HOLLYWOOD HAS A POOR RECORD when it comes to diving. Apart from Thunderball (1965), The Big Blue (1988), and The Abyss (1989), it is difficult to think of many films that have used diving as a centrepiece without getting it badly wrong. Plastic sea monsters, implausible accidents, equipment and technical errors, combined with a host of actors who clearly can't swim (let alone dive), have left genuine divers squirming in their speedos.
Into the Blue is a breath of fresh (if not compressed) air. Rarely has a film given us such great underwater visuals, plus a believable cast who can actually dive.
The plot is simple. A handsome couple (who happen to be divers) discover an 18th century sunken ship while freediving. Searching for treasure, they stumble across a newly wrecked aeroplane stuffed full of contraband cocaine. They are short of money, but as honest and upright citizens decide to leave the drugs where they are.
Two friends who join them in the expedition to find the treasure decide that the drugs are an easier way to make a fortune. Drug-dealers, corrupt cops, sharks and rival salvage divers conspire to spoil the heroic couple's fun.
Paul Walker and Jessica Alba star as the loving couple. Scott Caan (son of James) plays Walker's less-than-scrupulous best friend, and the elegant Ashley Scott is excellent as Caan's tarty girlfriend. The rival salvage divers are led by Josh Brolin (son of James) and male model Tyson Beckford, convincing as a heavy.
Walket and Alba look magnificent under water, and do most of their own stunts. In one of many memorable scenes, Walker swims down through clear waters surrounded by sharks and disturbs a large sting ray camouflaged on the white-sand bottom.
Underwater photography is of unrivalled high quality, and you emerge gasping to get diving as soon as possible.
All of the cast look like competent divers, with Paul Walker the most graceful and athletic. Jessica Alba (Sin City and the The Fantastic Four) was an accomplished swimmer and diver from her days in the TV series The New Adventures of Flipper.
Into the Blue presents many familiar sights to divers who know Nassau, including the Caribbean reef sharks carefully cultivated by Stuart Cove's diving centre for so many years (one complete with rusty fishing hook in its mouth).
Refreshingly, the actors are shown swimming among the assembled Carcharinus perezi without fear. Walker's character (Jared) explains to his nervous friend that the species is much misunderstood. When the inevitable shark attack comes, it is a tiger shark that is responsible, and the victim is a character who frankly deserved to be bitten.
Once again, unlike so many Hollywood films, Into the Blue portrays the shark-bite and its aftermath realistically (if briefly), rather than simply showing a neatly severed limb.
"This was the most environmentally friendly film-crew I have worked with in over 25 years," says Stuart Cove, who praised the production company for hiring as many Bahamian actors and crew as possible.
Eagle-eyed divers may spot Ricou Browning among the credits. He played the original Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), created the original series of Flipper and directed the underwater sequences in Thunderball.
Director John Stockwell has created a slick and exciting thriller with a dash of romance where the action never slackens.
More significantly for underwater enthusiasts, Stockwell (with Peter Zuccarini as Director of Underwater Photography) has produced probably the most believable "diving film" film in well over a decade.
Paul Walker talks with the slow drawl of a Californian surf-dude. "I guess that's what I am," he laughs, when I ask him about the challenges involved in starring in Into the Blue. "I live near Santa Barbara by the ocean, and surfing and diving are what I've done since I was a kid. Now I have a daughter of my own, and my own boat and we go out to the Channel Islands as often as we can."
Walker has a screen presence that implies familiarity with the water. Even allowing for the trickery of the silver screen, it is clear that he is doing most of the underwater swimming himself.
But he admits that filming for two months in the Bahamas wasn't all pure pleasure: "That movie was tough. I think my body went into shock! I started out weighing 190lb and by the end I'd dropped over 20lb.
"We were in nice warm water - around 24íC - but we still got real cold after about 45 minutes. Luckily there was a hot-tub on one of the dive tenders and we all sat in it between takes to get the chill out of our bones."
He and his co-stars also had to cope with the weather. "We were never sure what scene we would do when we got out on the water," he explains. "If the director wasn't happy with the light under water or the visibility, we would switch plans and maybe do a scene we hadn't planned for that day.
"That was tough, and the wardrobe department had to bring all our changes of costume every single day, just in case."
Jessica Alba tells me that the underwater theme of Into the Blue was part of its appeal. "I spent a couple of years on the Flipper TV show, in the water every day, and I've done quite a bit of scuba diving in Cayman, Bahamas, Florida, Byron Bay and on Australia's Gold Coast," she says.
It is the bright colourful reef fish that draw Alba under water. "I don't really want to look for anything too big," she says with a giggle. "Working on Flipper was a great time for me, and swimming with dolphins is a special experience, but even dolphins are real big when you get up close. I like my diving to be peaceful, corals and the small stuff, that's what I like to see."
Although Alba looks supremely comfortable and confident on-screen, she says she didn't enjoy working with the sharks in the Bahamas. "Let's face it, they aren't the smartest creatures in the world," she says coyly. "And all the guys we were working with, like Stuart Cove, kept telling us the sharks weren't interested in us.
"But after a few days working with these guys, you began to notice that they all had scars on their bodies that had been caused by accidents with sharks!"
Surprisingly, Walker is not a big fan of sharks either, despite having to swim with them on a regular basis for the film.
"We had safety divers, and I wasn't so worried about the bigger Caribbean reef sharks that Stuart Cove's team work with every day. It was the smaller blacktips that made me nervous.
"In one scene, I'm treading water and they throw me my mask and fins. When my mask hit the water it was about three feet away on the surface, and something made me hesitate just before I reached for it. Sure enough, one of those sharks came and took that mask and we never saw it again!"
Like most divers, he says he was happy enough to deal with sharks under water, but floating on the surface while they swam around him made him less happy.
Was being under water something of a need? "Sure. I also like being in wide-open spaces, away from people at times, but surrounded by nature. But being under water, whether it be scuba diving or freediving, allows me to isolate what's important in my head. It gives me clarity."
One of the challenges for both Walker and Alba was learning to freedive. "I really enjoyed the Zen aspect of that," says Alba, "but I never got into deep diving as seriously as the guys - Scott [Caan] was really good at free-diving by the time we finished."
"I'm quite competitive with myself," says Walker. "I hadn't done any real freediving before, but with all the experienced freedivers around, I got into it.
"By the end I had reached 39m and I want to get to 40. Breaking the three minutes under water barrier is my next goal."
He adds that the experience of making Into the Blue has made him want to return to Fiji, where he has been surfing before.
"I could see all this amazing coral under my board," he says. "Now, I'd like to go back down there and see it up close with scuba equipment. It looked so pure and unspoiled - yeah, that's what I'd like to do."
Trouble starts when two divers happen on an 18th shipwreck as well as an aircraft stuffed with drugs. We've all been there!
One of the non-human stars, a Caribbean reef shark