The Big Blue

Friday July 28, 2000

     Cut down from 163 minutes to 119 and given a Hollywood ending, Luc Besson's "The Big Blue" was a total disaster for all concerned when it was released in the U.S. in 1988. Restored to its original length, "The Big Blue" returns, with a new CinemaScope print. It's still far from a masterpiece, but you can become deeply caught up in it by the time it reaches the ending Besson intended, and you can now understand why, in its original form, it touched so many audiences around the world.
     After a black-and-white prologue establishes a close friendship between a French boy, Jacques, and an Italian boy, Enzo, living in a Greek seaside village, the film switches to ravishing color. Burnt-out New York insurance investigator Johanna (Rosanna Arquette) first becomes entranced with the now-adult Jacques (Jean-Marc Barr) while visiting Peru. When her boss (Griffin Dunne) sends her to Palermo on a job, she makes a side trip to Taormina, where Jacques and Enzo (Jean Reno) begin an increasingly dangerous competition for the world free diving championship.
     The men are a study in contrasts: Jacques has a profound affinity with dolphins and spends much time with them, whereas Enzo is a hard-living ladies' man, to whom Jacques turns to advice when he finds himself not knowing how to respond to Johanna. Yet they are both drawn inescapably to the sea, and this is their unshakable bond, despite the competition that could end up costing either or both their lives.
     In a way, both Jacques and Enzo never grew up; essentially they're still the boys we met in the prologue.
     Working for the first time in English, Besson has a hard time getting his story off the ground, and his attempts at humor in the early part of the film are heavy-handed and digressive. But as the film moves into high gear, you can appreciate its awesome beauty and darkly poetic vision of man's relationship to nature.
     Always a risk-taker, Arquette reveals the total vulnerability of Johanna, a woman who with eyes wide open commits herself to a man who could scarcely be more elusive. Barr is rightly enigmatic, and if Reno has been directed to playing the extrovert rather heavily he is able to become increasingly eloquent as the film draws to a close.
     "The Big Blue" is clearly highly personal for Besson. His parents were diving instructors at various places on the Mediterranean Sea, and he intended to become a marine biologist until his diving days were cut short. There is a powerful mystical quality to "The Big Blue," absent in its truncated version, that is further enhanced by the restoration of its original luminous Eric Serra score. "The Big Blue" is too long and initially awkward but is clearly the work of a visionary.


The Big Blue, 2000. R, for sexuality and language. An IDP/Samuel Goldwyn Co. release of a Gaumont production. Director Luc Besson. Producer Patrice Ledoux. Screenplay Besson, Robert Garland, with Marilyn Goldin, Jacques Mayol and Marc Perrier. Cinematographer Carlo Varini. Editor Olivier Mauffroy. Music Eric Serra. Costumes Magali Guidasci. Production designer Dan Weil. Set decorator Patrick Barthelemy. Angelo. Running time: 2 hours, 43 minutes. Rosanna Arquette as Johanna. Jean-Marc Barr as Jacques Mayol. Jean Reno as Enzo Molinari. Paul Shenar as Dr. Laurence.

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