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`Sphere' is better book than film

One sure warning sign for big-screen adaptations of best-selling novels is when the author actually shares a screenwriting credit or has a producing credit.

And sure enough, Michael Crich-ton, author of "Sphere," co-produced the messy, convoluted version of his best seller, which starts out promisingly enough but soon gets bogged down with bad exposition and cliched dialogue.This serious misfire is just one of several Crichton books turned into bad films, joining such stinkers as "Congo," "The Terminal Man" and "The Lost World: Jurassic Park." (Only the adaptations of "The Great Train Robbery" and "The Andromeda Strain" have been really good.)

Dustin Hoffman stars as Norman Goodman, a psychologist who's flown to a top-secret government base in the Pacific Ocean to investigate what he believes is a plane crash. However, once he arrives, Norman is told that he's actually there to explore what ap-pears to be a gigantic spacecraft that's been resting on the bottom of the Ocean for nearly 300 years.

Along with team members Beth Halperin (Sharon Stone), Harry Adams (Samuel L. Jackson), Ted Fielding (Liev Schreiber) and hard-nosed leader Barnes (Peter Coyote), Norman goes inside the craft, which is actually a man-made spaceship from the future. In the ship's hold, they also discover a giant spherical object that definitely isn't man-made.

After Harry apparently makes contact with something inside the sphere, strange things start to happen to the scientists and their naval escorts, including a horrifying attack by jellyfish and weird computer messages by an entity calling itself Jerry.

But as they're whittled down, one by one, by other strange confrontations, it begins to dawn on the survivors that some of the "beasts" may be coming from Harry's imagination.

While Crichton's premise worked on paper, as written for the screen by Stephen Hauser it comes off as hokey.

Director Barry Levinson doesn't seem too inspired here, either.

"Sphere" is rated PG-13 for violent attacks, profanity, some gory special effects, vulgar references and brief partial male nudity.