The Big Blue

The Big Blue (1988)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Cast: Jean Reno, Rosanna Arquette, Jean-Marc Barr
Extras: Isolated Music Score, Photo Gallery, Trailers

Cut by 49 minutes and released with a new score, French director Luc Besson’s 1988 movie "The Big Blue" has not been seen very often in its original version here in the US. Thanks to Columbia TriStar Home Video we now have a beautiful version of the movie that allows us to witness the director’s original vision in all its glory.

Besson’s film "The Big Blue" plays like a love letter to the Sea. In beautiful images, this movie follows the life of two friends who grew up together in Greece – although one of them is Italian and the other French. Both have a fascination with the ocean and free-diving in particular. Enzo (Jean Reno) is the world champion in free-diving, going from one competition to the next for a living, when he is not using it to rescue divers in need, only to prove to himself and the world that he can hold his breath longer than anyone else, and that he can dive to depths no other man can. Jacques (Jean-Marc Barr) on the other hand is not very competitive and uses his incredible diving skills for science. He supports studies that try to find out what give him this rather unique ability.
One day Enzo challenges Jacques to participate in the world free-diving competition and what follows is a dramatic race when these two men become obsessed with the idea of upping each other. Out of reach of the rest of competing divers, Enzo and Jacques set world records that no one but them can break.

"The Big Blue" is Luc Besson’s most poetic film and its visuals ooze sensuality and beauty. Whether it is the love story between Jacques and Johanna, nicely played by Rosanna Arquette, the dramatic competition between the two men, or just their common love for the ocean, Besson always captures the moments in vibrant images to create a very beautiful tapestry of emotions and sights.

Columbia TriStar Home Video has prepared a newly remastered version of the movie for release on this DVD and presents it in a <$16x9,16x9 enhanced> <$PS,widescreen> version in the film’s original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. While the transfer is generally clean and without defects or blemishes, Columbia TriStar was using a show print to strike this transfer from. Unfortunately it wasn’t cleaned up and as a result you can see the "cigarette marks" in the upper right hand corner of the image that indicate upcoming reel changes popping up with annoying regularity. Given the beauty of the print and its sparkling cleanliness, these artifacts are even more distracting and I am not sure why no one bothered to spend a few minutes to rid the transfer of these recurring marks before mastering the film for this DVD.

Other than that, the presentation of the movie on this DVD is very good and without flaws. With vibrant hues, the movie’s colors leap off the screen, fully restoring the director’s original vision of harshly lit daylight scenes and soft blue under water sequences. Some edge-enhancement has been applied to the transfer and the slightest ringing artifacts are evident in the presentation. It never gets distracting though, and the fact that the compression maintains even the smallest details in the transfer, makes "The Big Blue" are beautiful film to behold.

The DVD comes with a <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> audio track that is very spacious. Making good use of the surrounds, the movie’s audio leaves as good an impression as the audio. It is a tastefully crafted track that uses subtle ambient sounds, as well as more effective discrete surround effects, in a way that creates a lively, yet never obtrusive ambiance for the movie. The dialogues are very well integrated, never interfering with the sound effects or the music. Every line is clearly understandable and stands out among the rest of the track.

As is the case n most of Besson’s films, Eric Serra has once again contributed a music score that perfectly captures the director’s ambitions. Their relationship always reminds me of that between Tim Burton and Danny Elfman. They complement each other so well that only in collaboration each of them is able to perform at the max. While the US version of the movie had been rescored with a score by Bill Conti for some unfathomable reason, Columbia TriStar Home Video has fortunately released the movie with it’s original score on this DVD and the difference is remarkable. With Serra’s score the film obtains an almost dreamlike quality at times, while at the same time always rooting the story in the Mediterranean with a number of themes. The spacey sounds he is using throughout his score make the magnificence of the Sea more palpable. The images and the music weave themselves together as the camera plunges into the deep and create an amalgam that can’t be separated.

Serra’s score is also presented on an isolated audio track on the DVD in its entirety in a stereo mix. It gives viewers a great chance to just watch the film and see how the music and the images go together to create this strong emotional feeling of beauty and drama.

Other than that, only some poster art and the film’s trailer can be found on the release, which I found somewhat disappointing. Since the character of Jacques Mayol is based on the real life free-diver of the same name, I was very interested to see how much of what I saw was fact and how much was fiction. A <$commentary,commentary track>, a featurette or at least some textual information down those lines would have been very helpful to give viewers an increased understanding for the scope of the movie, and of course the real career of Jacques Mayol.

It is great to see the full 168-minute long Director’s Cut of "The Big Blue" on DVD, together with the film’s original music score. Too many foreign movies are tampered with on a regular basis and Columbia TriStar’s increased efforts to release the original versions of these films on DVD certainly pleases DVD fans. Although the disc has some shortcomings, the movie itself is just so hauntingly beautiful and the presentation so good that no fan of under water films should pass out on this opportunity to see this big blue love letter to the Sea!