The Big Blue

  • 1988
  • Movie
  • PG
  • Adventure

Heralded as a wunderkind since his debut at age 24 with LE DERNIER COMBAT, French director Luc Besson combined his two great passions--movies and the sea--in this epic mystical adventure. Greece, 1965: Two boys, Italian-born Enzo Molinari and French-born Jacques Mayol, grow up together in a small seaside town. Both are expert divers, but while Enzo is driven...read more

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Heralded as a wunderkind since his debut at age 24 with LE DERNIER COMBAT, French director Luc Besson combined his two great passions--movies and the sea--in this epic mystical adventure.

Greece, 1965: Two boys, Italian-born Enzo Molinari and French-born Jacques Mayol, grow up together in a small seaside town. Both are expert divers, but while Enzo is driven by the need to be the best, Jacques' relationship with the sea and its creatures, especially dolphins, is more spiritual.

After Jacques' father is killed in a diving accident, the boys are separated and lose touch.

As an adult, bon vivant Enzo (Jean Reno) becomes a world-champion free diver: Free divers use no equipment, competing to see who can dive the deepest before needing to come up for air. Jacques (Jean-Marc Barr), meanwhile, has become an ascetic recluse whose closest relationships are with dolphins,

though while doing a job that involves recovering scientific equipment from an icy lake in the Peruvian mountains, he meets a potential human love interest in flaky American insurance adjuster Joanna Cross (Rosannna Arquette, who gives a truly dreadful performance). Knowing that his only real

diving competition is Jacques, Enzo tracks him down and persuades him to compete in the next competition, in Taormina, Italy; Joanna scrambles to be there as well. Jacques wins the contest, setting in motion a deadly — though superficially friendly — rivalry with Enzo. Jacques knows

he'll always beat Enzo, while Enzo will never stop trying to regain his title. Given the pressures free diving places on the human anatomy, which increase as divers descend to ever-greater depths, the competition is bound to end in tragedy. Jacques' burgeoning relationship with Joanna is equally

complicated: Though she's fascinated by his dreaminess, her desire for normal life is bound to conflict with his mystical communion with the sea.

Inspired in part by the new-agey philosophies of real-life "guru of free diving" Jacques Mayol (who lends his name to Barr's character), this was Besson's first film in English, and was the opening-night presentation at the 1988 Cannes Film Festival. There are two very different versions of THE

BIG BLUE available in the U.S.: the 119-minute version released in 1988, and the nearly three-hour version released in France in 1989 (the original French version ran about 130 minutes) and in the U.S. in 2000 as the "Director's Cut." The film was a smash hit in France from the time of its first

release, and later developed an intense, worldwide cult following. Like all of Besson's films, THE BIG BLUE is deeply adolescent; its impact is visceral rather than intellectual. No matter which version you see, the story doesn't really make sense, but in the director's cut the movie's emotional

impact is considerably heightened. Most of the footage lost in the shorter versions comes out of the middle of the film; it explores Enzo and Jacques' renewed friendship and the vagaries of Jacques and Joanna's romance. Certain minor characters, notably Jacques' uncle (Jean Bouise) and Enzo's

movie-star girlfriend (Valentina Vargas) have considerably more screen time in the long version, and a thematic thread involving metaphorical mermaids is developed. The 119-minute American version was also rescored by composer Bill Conti, and its ending was reworked into something that could be

called happy, while the longer version restores Besson's darkly romantic, original conclusion.

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  • Released: 1988
  • Rating: PG
  • Review: Heralded as a wunderkind since his debut at age 24 with LE DERNIER COMBAT, French director Luc Besson combined his two great passions--movies and the sea--in this epic mystical adventure. Greece, 1965: Two boys, Italian-born Enzo Molinari and French-born… (more)

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