I caught this one on television at some point, though I couldn't tell you after all this time if it was a network station or HBO or the like. Did I see it unedited? No idea. But it stayed with me as most monster movies do (and in those days, I tended to like them without exception or question). I picked it up finally, not as a desperate and necessary addition to my collection, but as a desired one, albeit a low priority. I'm just going to go ahead and admit the inevitable though: yes, I'm going to bring up Alien. It's inevitable because everyone who reviews this movie mentions Alien, because you have little business reviewing a movie like this if you haven't seen Alien. That's not a completely fair statement (I'd be interested, actually, in a review from a literate horror fan who had not seen Alien, but that's like wondering what a musicophile thinks of a pop song when they've never heard the Beatles--ludicrous to expect to find).
Beck (Peter Weller--yes, Robocop and Buckaroo Banzai) is a geologist who was recently assigned to a mining operation on the ocean floor by the Tri-Oceanic corporation. He supervises a crew composed of seven: Williams, an astronaut in training (Amanda Pays, whose name rang a bell but I assumed for no reason, until I saw her and remembered she was The Flash's Tina McGee, and that show was big in my childhood), "Six Pack" (good ol' Daniel Stern, this time as a sleazy pervert of a miner, the one who doesn't just whistle at women, he grabs flesh), DeJesus (Michael Carmine), Jones (Ernie "Winston Zeddemore" Hudson), Bowman (Lisa Eilbacher), Cobb (Hector Elizondo, whose character is named for Ron Cobb--more on this later) and "Doc" (Richard Crenna, he of hammy Rambo appearances). During a scouting operation for more silver and other precious metals, Sixpack disappears and they discover a sunken Russian ship which Doc identifies as the "Leviathan." When a mysterious skin condition gives way to a lethal underwater monster (which bears some resemblance to deepsea anglerfish), they must race to convince their employers to pick them up from the ocean floor and return them home--something Martin (Meg Foster) seems reluctant to do because of weather.
Every discussion of this film, as I've said, brings up Alien. Yes, yes, I'm sure there's an exception someone can find, but the great majority bring it up. Is it similar? Absolutely. However, it's worth noting that It! The Terror from Beyond Space is considered to be a pretty obvious genesis for Alien as well. And as others have mentioned, there are bits and pieces of The Abyss (naturally--it is underwater!) and John Carpenter's The Thing present as well. It does have a cynicism about corporations, but it's not quite so diaboloical, and almost ends up more believable in some respects because of this. Opposing characters are simply different personalities, not outright conflicts (viewers of Alien should know what I'm dancing around here, and know that it's not in this movie). But, yes, it's a claustrophobic film about a killer monster taking out working class folk who have no idea what it is. Honestly though--who cares? It's not as if we can see--oh, hey, look! There's Ash! Ripley! Lambert! Parker! Brett! Dallas! Kane!--a 1:1 ratio of similarities. Far from it. Overarching concepts and plot elements? Yes, admittedly. But nothing absolutely damning. It's difficult to make a monster movie that isn't about a claustrophobic space. Someone mining is very likely to stumble across something unexpected, far more than Jack and Jill office worker (It Lurks in the Water Cooler!). The cast holds their characters, who are certainly not amazingly rounded and three dimensional, but are easily discerned from one another and at least get some curvature (I suppose they're at least a slice of an orange, if not a whole one). I do have a weakness for Weller, he's in my list of actors who, when combined into a single movie, would cause the entire world to collapse from sheer awesomeness. I like Ernie Hudson a lot (who that has seen and loved Ghostbusters as much as I could say otherwise?), and Pays is a flash from the past, while Stern is always good at playing characters like that and Elizondo can always be relied upon to spout wisdom. Crenna redeems himself from his psychotically out of place performance in First Blood by having an interesting character here, one with some flaws, even.
And of course we have the design work behind the film. George P. Cosmatos directs, who some people have called hack (considering the reputation of Tombstone, I suspect this wild generalization is made in error), and he did direct Rambo: First Blood Part II, which was a little ridiculous, but this isn't a bad piece of work. But, again, the design might be the reason for that. Ron Cobb (I did say I'd get back to him!) was one of the production designers behind..oh, wait. Alien. Yes, we have a beautifully complex undersea station ("the shack") filled with all kinds of rounded corners and exposed piping, in that lovely, acceptably industrial style that Cobb does so stunningly well. The suits are apparently partly borrowed from 2001: A Space Odyssey, but they look far more like Cobb-style work, so even if he didn't design what was added, whoever else did matched his style well. Everything has an apparent function, as is often said of Cobb's work. And beyond that, the bizarre monster is designed by none other than Stan Winston. Ebert said it looked like recycling of his prior works, but I don't think that was the case at all. It's said that research of deep sea life was involved in the design, and it showed. It was peculiar and odd and misshapen (leading to the The Thing connection) but had elements of such beasts anyway. It is coloured like many of his creations (the predator, Pumpkinhead), with a mottled skin just off from human colouration, but in general looked more like a hideous accident melding beasts together than any of his prior work.
It's a fun film that doesn't need to be compared so incessantly. Just enjoy the bloody thing as a nice thrilling piece with good work behind it that just happens to be similar to other movies--as can be said of most movies in general.