A film like The Big Blue has the potential to really benefit from a properly handled HD transfer. As is the norm, these days - the image is presented in a theatrically correct 2.35:1 transfer and in 1080p resolution.
The opening scenes are an immediate test for the transfer. Taking place on a Greek island, and shot in Black and White, the brightness of the sun in the natural setting means that contrast is washed out and the scene has a natural bleached look. This could possibly be problematic, but immediately the transfer shows it is able to handle the challenge admirably. Despite the overbearing light, detail is never compromised. Even when the sun is glinting spectacularly off the ocean in the background, the detail in the foreground is never compromised. Just witness the scene when Enzo climbs up onto the cliff, and walks off down the path. The level of detail on the right of the frame is immense, and the sense of depth as the path snakes off into the distance is palpable.
The black and white underwater shots are similarly impressive. At one stage, Jacques feeds an eel, and the detail in the animal, and the surrounding fish is immense. I felt myself aching for the scene to be in colour as I could only imagine how impressive it would have looked.
Once the flashback scene is out of the way, the film moves into colour mode. And what colour is visible in this transfer! I had rather low hopes, I have to admit, after watchingLeon, but The Big Blue represents the sheer care that has gone into these discs. Witness the deep blues in the colour of Jacques diving gear, and the pristine whites of Enzo's dinner suit. Considering the age of the film, the vibrancy of the colour is simply breathtaking here.
The detail is the early black and white parts of the transfer are replicated throughout the whole film as well. Watching the scene where Jacques and Enzo drink wine at the bottom of the swimming pool has an amazing sense of depth (forgive the pun), and the underwater diving scenes are amazing. I was expecting them to look fake, but the diving scenes are scarily authentic. It really does look as if the characters are descending to these depths. You can see the effect the water and depth have, pulling the skin of their faces in various unflattering ways. Every bubble looks like you could reach out and touch it. This really is a most impressive transfer.
Contrast levels (other than the early, deliberately bleached out scenes) are solid without ever being massively spectacular, and black levels are similarly adequate. The overall impression is that the picture is far far better than I had hoped it would be, and despite some minor flaws in the source (which only a full restoration would fix) it is hard to imagine anyone would be disappointed with this. Fans are likely to be ecstatic.
This is actually one of the more difficult sound reviews I have ever had to write. I also had to do rather a lot of research to find out what on earth was going on with the dialogue. In fact, I actually thought that I had a lip synch issue with my player.
Let me explain. The only soundtrack available (on the extended edition, at least) is a stereo version in French. I had assumed, being Besson, that it was filmed in French. I therefore could not understand why the actor's lips did not match the dialogue. It turns out that the film was actually Besson's first English language film. The actor's all spoke their dialogue in English. Subsequently, the longer version was released in France, and the actor's re-dubbed their dialogue back into French. This is the default version, with English subtitles. There is no option to view the long version in English. Once I realised that it was a dub, I was able to better evaluate the soundtrack - but I have to say I am not a fan of dubbing in films. I find it distracting. I would always much rather have the actor's speaking the proper language and read subtitles. Obviously, in this case - this would not have been possible. But I did fine it rather distracting.
So, obviously rear use is non existent - but within the confines of a stereo soundtrack, this actually does a very good job. The dialogue is always clear and audible, and well mixed within the sound stage. The score is really given room to breathe, and what a score it is. The American version had the original score by Eric Serra removed, but it was restored for this version - and it accompanies the onscreen action perfectly. Obviously a full sound mix would have elevated it to room filling dimensions, but even with just a stereo mix the whole experience manages to envelope the listener.
Front separation is good, without being truly dynamic. You do get a clear sense of action happening to your right and left, but it is perhaps not the widest soundscape I have heard.
It is true that they could have remixed the sound into a 5.1 mix - but is that really the way to go? The original stereo mix included here has a nice organic quality that perfectly accompanies the film and that quality would have been destroyed by a remix. This may disappoint those used to bombast in their soundtracks - but I think it does a perfectly fine job.
There is a rather meagre selection of extras here, once again hampered by Besson's refusal to get involved with the process. There is a very interesting behind the scenes documentary called ”L'Aventure Du Grand Bleu”. This is full of fascinating behind the scenes footage, and goes a long way to explain exactly why the diving scenes look so authentic. What the actors went through was truly impressive. Full of technical insight, the documentary lasts 1hr 37 minutes and is riveting throughout. The only drawback is that it is SD, and 4:3 - but it is certainly great to have it included. The language, by the way, is French with English subtitles.
We are also presented with various trailers for the film, and also one of the extras is the original theatrical version as released into the American cinema. This is actually a very different film to the long version in many ways, including the ending which was changed to a more Hollywood happy version. It also has a truly awful score. This is really best avoided, but it is interesting to view as a comparison to the preferred version.
I cannot help but feel rather let down by The Big Blue. I so wanted to like it - the subject matter is one that is dear to my heart, and I have always admired the director's work. But for some reason the film just didn't grab me. It goes without saying that the film is visually stunning, and this is served well by an excellent, vibrant transfer, that truly brings the film, and it's environs to life.
Despite this, however, I never really felt truly emotionally gripped by the film. I found the characters rather unsympathetic, and the acting unconvincing. Many may argue that I have missed the point of the film - that it is about nature and the ocean, rather than the characters. However, although I can see this point, I can't help but feel Besson may have been better making a true documentary rather than consummating his love affair with the ocean, within the framework of such a weak story.
Those who have an interest in Besson's work should certainly give this a try, especially if they have only seen the theatrical cut before - as the film certainly has many good points, and it is well served here with an excellent transfer, the original stereo sound mix, and a fascinating SD documentary. Fans should make a beeline to their nearest shop on September 14th, however, as a film like this is made for Blu ray with its visual sensibilities well served on this disc.
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