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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 8/15/00

The Big Blue (aka Le Grand bleu)
Director's Cut - 1988 (2000) - Gaumont (Columbia TriStar)

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

The Big Blue: Director's Cut Film Rating: B

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/A-/D

Specs and Features
168 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:25:36 at the start of chapter 17), Amaray keep case packaging, 3 theatrical trailers (The Big Blue, The Professional and The Messenger), isolated score, talent files, international art gallery, animated film-themed menu screens with music, scene access (28 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0) and French (DD 5.1), subtitles: English, French & Spanish, Closed Captioned

Imagine for a moment what would happen if a dolphin were somehow magically transformed into a small boy. As that boy grows up, he would feel a powerful connection to the sea, even if he can't understand why. He's more at home - more at peace - in the water than he is on land. He's more at ease with creatures of the sea than he is with other human beings. But the problem is that as much as he loves the sea, he's still only human - a creature of land and air - and there's only so much being in the water that the human body can take. Aside from the magical transformation element (which isn't a part of this story) this description fits the main character in The Big Blue, Jacques Mayol (played by Jean-Marc Barr), to a tee.

Jacques grew up in a small fishing village in Greece, and as long as he can remember, he's longed to spend time underwater. His parents left his life early - his father died in a fishing accident and his American mother just left - so his only real family are a group of dolphins he swims with occasionally at a water park (he even carries photos of them in his wallet). A guy like that is bound to have trouble fitting in with the rest of society, and indeed he does. He's low-key, extremely soft-spoken and just doesn't talk much period. About the only person who really understands him, is his boyhood friend Enzo (played by the delightful Jean Reno), and that's because Enzo's brain is as water-logged as Jacques'. Enzo is a lazy, fun loving bum (in a nut shell), who makes his living off the fact that he can hold his breath underwater longer than other mere mortals. In fact, Enzo is the reining free-diving world champion (a dangerous sport where the object is to hold one's breath and dive to the deepest depth possible).

When Enzo comes into $10,000 one day for saving a stranded diver, he decides to look up his old friend, and invite Jacques to compete with him in the next free-diving championship. Jacques has been making his living by allowing a scientist to study the unique changes in his body physiology when he's underwater. But Jacques quickly accepts Enzo's offer to compete, much to Enzo's eventual chagrin. You see, Jacques turns out to be better at free-diving than Enzo... and Enzo is VERY competitive. Complicating matters, a young American insurance agent named Johanna (Rosanna Arquette) meets Jacques one day and falls head over heals in love with him. She pursues Jacques (who finds her both perplexing and fascinating) and eventually leaves her fast-paced life behind to be with him. But while Jacques' love for Johanna is true, only time will tell if it can survive the siren call of the Big Blue.

The Big Blue wasn't director Luc Besson's first film (it was released two years before La Femme Nikita), but it was certainly the first of his works to find success in America. The cinematography is hauntingly beautiful, with the deep blue sea playing a role as important a role as any of the human characters in the film. Right from the beginning, as we see Jacques and Enzo's early lives as boys in Greece (in black & white), the film's visual style and slow pace work to great effect, lending The Big Blue an almost timeless quality. The acting is excellent, and only Arquette really dates this film (although she's just fine in the role). Barr is great as Jacques, and seeing him here makes me wish he did a LOT more mainstream film work. Barr's got that same everyman quality that makes Matthew McConaughey so likable on screen... except that he's a much better actor. And what needs to be said about Reno? He's perfect in this film - a big, lovable oaf, full of eccentricities and character. Reno is a guy I just can't get enough of. He's terrific in almost everything he's in (if you forget the God-awful Godzilla, that is). Weave all these elements together with a beautiful and hypnotic score by composer Eric Serra, and you soon begin to feel the same pull as Jacques and Enzo - The Big Blue is hard to resist.

As fans of Besson here in the States will no doubt agree, having this film on DVD is a welcome gift. Add to that the fact that Columbia TriStar has given us the director's cut of the film (which is 49 minutes longer than what was shown here theatrically and features a much better ending), and fans have every reason to be excited. If only Besson himself shared that enthusiasm for DVD. Before I go any further with this review, you should know that Columbia wanted to make this a fully-loaded special edition... but Besson refused to cooperate. And that's very disappointing. Because of this, the only print that Columbia could get for the transfer was a theatrical exhibition print of this cut, complete with "cigarette burn" reel change markers. The video is still anamorphic widescreen, and Columbia has worked all the magic they can on the transfer. But there's only so much you can do with a print of lesser quality. That's not to say that the video is bad - it just isn't reference quality. There's plenty of grain and dust visible, and the print occasionally looks a little on the soft side. Color is also a little washed looking, although not having seen the film in theaters, I can't say for sure that this wasn't by choice. Contrast is good however, and there's not too much digital artifacting to contend with. Overall, I'm pleased with the video, although some may find it a bit lacking.

The audio fares much better on this disc. Columbia TriStar has included dual English and French Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks (a 2.0 English track is also available), and both sound very good. This isn't a film where surround sound makes a lot of difference, other than in the little ambiences. But given that much of the film takes place underwater, those do become important. There's not a lot of bass and you won't be dazzled by rear channel and panning effects, but the dialogue comes across just fine and the sense of space created by the track is wonderful. Even more importantly, Eric Serra's score has never sounded better.

Serra's score is actually the only significant special feature included on this DVD, because you can listen to it isolated from the rest of the film's audio. A gallery of international poster artwork includes only a meager 3 images, and the talent files are "selected" and only available for Besson, Barr, Reno and Arquette. You also get a trio of trailers for other Columbia Besson films (although I'm surprised The Fifth Element isn't among them). The animated menus are okay, but all in all, the extras are very disappointing (again, keep in mind that this is Besson's doing - not Columbia's).

The lack of substantial extras and the somewhat lesser image quality aside, fans of Besson and this film will have a hard time passing on this DVD. If you haven't seen The Big Blue, you should know that it isn't a fast-food, Hollywood film - the kind you rush into and devour quickly like a drive-thru order from Taco Bell. This is a film you need to devote an afternoon to, and you have to be patient with it - you have to watch it at its own speed. But if you do, I think you'll find that it's well worth the effort. The Big Blue is an immensely satisfying experience, and I'm very glad to have it on DVD.

Bill Hunt
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