With the adventurous programming we're now getting from various groups at the university, Madison has suddenly developed something resembling a film culture. One can imagine late-night discussions about, say, Irma Vep at State Street coffeehouses. Meanwhile, your humble servant--that would be me--scrambles to stay caught up. I once wrote that I go to movies because, if you sit there long enough, the whole world goes by. These days, it goes by in about a week. What follows are six short reviews of movies that just hit town--movies that come to us from Hollywood, off-Hollywood, off-off-Hollywood and East Germany. Perhaps the least interesting movie is Barry Levinson's Sphere, which is basically 2001, The Abyss and Contact rolled into a little ball. Dustin Hoffman, Sharon Stone, Samuel Jackson and Liev Schreiber star as a team of scientists sent to investigate an enormous spaceship found out in the middle of the Pacific, some 20,000 leagues under the sea. It appears to have been there for 300 years. And inside, there's a golden sphere that glimmers and shimmers, like an e-mail message from God. Where did the sphere come from? Did it come in peace? And mustn't it be really bored?
I was, after the first half-hour or so. Levinson arranges the narrative into sections labeled "The Analysis," "The First Exchange," etc., as if the movie were some kind of scientific report, but it's a lot closer to those schlocky sci-fi flicks that came from the '50s. It even has a watch-out-for-atomic-power subtext. Slinging one-liners like they were weapons, Hoffman and the others give the movie whatever life it has. Without them, the whole thing might as well have stayed down on the ocean floor another 300 years.