The Big Blue - Nitrate Online Store
Contents | Features | Reviews | News | Archives | Store

The Big Blue - Nitrate Online Store

The Big Blue
Posted 28 April 2000

by Gregory Avery

Directed by Luc Besson.

Starring Jean-Marc Barr, 
Rosanna Arquette, Jean Reno, 
Marc Duret, Paul Shenar, 
Valentina Vargas, Jean Bouise 
and Griffin Dunne.

Written by Luc Besson, 
Robert Garland, Marilyn Goldin, 
Jacques Mayol and Marc Perrier. 

When 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 ending.

Despite 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.

Two 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."

Up 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.

The 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 conclusion.

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. 

The Big Blue - Nitrate Online Store
Buy It!

Don't have a DVD player? 
Click on the button below to buy one:

Buy DVD Player from Amazon.COM
Buy at

Didn't find what you are looking for? Look in the back issues of the store or in the extensive catalog of Amazon.COM by entering your search in the text box below:

Search: Enter keywords... logo

Contents | Features | Reviews | News | Archives | Store
Copyright 2000 by Nitrate Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

  Copyright 1996-2005 by Nitrate Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.