Leviathan (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Stephen Bjork
  • Review Date: Mar 06, 2024
  • Format: 4K Ultra HD
  • Bookmark and Share
Leviathan (4K UHD Review)


George P. Cosmatos

Release Date(s)

1989 (February 20, 2024)


Filmauro/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
  • Film/Program Grade: B+
  • Video Grade: A
  • Audio Grade: B+
  • Extras Grade: B+

Leviathan (4K UHD)

Buy it Here!


While it’s fair to question Hollywood’s lack of originality, the reality is that there really isn’t anything new under the sun, just new variations of old themes. Academics have tried to classify the different narratives that reappear all throughout human history, and depending on which one that you choose to believe, there are anywhere from 7 to 36 basic story archetypes available. The settings and the details may change, but the broad strokes are still present. In Hollywood’s case, sometimes that results in competing projects from different studios, like Tombstone vs. Wyatt Earp, Armageddon vs. Deep Impact, and Dante’s Peak vs. Volcano. In other cases, a major box office hit can spawn legions of imitators, and some of those knockoffs might go into production before the film that they’re emulating has even been released. That’s especially true if it’s a film that’s been heavily hyped, since the imitators can take advantage of the free publicity in order to draw attention to themselves.

And then, there’s the strange saga of The Abyss. James Cameron was still riding the wave of his smash success with Aliens in 1986, so when The Abyss finally started shooting in 1988, it drew a lot of attention from the industry. The fact that things didn’t go so smoothly only increased the media attention that it received, and it ended up going over schedule and over budget before finally landing in theatres in August of 1989. That created the unusual situation where not only were a few underwater imitators able to go into production before The Abyss was released, they even managed to beat it into the theatres. DeepStar Six was first in January, followed by Leviathan in March, and Lords of the Deep in April. The Abyss was such a troubled shoot that not only did it spawn imitators, but it gave birth to them prematurely. Of the three, only Leviathan offered production values even close to what The Abyss would eventually deliver, and while it’s still undeniably derivative, it holds up surprisingly well.

The story and screenplay for Leviathan was by David Peoples and Jeb Stuart, both of whom unabashedly wore their influences on their sleeves. While they borrowed the basic concept of an underwater industrial platform from The Abyss, they added in a few elements from Ridley Scott’s Alien: a derelict ship hiding deadly secrets; a creature on the loose in a confined space; a doctor and/or scientist who may have more going on than meets the eye; and a malevolent company that’s willing to sacrifice its own employees in the name of profits. Not content with that, they also threw in a few pieces from John Carpenter’s version of The Thing: an infection that takes over human hosts, and a creature that’s able to use genetic material from those hosts in order to mutate at will. Leviathan is something old, something new, something borrowed, and something that takes place deep in the ocean blue.

One reason why Leviathan works as well as it does is that it borrows another key element from the original Alien: using the casting process to build the characterizations before a single frame of film is even shot. The script doesn’t offer a ton of detail about any of the crew members aboard the mining platform, but the actors have such strong personalities that they’re all clearly delineated anyway. Peter Weller takes the lead as Beck, playing one of his patented Everyman types who ends up revealing hidden depths under pressure. Richard Crenna offers plenty of snark as “Doc” Thompson, the facility’s doctor who seems to know more than he should. Everyone else stays well within their own comfort zones: Amanda Pays, Daniel Stern, Ernie Hudson, Michael Carmine, Lisa Eilbacher, and Héctor Elizondo. (Only Stern seems to push his luck a bit too far as the odious “Sixpack,” but to be fair, that’s one case where the script did give him a genuinely cringeworthy character to play.) Meg Foster isn’t given much to do as the oily company representative Ms. Martin, but those iconic steel gray eyes do all the heavy lifting for her—you always wonder if there’s more going on with her than, well, meets the eye.

Leviathan also benefits from some fine technical work, all of it accomplished with less than half the budget that Cameron had to work with on The Abyss. Cameron’s quest for authenticity led him to actually shoot his film underwater, but Leviathan stayed safely high and dry, shooting everything dry-for-wet on soundstages at Cinecittà Studios in Rome. Thanks to some superb lighting by cinematographer Alex Thompson, as well as a ton of smoke and flying feathers, the effect is pretty convincing—it doesn’t require too much suspension of disbelief. Ron Cobb designed the impressive sets, and the talented artisans at Cinecittà were always up to the task of building anything that he could have dreamed up. Stan Winston Studios supplied the makeup effects, including a briefly-glimpsed monster that’s as much of a witch’s brew as the film itself. It’s all held together by a score from the legendary Jerry Goldsmith.

At the helm of the entire production was the late George Pan Cosmatos, a perfectly capable director who has become unfairly maligned over the last couple of decades thanks to Kurt Russell. In a 2006 interview, Russell implied that he was the one calling all of the shots on the set of Tombstone, not Cosmatos. Cosmatos passed in 2005, so he was no longer around to defend himself. That led to speculation that Cosmatos was nothing more than a “beard” on most of his films—for example, that Sylvester Stallone must have ghost-directed Rambo: First Blood Part II. The reality is that Cosmatos wasn’t afraid of stepping into a production late in the game, even after another director had been fired, and while he had a boisterous personality of his own, he was still willing to bow to the personalities of his actors. Troubled productions like Tombstone aside, Cosmatos was more than capable of delivering a fine film like Leviathan, and clearly actors like Peter Weller and Richard Crenna were happy working with him repeatedly.

In the end, Leviathan is a highly derivative yet still effective horror film. The physics are as wonky as in any other underwater film (the decompression during the escape from the rig is downright laughable), and there are numerous technical errors that are best not to think about too much—for example, how exactly did the crew play Russian SECAM videotapes on their own NTSC equipment? None of that really matters, though, because this isn’t hard science fiction, let alone scientific fact. It’s pure pulp in the best monster movie tradition, and when considered from that perspective, neither Cosmatos nor anyone else involved has any reason to apologize for it. They delivered exactly what the publicity department was selling, and sometimes that’s more than enough.

Cinematographer Alex Thompson shot Leviathan on 35 mm film using Arriflex 35 BL4 cameras with Cooke Xtal Express Lenses (under the J-D-C Scope banner). Underwater sequences were shot by Phil Barthropp and the great Ramón Bravo using Panavision Panaflex Gold cameras with Panavision C-Series and E-Series lenses. Kino Lorber describes this as utilizing a 4K scan of the 35 mm interpositive, graded in High Dynamic Range for both Dolby Vision and HDR10. It’s a beautiful new master, and a major upgrade over the previous HD master that Shout! Factory used for their 2014 Blu-ray release of Leviathan. Everything is immaculately clean, without even a speckle to mar the image. Anamorphic lenses in the Eighties didn’t always offer the ultimate in detail, and Leviathan is no exception, but everything is as well-resolved as it can be given the source that was used. The grain is very fine if slightly soft, so there may have been a touch of noise reduction applied, but the results accurately mimic the look of film. The HDR grade stays in the filmic wheelhouse as well, offering richer blues in the opening credit sequence, but still staying accurate to the way that Leviathan originally looked (there’s no orange/teal grading here). The biggest improvements are in the overall contrast range, especially in terms of the darker areas the image, which now offer more detail. Again, perhaps not quite as much as a 4K scan of the original camera negative could have delivered, but it’s still a noticeable improvement over the previous Blu-ray. The film is encoded on a BD-100 with a consistently high bitrate, so there are no compression artifacts to mar the image.

Audio is offered in English 2.0 and 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, with optional English subtitles. Leviathan was released theatrically in Dolby SR, which would have been a four-channel mix matrix encoded into two. (There doesn’t appear to have been a 70 mm release with a multichannel mag soundtrack.) The 2.0 track sounds like it’s the original Dolby Stereo encoded track and not just a fold-down of the 5.1. The 5.1 track also sounds like it’s just a discrete encoding of those original four channels with maybe just a bit of bass sweetening, as there’s no split surround activity. In fact, the surround channels in the 5.1 version seem to have been mastered at a lower level than they are when decoded from 2.0. Because of that difference, the 2.0 version has a more consistently active surround presence, and it feels more immersive overall. The 5.1 mix may have slightly more precise steering, but it’s at the expense of that immersion. Your own mileage may vary, but the 2.0 track arguably has a slight edge. Either way, Jerry Goldsmith’s score is reproduced accurately, and it’s every bit as important as any of the sound effects.

The Kino Lorber 4K Ultra HD release of Leviathan is a two-disc set that includes a Blu-ray with a 1080p copy of the film (based on the new 4K master, not the old 1080p master). The insert is reversible, and it also includes a slipcover that matches the artwork on one side of it. The following extras are included:


  • Audio Commentary by Steve Mitchell and Nathaniel Thompson


  • Audio Commentary by Steve Mitchell and Nathaniel Thompson
  • Leviathan – Monster Melting Pot (HD – 40:27)
  • Dissecting Cobb (HD – 12:36)
  • Surviving Leviathan (HD – 15:02)
  • Trailer (HD – 1:54)
  • DeepStar Six Trailer (HD – 1:57)
  • Deep Rising Trailer (SD – 1:25)

The new commentary track features Steve Mitchell and Nathaniel Thompson, who call Leviathan a cinematic MixMaster. They agree that the strong casting is the key to the film’s success, with the familiar faces obviating the need for elaborate backstories (in this case, the actors are better than the words that the script gave them to speak). They also offer plenty of love for Alex Thompson, Jerry Goldsmith, Ron Cobb, and others. They acknowledge all of the inspirations for Leviathan, calling it a haunted house movie at heart, which is exactly what Alien was. Interestingly enough, they point out that David Peoples was unhappy with the final results, and while they don’t agree, they do admit that the ending seems a bit rushed, and it doesn’t show the monster clearly enough—although there’s probably a good reason for that. It’s another winning commentary from the Dynamic Duo.

The rest of the extras are all ported over from the 2014 Shout! Factory Blu-ray release of Leviathan. Leviathan – Monster Metling Pot focuses on the creature effects and other practical effects, featuring interviews with Stan Winston Studios vets Tom Woodruff Jr., Alec Gillis, and Shannon Shea. They talk about the three main competing underwater films (Lords of the Deep remains mercifully unmentioned) and why they ended up on Leviathan. Working with Winston meant dealing with the fact that he thrived on working on tight schedules and challenging circumstances, and as behind schedule as they were doing the creature effects for Leviathan, Winston ended up taking on building the underwater suits as well. The final design for the monster was a hodgepodge of everyone’s ideas. They all have plenty of stories about shooting the film at Cinecittà Studios, including a strange encounter with Klaus Kinski (was there any other kind?) Cosmatos was equally brash, so he did have some personality clashes with Winston on the set. Yet he had his own megalomaniacal energy—Gillis said that he announced to them up front, “Boys, we’re going to show Cameron how it’s done!”

Dissecting Cobb is an interview with Héctor Elizondo, who was perfectly happy making a film set underwater in the comfort of Cinecittà Studios—he says that the only water he had to deal with was his sweat inside the heavy fiberglass suits. That’s not to say that everything was perfectly safe, since an equipment malfunction nearly ended up crushing him. Elizondo doesn’t sound like he was particularly impressed with Cosmatos since the director didn’t do much to help guide his performance, but again, that’s the whole point of casting strong actors like Elizondo in the first place. Surviving Leviathan is an interview with Ernie Hudson, who says that movies are like sex: it’s kind of great if you get it, but it’s not love. (Interpret that as you will.) He also had a great time shooting in Rome, but he admits that he always thought that the monster looked like a big chicken. He ended up fighting with Cosmatos, not because of anything to do with the direction, but rather due to his character’s fate at the end. Otherwise, he says that he had nothing but respect and love for the man.

That’s pretty much all of the extras that have been previously available in North America, although there a few minor ones missing from the 2016 Platinum Cult Edition from DigiDreams in Germany. They included a brief vintage making-of featurette, even briefer behind-the-scenes footage, and various galleries of vintage pressbook materials. If you do have that disc, you may want to hang onto it, but if you don’t, you’re not missing much. In all other respects, this Kino Lorber Blu-ray supersedes all others, so you can safely retire your Shout! Factory Blu-ray (even the artwork is the same). It’s a fantastic release of a wildly entertaining creature feature that’s a worthy legacy for everyone who was involved.

- Stephen Bjork

(You can follow Stephen on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook.)