A scene from 'The Big Blue'
Courtesy Photo
(2000 director's cut)
*** stars 168 minutes | Rated: R
Rereleased: Friday, August 4, 2000
Directed by Luc Besson

Starring Jean-Marc Barr, Jean Reno, Rosanna Arquette, Paul Shenar, Sergio Castellitto, Jean Bouise, Marc Duret & Griffin Dunne


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Director's cut ads 40 minutes to gorgeous, turbulent but strangely tranquil deep-sea diver rivalry

By Rob Blackwelder

A giant metaphor for freedom and self-discovery, directed by a young Luc Besson who had yet to discover his self-indulgent streak, "The Big Blue" is a visceral and turbulent, yet strangely tranquil and beautiful cinematic experience that plumbs the souls of a pair of competitive deep-sea divers who are at once best friends and bitter rivals.

Made in 1988 and reissued this summer in a 40-minutes-longer director's cut, it's one of those rare films you can't help but be affected by on some level. Its vivid photography and even more vivid performances strike a nerve as the film follows the warm but antagonistic friendship between bombastic Enzo (a pre-"Professional" Jean Reno) and quiet, private and deeply reflective Jacques (a pre-"Zentropa" Jean-Marc Barr) beginning with their shared childhood in a craggy, cliff-side, coastal Greek hamlet.

Years later they meet again and form a powerful bond and a dangerous rivalry after discovering they're both record-setting divers who can hold their breaths for super-human lengths of time and plunge to unimaginable depths in professional diving competitions around the Mediterranean.

The narrative structure is clumsy at times and the film has a few weak links, not the least of which is a typically whiny performance from Rosanna Arquette as an American lost soul who falls in love with Jacques but is forever struggling to understand the unspoken, obsessive compulsion that pulls him away from her and toward the sea.

But Besson -- who has more recently made the wildly over-produced "The Fifth Element" and "The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc" -- keeps the film rooted in compelling emotional impulses while providing a richly detailed palate of visual wonders (case-in-point, the sparse but engulfing diving scenes).

I haven't seen the original version of "The Big Blue," so I can't say what Besson has added here to pad the run time so significantly. But I do know the American release was chopped up and re-scored, and this version is true to the director's original vision. The new cut is certainly absorbing, and should be seen on the big screen if you're seeing it at all, but it does feel over-long -- ironically by about 40 minutes.

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