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 (Stone), mathematician Dr. Harry Adams (Jackson), astrophysicist Dr. Ted Fielding (Liev), psychologist Dr. Norman Goodman (Hoffman), and U.S. Navy Capt. Harold Barnes (Coyote), are assembled and taken to the Habitat, a state-of-the-art living environment located near the spacecraft.
Upon 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's computer 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. 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.Dustin Hoffman as Dr. Norman Goodman
Sharon Stone as Dr. Elizabeth "Beth" Halperin
Samuel L. Jackson as Dr. Harry Adams
Liev Schreiber as Dr. Ted Fielding
Peter Coyote as Capt. Harold C. Barnes
Queen Latifah as Alice "Teeny" Fletcher
Marga Gómez as Jane Edmunds
Huey Lewis as Helicopter pilot
Bernard Hocke as Seaman
James Pickens, Jr. as O.S.S.A. Instructor
Michael Keys Hall as O.S.S.A. Official
Ralph Tabakin as O.S.S.A. Official
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. 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. Shooting began again in March 1997 with a budget that Variety estimated at $80 million. Shooting took place at a naval base on Mare Island in Vallejo, California. Principal photography ended in July 1997 after 68 days.
Sphere initially had a Christmas release date but was moved forward to avoid competition. Warner Bros. released the film theatrically in the US on February 13, 1998, where it debuted in third place and grossed $37 million total. The Los Angeles Times characterized it as a flop. Sphere grossed $50.1 million worldwide.
Sphere received mostly negative reviews from critics. 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." Todd McCarthy of Variety called it derivative of classic science fiction films and devoid of suspense. 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". Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "The more the movie explains itself, the more ordinary it becomes."
The score for Sphere was composed by Elliot Goldenthal.
- "Pandora's Fanfare" – 1:17
- "Main Titles" – 2:49
- "Event Entry 6-21-43" – 0:53
- "The Gift" – 1:42
- "Sphere Discovery" – 2:08
- "Visit to a Wreckage" – 1:58
- "Water Snake" – 2:36
- "Terror Adagio" – 3:24
- "Wave" – 3:18
- "Fear Retrieval" – 3:48
- "Andante" – 2:20
- "Manifest Fire" – 3:48
- "Manifest3" – 3:47
- "Their Beast Within" – 1:44
Crew creditsMusic composed and produced by Elliot Goldenthal
Orchestrated by Robert Elhai and Elliot Goldenthal
Conducted by Stephen Mercurio and Jonathan Sheffer
Recorded and mixed by Joel Iwataki
Electronic music produced by Richard Martinez
Film music editor: Curtis Roush
Additional orchestrations by Deniz Hughes
Following a review by Lisa Schwarzbaum in Entertainment Weekly that gratuitously mentioned Hoffman's Jewish heritage, Levinson wrote Liberty Heights. Samples of Sharon Stone's voice from the film are used in "Moments In Space" by Odessi.