NARKED ON CELLULOID
I WAS INTRIGUED BY THE CURRENT DISCUSSION in this journal about films with a diving theme.
It prompted me to conduct my own, critical survey of the genre. And I came to a startling conclusion: that the directors of all the most famous underwater adventure movies became severely narked approximately halfway through the shooting schedule.
Take The Abyss. It sets out sensibly enough: plausible characters in a plot that, while unchallenging to the inventive powers of, say, a Dostoyevsky, is at least internally consistent.
But then, after an hour or so spent five miles down at the bottom of a lightless trench, the nitrogen finally gets to James Cameron's central nervous system and the plot careers wildly into the realms of narcotic hallucination. Consequently, the denouement (as we film-critic types call The End) is in every sense abysmal.
Then there's The Big Blue. It starts off as a tense drama about the battle for the world free-diving record. It ends up with the hero, 300m down with no aqualung, deciding: "Oh, sod the record. I'll just swim off into oblivion with that nice dolphin." As my daughter would say: "Yeah, right!" A clear case of Rapture Of The Deep if there ever was one.
Flipper, on the other hand, was shot in just 8m of water off the Bahamas, thus entirely avoiding narcosis in the director and crew. Consequently, it was infinitely more believable than The Big Blue - even the episode where he tows the crippled submarine off the reef in the hurricane, narrowly averting a global nuclear catastrophe.
And here's another thing: almost all narcosis-infected underwater movies have two-word titles, like The Abyss and The Deep. (You remember The Deep - perfectly believable until a bloke gets his head bitten off by a giant eel that lives in a porthole).
A third word may be introduced only if it is monosyllabic and moronically simple, as in The Big Blue. It was only because Jaws was shot in a swimming pool that it wasn't (a) crap and (b) called The Jaws - or worse, The Big Jaws.
Why the two/three-word rule? Because when you're out of your head with the narcs, that's about as many as you can string together - and then only when one of them is "The".
Even so, they don't always end up in the right order - witness Deep, The: The Director's Cut.
So what of the future? It's 2005. Ninety per cent of the population has completed a PADI Resort Course or, at the very least, a BSAC Last Resort Course. So why would they need to go to the cinema to see a pretty girl getting bifurcated by a great white? I therefore predict a deluge of tried and tested movie classics, re-shot under water.
Bent Like Beckham is set during the first-ever underwater World Cup competition. The England captain, distracted by tabloid accounts of his flirtation with a mermaid, falls short of expectations.
Somehow, though, we struggle through to the Final. David is clearly confused - while taking a penalty, he mistakes a World War 2 mine for the ball. But skill and character prevail and the Faroe Islands win 4:0.
Martin Sheen stars in a touching Vietnam love story: A Polyp Kiss Now explores the passion between two US Navy divers in the Mekong Delta.
Then there's the epic struggle between good and evil in Middle Water, Lord Of The O-Rings. And that triumph of computer-generated animation, Koi Story. Not to mention the inspiring tale of the attractive young diving instructor's battle against obesity, The Whale We Were. [That's enough terrible movie puns - Ed.]
Deeper with Blackford
by Andy Blackford
£7.95 plus P&P, A5 format, 156 pages, paperback
Special offer - buy online at £8.95 inc. UK surface p&p
From Swanage Bay to the Redcar sewage treatment plant; from Bovisand Harbour to the wreck of the Wigan Shopping Trolley - Andy Blackford has been there, dived it, and recalls the experiences in this new collection of 36 of his best stories. Illustrated by Rico.
P&P UK £2, overseas surface £3.