The Big Blue
|The Big Blue
Le Grand Bleu
|Directed by||Luc Besson|
|Produced by||Patrice Ledoux|
|Screenplay by||Luc Besson
|Story by||Luc Besson|
|Music by||Éric Serra (Original)
Bill Conti (US version)
|Edited by||Olivier Mauffroy|
|Release date(s)||August 22, 1988|
|Running time||168 minutes|
The Big Blue (released in some countries under the French title Le Grand Bleu) is a 1988 English-language film in the French Cinéma du look visual style, made by French director Luc Besson. The film is a heavily fictionalized and dramatized story of the friendship and sporting rivalry between two leading contemporary champion free divers in the 20th century: Jacques Mayol (played by Jean-Marc Barr) and Enzo Maiorca (renamed to "Enzo Molinari" and played by Jean Reno), and Mayol's fictionalized relationship with girlfriend Johana Baker (played by Rosanna Arquette).
The film, which covers their childhood in 1960s Greece to their deaths in a Sicilian diving competition at around 400 feet in a 1980s competition, is a cult-classic in the diving fraternity, and became one of France's most commercially successful movies (although an adaptation for US release was a commercial failure in that country). President of France, Jacques Chirac, referred to the film in describing Mayol, after his death in 2001, as having been an enduring symbol for the "Big Blue" generation.
The story was heavily adapted for cinema - in real life Mayol lived from 1927 to 2001 and Maiorca retired from diving to politics in the 1980s. Both set no-limits category deep diving records below 100 metres, and Mayol was indeed involved in scientific research into human aquatic potential, but neither reached 400 feet (122 metres) as portrayed in the film, and they were not direct competitors. Mayol himself was a screenwriter for the film, and Mayol's search for love, family, "wholeness" and the meaning of life and death, and the conflict and tension between his yearning for the deep, and his relationship with his girlfriend, also form part of the backdrop for the latter part of the film.
The movie begins with two children, Jacques Mayol (Jean-Marc Barr) and Enzo Molinari (Jean Reno), growing up on the Greek island of Amorgos in the 1960s. They challenge each other to collect a coin on the sea floor and Jacques loses. Later Jacques' father - who harvests shellfish from the seabed using a pump-supplied air hose and helmet - goes diving for shellfish. His breathing apparatus and rope gets caught and punctured by rocks on the reef and weighed down by water, he drowns. Jacques and Enzo can do nothing but watch in horror as he is killed.
By the 1980s, both are well known freedivers, swimmers who can remain underwater for great times and at great depths. Enzo is on Sicily now, where he rescues a trapped diver from a shipwreck. He is a world champion freediver with a brash and strong personality, and now wishes to find Mayol and persuade him to return to no limits freediving in order to prove he is still the better of the two, in a friendly sports rivalry. Mayol himself works extensively with scientific research as a human research subject, and with dolphins, and is temporarily participating in research into human physiology in the iced-over lakes of the Peruvian Andes, where his remarkable and dolphin-like bodily responses to cold water immersion are being recorded. Insurance broker Johana Baker (Rosanna Arquette) visits the station for work purposes and is introduced to Jacques. She secretly falls in love with him. When she hears that Jacques will be at the World Diving Championships in Taormina, Sicily, she fabricates an insurance problem that requires her presence there, in order to meet him again. She and Jacques fall in love. However none of them realize the extent of Jaques' allurement with the depths. Jacques beats Enzo by 3 feet (1 meter) at this, their first competition and Enzo offers them a glass dolphin as a gift, and a tape measure to show the small difference between Jacques' and Enzo’s records. Johana goes back home to New York but is fired after her deception is discovered; she leaves New York and begins to live with Jacques. She hears the story that if one truly loves the deep sea, then a mermaid will appear at the depths of the sea, and will lead a diver to an enchanted place.
At the next World Diving Championships, Enzo beats Jacques' record. The depths at which the divers are competing enter new territory and the dive doctor suggests they should cease competing, but the divers decide to continue. Jacques is asked to look at a local dolphinarium where a new dolphin has been placed, and where the dolphins are no longer performing; surmising that the new dolphin is homesick, the three of them break in at night to liberate the dolphin and transport her to the sea again. Back at the competition, other divers attempt to break Enzo’s new record but all fail. Jacques then attempts his next dive and reaches 400ft (122m) breaking Enzo's world record. Angered by this, Enzo prepares to break Jacques' new world record. The doctor supervising the dive warns that the competitors must not go deeper - based upon Jacques' bodily reactions, at around 400ft, conditions, and in particular the pressure, will become lethal and divers will be killed if they persist in attempting such depths. Enzo dismisses the advice and attempts the dive anyway, but is unable to make his way back to the surface. Jacques dives down to rescue him. Enzo, dying, tells Jacques that the doctor was right and also that it is better down there, and begs Jacques to help him back down to the depths, where he belongs. Jacques is grief-stricken and refuses, but after Enzo dies in his arms, finally honors his dying wish and takes Enzo's body back down to 400feet, leaving him to drift to the ocean floor. Jacques - himself suffering from cardiac arrest after the dive - is rescued and brought back to the surface by supervising scuba divers and requires his heart to be restarted with a defibrillator before being placed in medical quarters to recover.
Jacques appears to be recovering from the diving accident, but later experiences a strange hallucinatory dream in which the ceiling collapses and the room fills with water, and he finds himself in the ocean depths surrounded by dolphins. Johana, who has just discovered she is pregnant, returns to check up on Jacques in the middle of the night, but finds him lying awake yet unresponsive in his bed with bloody ears and a bloody nose. Johana attempts to help him, but Jacques begins to get up and walk to the empty diving boat and gets suited up for one final dive. Desperately, Johana begs Jacques not to go, saying she is alive but whatever has happened at the depths is not, but he says he has to. She tells Jacques that she is pregnant, and sorrowfully begs him to stay, but finally understands he feels he must go. The two embrace and Johana breaks down crying. Jacques then places the release cord for the dive ballast in her hand, and - still sobbing - she pulls it, sending him down to the depths he loves. Jacques descends to around 400ft and floats there for a brief moment staring into the darkness. A dolphin then appears and - dreamlike - Jacques lets go of his harness and swims away with it into the darkness as the movie ends.
Original and alternate (US) endings
The original ending was intentionally ambiguous for the audience’s interpretation, though considering the depth Jaques has swum to, it would seem he is unlikely to regain the surface alive, and he dies. However, the film suggests throughout that Jacques' body is not normal and following the incident upon waking in the hospital it could also be construed that he feels he may now be more suited to an aquatic life, and his death may not be a foregone conclusion.
In the US version the ending is extended with an additional scene. After swimming away with the dolphin, Jacques is brought back to the surface, only this time, in what seems to be an alternate reality.
- Rosanna Arquette – Johana Baker
- Jean-Marc Barr – Jacques Mayol
- Jean Reno – Enzo Molinari
- Paul Shenar – Dr. Laurence
- Sergio Castellitto – Novelli
- Jean Bouise – Uncle Louis
- Marc Duret – Roberto
- Griffin Dunne – Duffy
- Andréas Voutsinas – Priest (as Andreas Voutsinas)
- Valentina Vargas – Bonita
- Kimberly Beck – Sally (as Kimberley Beck)
- Patrick Fontana – Alfredo
- Alessandra Vazzoler – La Mamma (Enzo's Mother)
- Geoffrey Carey – Supervisor (as Geoffroy Carey)
- Bruce Guerre-Berthelot – Young Jacques
Comparison with real-life
The film was heavily fictionalized. In real life the two were indeed champions and contemporaries, but neither reached 400 feet, they did not directly compete, and neither died during diving.
Jacques Mayol was indeed involved in scientific research into human aquatic potential, and was fascinated by dolphins, and was recorded as having a heartbeat that slowed from 60 to 27 beats per minute when diving; he held numerous records including dives to below 100 meters, but he neither broke a 400 foot depth, nor died as portrayed; he committed suicide while depressed long after the film was released, in 2001, and asked for his ashes to be scattered.
Enzo Maiorca (renamed as Enzo Molinari in the film) set numerous depth records from 1960 to 1988, although he retired for over a decade between 1974 and 1986 after an outburst on TV cost him a competition ban. He entered politics in the 1990s and became for a time, a member of the Italian Senate. For many years he resisted the film's performance in Italy, as he considered it to caricature him poorly; after Mayol's death in 2001 he relented and accepted the performance of the film.
Luc Besson was initially unsure of whom to cast in the main role of Jacques Mayol. He initially offered the role to Christopher Lambert and Mickey Rourke and even considered himself for the role until someone suggested Jean-Marc Barr. Besson has a cameo appearance as one of the divers in the film. The Big Blue was the most financially successful French film of the 1980s, selling 9,193,873 tickets in France alone, and played in French theaters for a year.
With its extensive underwater scenes and languid score (as with nearly all of Luc Besson's films the soundtrack was composed by Eric Serra), the film has been both praised as beautiful and serene, and in equal measure criticized as being too drawn out, overly reflective and introspective. While popular in Europe, the film was a commercial failure in North America due to the studio's recutting of the movie to include a simplified "happy" ending. In the American version, Serra's score was also replaced with a soundtrack composed by Bill Conti. This version was only available on VHS and Laserdisc in the United States (both with 4x3 pan and scan transfers) and is currently out of print. The director later released a longer Director's Cut on DVD, featuring the original ending and an extended version of the Éric Serra score.
The film was dedicated to his daughter Juliette Besson who required surgery, having become ill whilst he was working on the film. Most film parts were shot in the island Amorgos of Greece. Agia Anna and the monastery of Panagia Hozoviotissa can be seen in the film.
- Maisons-Laffitte (France), piscine municipale (opening scene in swimming pool)
- Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA
- Maganari, Ios, Cyclades, Greece
- Agia Anna, Amorgos, Cyclades, Greece
- Kalotaritissa bay, Amorgos, Cyclades, Greece
- Marineland (Antibes), Antibes, Alpes-Maritimes, France
- St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands
- Taormina, Messina, Sicily, Italy.
- Lac du Chardonnet, Tignes, Savoie, Rhône-Alpes, France (Lake diving under the ice in Peru)
Upon release, the movie was met with positive reviews in Europe, where it was described as "one of the most significant cult movies of the 1980s" by French Cinema historian Rémi Lanzoni, who described it as "ooz[ing] with a sensuous beauty unlike any other film at the time".
The movie was heavily edited for a US release and fitted with a new ending and different soundtrack, and received negative reviews there.
The Big Blue was nominated for several César Awards and won César Award for Best Music Written for a Film (Eric Serra) and Best Sound in 1989. The film also won France's National Academy of Cinema's Academy Award in 1989.
A Blu-ray version, containing both the extended and theatrical cuts of the movie, was released on September 14, 2009 in the UK, but this contains French-dubbed versions of both cuts, rather than the original English language. This was later corrected and the second release contained a LPCM 2.0 English soundtrack and a DTS 2.0 French dub. The French Blu-ray release contains only the Director's Cut of the film but with a French DTS-MA 5.1 soundtrack and is supplemented with Besson's Atlantis documentary on Blu-ray as well.
- Cinema of France
- List of French language films
- No-limits apnea - the type of freediving portrayed in the film
- French Cinema: From Its Beginnings to the Present, Rémi Fournier Lanzoni, p.342-344.
- "Festival de Cannes: The Big Blue". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 2009-07-31.
- Le Grand Bleu at the Internet Movie Database
- Le Grand Bleu press release pictures by the 20th Century Fox Film Corporation