Sphere is the kind of movie that makes me question my adolescent tastes in literature. When I was in high school, I considered Chricton's novel the best of his work - mostly because it's the most out-and-out science fictional of his work. So I had fairly fond memories of it -- until I stepped into the Lincoln Square auditorium and saw this piece of crap, and I realized how derivative and empty the book was.
As for the movie itself, it starts off promisingly. We get our crack team of specialists : psychologist Norman (Dustin Hoffman), mathemetician Harry (Samuel L. Jackson), astrophysicist Ted (Liev Schreiber), and biochemist Beth (Sharon Stone), the "first contact" team recommended by Norman in a goverment document. Only Norman was bullshitting like mad to make some easy money. They go down into the ocean and explore the "alien" vessel. Until they actually see the Sphere, the movie's quite enjoyable, with fairly sharp dialogue (disguising how thinly drawn the characters are) and the usual joys of seeing someone explore an "alien" vessel -- the same joys found in the first part of Event Horizon, before that film bogged down in silly horror histrionics.
Then the major plot point pops up : the Sphere can grant the power to physically manifest one's hopes, fears, desires, fantasies, nightmares. (Hmm, sounds like Event Horizon again.) Prime potential for a horror film -- except that the manifestations conjured up are slightly less than frightening : jellyfish, sea snakes, and a giant squid which we never actually see; and the reasons why those are manifested are patently laughable. I found myself getting actively bored with the proceedings, and I realized the more annoying aspects of the film were the novel's as well -- especially the ludicrous "let's hold hands together and forget this ever happened" ending.