The Big Blue
by Luc Besson.
by Luc Besson,
it was first released in the U.S. in the summer of 1988, Luc Besson's film The
Big Blue -- about professional free divers who compete with each other to
see how low they can dive into the ocean without the aid of oxygen -- was cut by
fourteen minutes, eliminating most of the role played by the late Paul Shenar (a
research scientist who starts following the free-diving professionals from one
contest to the next) and all of the part played by Valentina Vargas (a
girlfriend of one of the divers); replaced the original music score, by Marc
Serra, with a new one by Bill Conti that was alright in some parts and not
alright at all in others; and, most importantly, altered the film's original
the stunning widescreen visuals, along with the fact that the lead actors do
their own diving in many of the scenes, the film was not a hit in the U.S. It
was a hit in Europe, causing Besson to bring out, a few years later, a
"version longue" that expanded the film from its original 132 minutes
to 168 minutes. Now, over ten years later, this version, which has been
circulating for years in clandestine video form, will finally be seen on U.S.
theatrical screens, which is the best place to appreciate it.
boys, Enzo and Jacques, grow up on the same Greek island in the Mediterranean --
they are friends, but an uneasy rivalry exists between them. Years later, the
proud Enzo (Jean Reno, imposing and splendid) and the meek Jacques (Jean-Marc
Barr) work as professional salvage divers, until Enzo makes enough money to pay
for both his and Jacques' way into the international free-diving competition,
where they -- or, rather, Enzo -- will finally resolve the question of which one
of them is "the best."
until the 1980s, there was a real-life annual free-diving competition, which was
finally called to a halt when officials determined that the divers' records were
taking them so low beneath the surface of the water that it was making it
impossible for them to make it back up to the surface in time for oxygen.
Jean-Marc Barr's character is also based on an actual free-diving champion,
Jacques Mayol (who helped co-write the film's screenplay). In interviews, Mayol
said that he has felt more at-home in the water than on land, and Besson has
emphasized this in Barr's character, from the way the actor himself has a look
reminiscent of the pure, benevolent look that dolphins and porpoises have, to
giving him a "family" of dolphins which, aside from his uncle (Jean
Bouise, whose role was also greatly reduced in the U.S. version), provide him
with his only close companionship.
story has Jacques fall in love for the first time with a woman, Joanna, who
first meets Jacques when he dives below a frozen body of water, then watches his
metabolism rates on monitors that show how his physiological functions become
more like those observed "only in whales and dolphins." This was one
of the slightly goofy, discombobulated roles that Rosanna Arquette fell into
after she got pegged as an "eccentric" performer when she appeared in Desperately
Seeking Susan (something that she didn't break out of entirely until her
performances in Pulp Fiction and Crash the following decade), and
the way she was presented in this film was a major turnoff for many U.S.
audiences. She clatters on and off trains in places like the Peruvian Andes
while wearing high heels, and can't seem to walk and carry luggage without
stumbling all over herself. For those who knew Arquette from her fine
performance in John Sayles' 1983 film Baby, It's You, the sight was even
more depressing. But Arquette's role takes on considerably more dimension and
depth in the long version of the film, though, especially towards the
Besson seems to have become enchanted with the sea while making The Big Blue -- and, after finishing this film, he would make an ambitious documentary, Atlantis, which included footage made in every oceanic location on the planet, including the polar seas. Still, The Big Blue does not answer one important question: why do these men keep plunging themselves deeper and deeper into the ocean depths? In the film, Jacques keeps saying that he has to "go and see" for himself what's down there, but, since he isn't a fish, he'll never really find out -- a disparity that could have been used to make the film more dramatically poignant, as well as valid. Instead, Jacques is shown pursuing his obsession beyond all logical boundaries. Is he after something wonderful, or something self-annihilating? We never find out. The film, stubbornly, won't tell us, or if it knows, it only gives us a sidelong glance.
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