inc. is constantly traveling by van—and why the original show is called Scooby Doo, Where Are You!

2. The show takes place during an economic depression.

A still from 'Scooby Doo, Where Are You!'
Warner Home Video

A classic Scooby-Doo mystery might take place at a theme park, museum, or mine—so long as it’s grimy and deserted. That’s a weird coincidence when you think about it: why are all these places so rundown? Well, that tends to happen when you’re weathering a financial collapse, and many clues indicate that’s just what’s happening in the world of Scooby-Doo. The towns he and his friends visit never seem to be doing well. No one has any money: Not the many scientists posing as monsters for cash, not the operators of every haunted attraction the gang investigates, and certainly not Shaggy and Scooby, who gorge on dog treats and lose their minds whenever they so much as smell a burger.

3. Mystery, Inc. is actually a cult.

Let’s break down the core members of the gang: You have Fred, the handsome and friendly frontman of the group. Then there’s Daphne, the fashionable and pretty one who mostly follows Fred around. Velma has the brains and Shaggy has full-blown conversations with a dog. When you really think about, doesn’t this all sound a bit like a cult? Fred would obviously be the cult leader, who recruits groupies like Daphne to obey his every command. Velma’s intelligence makes her a useful addition, and she could also be seeking acceptance from the “cool” kids. As for Shaggy, well, men who claim dogs can talk to them have a famously disturbing history—much like cult members.

4. They’re all draft dodgers.

Scooby Doo, Where Are You! premiered in 1969. Also happening that year? The Vietnam War. As able-bodied men (seemingly) over 18, Fred and Shaggy would both be eligible for the draft, which begs the obvious question: is Mystery, Inc. just a bunch of draft dodgers? The boys could be driving that van straight to Canada to avoid deployment, along with Fred’s fiancée Daphne and their antiwar activist friend Velma. Scooby’s stance on the war remains unclear, but he’s along for the ride.

5. Scooby Snacks alter your genes.

What if Scooby’s preferred treat is really a steroid capable of editing genetic code? It would explain why Scooby—and other members of his canine family, like Scrappy-Doo and Scooby-Dum—can talk, as well as their ability to perform “completely ridiculous stunts.” (Also, if Scrappy-Doo is on steroids, it would explain why he’s always trying to fight.) But what about its effect on humans? As far as we know, Shaggy is the only person who eats Scooby Snacks, and he seems to have a freakishly high metabolism, considering the mile-high sandwiches he eats and his super skinny frame.

6. Fred drives the Mystery Machine because the real owner is too high.

Whenever the gang piles into the Mystery Machine, there’s only one person behind the wheel: Fred. Mystery, Inc.’s de facto leader is constantly driving his friends from one haunted house to the next, which would imply that the Mystery Machine is his car. But why would a clean-shaven, preppy kid like Fred own a lime green van with flowers plastered over the doors? That car obviously belongs to a hippie, and in this group, that’s Shaggy. His hippie lifestyle, however, may be the reason Shaggy never drives. He’s either lost his license from driving under the influence, or Fred is worried he will, so someone else serves as his designated driver.

7. Shaggy is Captain America’s son.

This theory starts with small coincidences, like the fact that Norville “Shaggy” Rogers and Steve Rogers share a last name. Then it builds to something bigger when you factor in a detail from Captain America: The Winter Soldier. While out on a morning run, Sam Wilson (a.k.a. Falcon) claims that Steve can run 13 miles in half an hour, a rate that breaks down to 26 mph. Shaggy, meanwhile, frequently keeps pace with Scooby, a Great Dane. Those dogs run up to 30 mph. Ergo, Shaggy is Steve’s son.

8. Monsters really do exist in the Scooby-Doo universe.

A still from 'Scooby Doo, Where Are You!'
Warner Home Video

Each time the gang catches a new “monster,” it always turns out to be a human in disguise, grumbling about how they “would’ve gotten away with it, if it weren’t for you meddling kids.” Monsters, the show tells us over and over again, are not real. But this Reddit theory poses an important question: If monsters don’t exist, why is there a business dedicated to catching the fake ones? The fact that Mystery, Inc. keeps getting calls implies that “supernatural fraud” is an entire category of crime, one that wouldn’t make sense or work if people didn’t believe in monsters. Everyone in the Scooby-Doo universe also seems to accept monsters as a normal and everyday occurrence, suggesting that monsters are real—the gang has just never caught one.

9. Shaggy and Scooby are actors.

When danger calls, Shaggy and Scooby tend to run the other way. But what if the group’s most cowardly members were actually actors pretending to be scared of ghosts, monsters, and other paranormal entities? According to this fan theory, Shaggy and Scooby are faking their over-the-top fear in order to draw the monsters out. By posing as easy targets, they know they’ll get spooked first, and thus make it easier for Mystery, Inc. to trap the ghost/witch/pirate. That’s why Fred always pairs Shaggy with Scooby when they split up to investigate, and it’s why after many years of investigating the supernatural, the two of them still don’t seem remotely used to it.

10. Green Room is just a gritty Scooby-Doo reboot.

The 2015 horror movie Green Room is about a band with a van that squares off against an evil old Nazi. The Scooby-Doo franchise is about a team (that was supposed to be a band) with a van that squares off against evil old men (who could also, theoretically, be Nazis). You do the math.

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