The Scuba Monkey Speaks…
How many of you out there reading this began Scuba Diving having read a book on it? Not many. How many of you gave diving a go for the first time because a partner cajoled you into it? Slightly more. But…(drum roll)…how many baby divers turn up in my classroom and pool sessions as it’s been on their to-do list for years prompted by childhood dreams, a movie, a burning ambition to explore and see for themselves what they’d seen on the cinema or TV screen as a kid that blew their minds? I’ve not seen any statistics but I’d bet the majority of people fall into that category.
Everybody wants to be Jacques Cousteau, James Bond, Lara Croft, Hans Hass, Tanya Streeter. Some people think they are. The history of movies is littered with underwater adventures. Starting with The Frogmen in 1951. It’s always been strange and alluring place for movie makers. And, where the movie has not been directly about the ocean, the ocean’s strange influence is still felt. Where do you think the inspiration for planet Pandora in James Cameron’s snore-fest “Dances With Smurfs” (sorry, Avatar) came from? The pinnacles, the strange jelly-fish-like creatures, the trees like table corals…
I’m the first to admit that a lot of diving-based movies are rubbish. Open Water was so bad it made me angry. I was cheering for the sharks to take away the main protagonists by the end. Or the utterly preposterous Deep Blue Sea in which the best part of the movie (Samuel L. Jackson chewing up the scenery, as always) is eaten halfway through proceedings.
And yet…there are some interesting diving-related movies out there. So, how to sort the wheat from the chaff? Don’t worry, the Scuba Monkey is here to help you out with a Top 5 diving related screen adventures. It’s a mixed bunch, so strap in!
5. 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1954)
Who’d have thunk it? a Disney movie on the list. Yes. In a world before Scuba was as accessible (and cheaper) than riding a decent mountain bike, this adaptation of the Jules Verne classic epitomised the public’s fantasy and fear about the underwater world. No-one was quite sure what was down there. But it was bound to be exciting. Kirk Douglas plays to type as the boisterous hero and James Mason is his slightly creepy best as Captain Nemo. Ok, so the special effects haven’t aged so well – but give ‘em a break – it was nearly 60 years ago!! And it’s got a giant octopus in it!!
4. Into The Blue (2005)
From one fantasy to another of a different type. This appears to be a movie about diving populated entirely by ridiculously good looking people. Paul Walker doesn’t look like any diving instructor I’ve ever met – and has clearly spent months in the Gym before filming. And Jessica Alba in a bikini during this movie is enough to make most men, myself included, go a bit weak at the knees. Their ‘friends’ in the movie are also ridiculously attractive. The plot, too, is a bit hackneyed. It’s the old favourite of diving movies: buried treasure. But while the acting and dialogue is as clunky as the breathing on a 20 year old Apeks reg, and the plot is as familiar as your favourite old pair of Converse, some of the photography and underwater shots are stunning. And that makes it worth watching.
3. The Big Blue (1988)
Luc Besson hasn’t made a decent movie in years, bless ‘im. There was a time when he was the up and coming movie director. Leon, for example, is a great movie that once inspired a friend of mine to spend nights sleeping upright in a chair wearing shades. Fool. Now he just makes no-brainer action movies.
This is different. This follows two competing free-divers and the inevitable love interest competing and pushing the boundaries. And, much like the movie in our Number 4. Slot, has some amazing visuals that were always Besson’s trademark.
Oh boy! This has the full monty. Bikini clad girls, villians with an eye-patch, underwater scooters, underwater knife fights, sharks, wrecks… Nominally, the plot is that James Bond heads to The Bahamas to recover two nuclear warheads stolen by SPECTRE agent Emilio Largo in an international extortion scheme. But, in all honesty, that’s all just window dressing. It’s an excuse for all the action and visuals in a time when scuba diving, like travel, was only open to the military and the wealthy. It’s a time-piece. Check the wetsuits! Look at the enormous masks!!! Brilliant!! Watch them all bob up and down – it’s a wonder no-one ended up getting bent making this. And check the attitudes to the environment; our heroine riding a turtle. Bond and Felix Lighter casually shooting sharks. Madness.
1. Jaws (1975)
This is the motherload. A movie so influential that everybody knows it. Just the opening strokes of the cello are still enough to send shivers down the spine of many people. John Williams is a genius. Forget all the lame sequels. This is the only one worth seeing.
It was a cultural phenomenon. Before Jaws there were no summer blockbusters. People stayed away from the cinema in their droves. This, as they say, was a game-changer. But what made it so good?
Well, for one, it tapped into people’s darkest primal fears of being eaten alive by one of the few creatures we’ve not wiped off the planet (yet) capable of doing just that.
Secondly, it was brilliantly directed by Spielberg. For the first half of the movie you don’t even see a shark. Just that music and some foamy water. He teases out the suspense to a level that previously people thought only Alfred Hitchcock was capable of. When we do, finally, see the shark it’s a surprise that makes us reel back in our seat like Chief Brody. The dolly-shot zooming-in as Brody sees the child taken off the li-low is worth the admission alone and has passed into film folklore.
Thirdly, it’s brilliantly acted. The core three characters contrast brilliantly. Brody’s city cop scared of water who just wants to home. Hooper, the conservationist, sarcastic and brimming with energy. And Captain Quint, in Robert Shaw’s career defining role, as hardened sea-farer on a mission. The tension between them is real and palpable. Legend has it that Robert Shaw was deliberately obnoxious and aggressive to Scheider and Dreyfuss on set to raise the animosity between them during shooting – only letting his guard down when the film wrapped. The dialogue flows and everybody knows that famous line “You’re gonna need a bigger boat…” as it’s passed into public domain as a phrase for any situation when you realise that you’re out of your league. And that USS Indianapolis monologue of Shaw’s still, after all these years, gives me goosebumps.
And the diving? Well it plays a relatively small part. But what there is, is quite nicely done. It’s the small touches. Like Hooper saying ‘I’ve got no spit…” (to clean his mask) when he’s terrified before descending in the final act. Some people say it hurt diving. I say ‘horse manure’ to that. Yes, it didn’t paint Great White sharks in a very good light. But The Swarm didn’t paint bees in a very good light either and, you know what, it made a lot of people (like a young me watching this on TV) interested in the sea. Surely that’s enough.
If you haven’t seen these movies, watch them.
If you have, watch them again.
So what have I missed? Do you agree or not agree?