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"Goodbye, Jean-Luc, I'm gonna miss you. You had such potential. But then again, all good things must come to an end."
- Q, Star Trek: TNG

Deep Rising: Cyclopean tentacles vs High Tech Cruise Ship

by Ken Newquist / July 28, 2010

 Deep Rising

Deep Rising is one of my favorite monster movies, and there's one reason why -- it's the perfect RPG adventure. We've got our hardcore mercenaries hired to hit a cruise ship, a ragtag team of freelancers in over their heads, and a tentacled deep sea horror that intends to devour them all.

Far better than the twin late-1980s deep see flicks Deep Star Six and Leviathan, this film takes place above the ocean, but has similar nautical challenges. To begin, the setting is a huge, ultra-modern cruise ship packed with monster snacks, err, passengers. When our heroes arrive they find all but a handful of people dead. The survivors include the ship's owner, the captain, and a beautiful thief in a red dress.

None know what happened.

It follows all the rules of monster movies. A big bad who's revealed in bits and pieces. Increasing amounts of gore. Alien-like sudden kills. The obligatory science guy (in this case, the ship's owner) who dies as soon as he reveals the nature of the beast. The scoundrel (you'll find out who) who's responsible for the whole mess.

Yes, it's a poor man's Aliens set at sea, but it doesn't try and more than that. The visual effects are decent (at least on the small screen) and they do a good job of mixing up environments: the storm tossed Pacific at the opening, the creaking, claustrophobic bowels of the ship (where, naturally, the machine shop is located), flooded decks (requiring long swims) and the large ballrooms.

There are plenty of overmelodramatic moments where everyone's pulling out guns and shouting at each other, but these are usually just an opportunity forthe monster to attack.

The creature itself is a subsea horror of Lovecraftian potential, all tentacles and death and doom punching through steel decks and picking off survivors at will.


And then there's the end, in which our heroes finally make it to safety to safety, only to find themselves on an island filled an unseen monster that rumbles its way through a nearby forest while volcanoes erupt in the background.

Too ... damn ... cool.

Watching the movie, it's all too easy to see this as an RPG adventure. We've got the gruff captain Finnegan (played by Treat Williams), the beautiful thief Trillian (Famke Janssen) and the geek/tech/mechanic Joey (Kevin J. O'Connor), all of whom have the personality quirks you've come to expect from your weekly gaming group.

And then there's the band of mercenaries, led by Hanover (Wes Studi), who bring a cruise-ship worth of disfunction and firearms to the encounter. Combined with the one-liners, the random monster encounters, and a quest into the bowels of the ship to find a hardware shop to repair Finnegan's broken boat, well, you've got the makings of a great Friday night one-shot.

Final Analysis

Deep Rising isn't brilliant, but it is fun. The monsters in question -- tentacled horrors that turn out to be greater than the sum of their parts -- are nicely cyclopean and utterly lethal. If you're looking for inspiration for an ocean going adventure for you campaign, or just want to see a good creature feature, it's worth renting or picking up cheap in Wal-mart's discount bin.


As much as I've disliked everything else Stephen Sommers has directed, I love Deep Rising; I loved it when I saw it in the theater (ages before Sommers was directing the Mummy films and the train wreck that is Van Helsing) and I love it today. It's just a pity there were no sequels, as I loved Treat Williams' character—"Now what?"

And, yes, Deep Rising would be a brilliant RPG adventure, complete with a tight-knit group of Player Characters and a mobile base of operations (Finnegan's boat is a brilliant analog to the Millennium Falcon: cool as hell, yet quirky and occasionally unreliable), formidable bad guys, NPCs whose alliances change, and a killer boss monster, not to mention riding a jet-ski through the passages of a sinking ship. That's high adventure, that is!

Hey, I liked The Mummy. Not so much the sequels, but the original was fun.

I'm not sure why Deep Rising didn't do better in theaters; I think part of it may have been the promotion for the movie. The movie poster I used for the review made it look like a ghost movie, while the DVD's cover features Finnigan on a jet ski fleeing an exploding ship ... none of which really says "hey, this is a creature feature!"

As far as the RPG angle goes, I'm strongly tempted to write a one-shot convention scenario powered by Savage Worlds and picking up after the ship sinks. Throw in some giant lizards, over-sized apes, a few volcanoes and a crate full of heavy weapons washed up from the wreck, and I think you'd have one hell of a game ...

Origins 2011 anyone? :)