Luc Besson, the French wonder boy who moved into the commercial major leagues with his $3 million Gaumont picture Subway, joins the international spendthrifts club with The Big Blue, a waterlogged yarn about a couple of rival championship divers. Produced on a disproportionately large scale ($12 million budget, a 9-month shoot on international locations from Greece to Peru), this English-language adventure is indigently plotted and lacking in genuine dramatic and human interest.
Besson was in part inspired by the life and exploits of French champion free diver Jacques Mayol, who served as technical adviser on the film and allowed his name to be retained for the protagonist, played by Jean-Marc Barr.
Barr is a renowned experimental diver based on the French Riviera. During an assignment at a frozen lake high in the Peruvian mountains, he runs into Rosanna Arquette, a flightly New York insurance agent who immediately falls in love with him and trails him to Taormina where he is facing off life-long competitive friend Jean Reno in a diving contest.
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Apart from Arquette’s increasingly giddy pursuit of the somewhat absent Barr (more concerned with dolphins he befriends than humans who love him), nothing much happens until a climactic runoff in which latter tries to beat his friend’s world free-diving depth.
Besson fatally misjudges the cinematic interest of his theme. The underwater sequences, as splendidly lensed as they are, have little intrinsic suspense and quickly become repetitious. The land scenes are boring because Besson has been unable to give his characters any psychological density.
[In the US, pic was released in a 119-min. version with a new score by Bill Conti; in the UK, the original score was retained. In 1989, a 166-min. Version Longue was released in Paris.]