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October 10, 2007

Watching "The Deep" again

Last night I watched "The Deep" again. Given the significant popularity of the sport, there are not a lot of diving movies, just as there are not a lot of diving books. Sure, there may be the occasional diving scene in an action flick, but movies where scuba takes center stage are few and far between. And some of those where diving does play a prominent role are not exactly academy award material.

I remembered "The Deep" as a pretty decent movie, though I hadn't seen it in 20 years or so. The novel and screenplay were done by Peter Benchley, who also had his hands in any number of creature movies, including Jaws. Peter Yates was the director, also a man with considerably experience. His movie "Bullitt" with Steve McQueen remains an all-time classic. And, of course, the stars of "The Deep" had considerable drawing power: Nick Nolte, Jacqueline Bisset, Louis Gossett Jr., and actor/writer Robert Shaw who had some 50 movies to his name (including Jaws and a couple of James Bonds) and died shortly after "The Deep" was released in 1977.

So this was diving 1977, and that alone was enough to make me want to see "The Deep" again. But there was another reason. Diving legend Stan Waterman had worked on the underwater scenes of the movie, as both a director and a cameraman. I have met Waterman, a diving legend and now in his 80s, personally and enjoyed one of his eminently entertaining and educational lectures.

The movie is about a young couple vacationing and diving in Bermuda. They dive a WW II wreck and come across a large stash of morphine ampulles, worth a fortune on the drug market. Word gets around, and the bad guys, led by Louis Gossett Jr. are soon on their trail. But there's more. Seems that storms sort of mashed that WW II warship and a much older vessel together, and so there is treasure. Treasure is good, but it's really worth a whole lot more if its authenticity can be established, and so the stage is set. Bad guys after drugs. Good guys doing research on the suspected treasure. Throw in some ghastly VooDoo, motorcycle chase scenes to liven up the somewhat twisted plot, and then there's the diving, lots of it. That's what primarily interested me.

This is 1977, really not that much past all the Cousteau documentaries I'd watched. Yet, whereas Cousteau's footage always had sort of a Buck Rogers back-to-the-future look to it, what with their sleek, futuristic, aerodynamic gear and their double hose regulators, diving in "The Deep" looks surprisingly modern. It must be warm as Nolte and Bisset only wear bathing suits. In Bisset's case, a rather revealing skin-tight T-shirt with prominent nippleage was probably sensuous enough to send censor types into shock. Other than that, modern-looking regulators, modern looking masks, single tanks, nothing that would look out of the ordinary today. Except for one thing: no BCs. In 1977, buoyancy compensators did exist. Scubapro developed the stabilizer jacket in 1971, and so called adjustable buoyancy life jackets had been around since 1961. So I don't know if by 1977, it still wasn't common to use BCs.

The dive masks they used looked like something you'd buy today. Light and clear and low volume. The underwater photography was terrific in every respect. As is usually the case in movies, some things made me wonder. Like, they penetrate this wreck they do not know without protective gear or lines at all. More interestingly, silting never seems an issue. They swim around, push, pull, fight, yet hardly any silting at all. Visibility is always a-okay. The shipwreck used in the movie was supposedly that of the RMS Rhone that sank in 1867, with filming taking place at 75 feet in the bow section. Much of the diving actually looks much shallower than that, which makes me wonder how the picked the title "The Deep." Oh, and this was before dive computers. Still, no one ever runs out of air, and I don't think I saw a single decompression stop or anything like that.

There was some excellent shark footage. The bad guys threw fish and bait into the sea to attract sharks, and the resulting footage is awesome, especially for the time. I could just picture Stan Waterman, that pioneering shark cinematographer, behind the camera, not quite knowing what to expect. Another bad guy critter is a truly giant moray eel in the wreck. Morays always look evil. This one actually ends up crunching Lou Gossett Jr.'s head and biting it off. Ouch.

All in all, it was nice watching "The Deep" again. It is not a very good movie, especially given its illustrious cast, but the dives scenes were great. And Jacqueline Bisset sure looked good underwater. Maybe that's why they didn't wear bulky BCs.

Posted by conradb212 at October 10, 2007 11:21 PM