Friday, August 21, 2009

Diving History -- Diving on the Silver Screen

Diving History -- Diving in the Movies.

The idea of diving into an unknown potentially dangerous environment has long appealed to writers in Hollywood. The recent movie Men of Honor is very familiar to everyone in the diving community. The following are a few other notable movies that come to mind:

James Bond: Ian Fleming's fictional MI6 agent James Bond had several movies that involved diving. Two of the most diving intensive ones were:
-Thunder ball (1965). During an underwater battle with SPECTRE (the movies bad guys), Bond is rescued by a military unit who parachutes to the area for underwater battle against the SPECTRE divers. Bond joins the fray, killing them off with high tech submarine weapons, his knife and his hands.
-For Your Eyes Only (1981). 007 goes deep underwater in a mini sub
that he locks out of and has an underwater battle with a bad-guy wearing a JIM one atmosphere diving suit. Bond plants an explosive charge on the back of the suit and manages to escape just in time before it explodes.

John Wayne: The Duke didn't fare to as well as a Diver. He starred in two movies as a Deep Sea Diver and died in both of them.
-Reap the Wild Wind (1942). After a ship goes down at sea, John
Wayne suits up in a deep sea diving rig to confirm if a woman was trapped inside and died. While down in the wreck he discovers proof that she was on board and had drowned. As they are leaving not only does a massive storm
hit but a giant squid attacks his dive buddy (talk about a bad day). John
Wayne could have easily escaped but attacks the squid, saving his dive buddy but sacrifices himself in the process.
-Wake of the Red Witch (1948). While retrieving treasure/gold on a
sunken ship, the ship begins to shift causing debris from the ship to fall all around him. Eventually this debris piles on the Duke, trapping him and leading to his ultimate demise.

Gojira (Godzilla 1954)
-After reaping havoc, death and destruction on Tokyo; Godzilla
returns to Tokyo Bay for a little underwater R&R. After all else fails, the good people of Tokyo turn to the only ones that can save them from the monster -- two hard-hat divers. Both divers descend into Tokyo Bay with an "Oxygen Destroyer Bomb", the ultimate weapon that destroys what else -- oxygen. Once on the bottom, they spot Godzilla resting underwater.
Seemingly unaware of the divers, Godzilla slowly wanders around as the divers activate the Oxygen Destroyer. As one of the divers watches Godzilla dying from the weapon, he cuts his own umbilical and dies with Godzilla, sacrificing himself so that his knowledge of the horrible weapon will not be known to the world. A dying Godzilla surfaces, lets out a final scream, and sinks to the bottom, disintegrating into a skeleton, and then into nothingness.

The Deep (1977)
-Nick Nolte and Jacqueline Bisset play a young couple enjoying a
tropical vacation who discover a glass ampoule while diving off the coast of Bermuda. A treasure hunter identifies the ampoule as part of a valuable shipment of World War II morphine lost at sea, atop the even greater treasure of a sunken Spanish galleon. Thus begins a race for drugs and treasure pitting Nolte and Bisset against a ruthless drug lord (Louis Gossett Jr.) who'll do anything--even resort to Haitian voodoo--to get what he wants. The movie's best known for Bisset's wet T-shirt scuba-dive, but also has some exciting highlights including a moray eel that attacks on cue and... well, uh, Jacqueline Bisset in a wet T-shirt.

Leviathan / Deep Star Six (both 1989)
-Very similar movies released at close to the same time. Both are
basically "Alien" or "The Thing" set in a deep sea underwater habitat.
Basically, divers disturb or discover some sort of creature that wreaks all sorts of havoc on the habitat and its occupants. A daring escape at the end allows the hero and heroine to survive certain death. In one of the movies a diver tries to escape the habitat without decompressing and suffers an extreme case of "the bends" causing his head to bleed until his body eventually totally explodes.. Hoo-Yah.

The Abyss (1989):
Perhaps one of the most technical underwater movies made that used the largest underwater set of any diving movie to date. Most of us know the story, but here are some cool technical details about the making of the film.
1. All of the underwater scenes in the movie were shot in containment tanks at the abandoned Cherokee Nuclear Power Plant in Gaffney, South Carolina, including the largest underwater set in the world at 7 million gallons (60 feet deep, 200 foot diameter). The tank was filled to a depth of 40 feet, but there was still too much light from the surface, so a giant tarp and billions of tiny black plastic beads were floated on the surface to block the light. During a violent storm the tarp was destroyed, thus shifting production to night time.
2. The water for the tank was fed in from nearby lakes and needed large filters to cleanse it and was chlorinated heavily. This caused many of the actor's hair to become green and even white. The huge quantities of the chemical also caused all the large steel underwater movie props to rust, plugging up the filtering system. For financial reasons, the "Deepcore" set was never dismantled. It stands today in the abandoned (and drained) South Carolina nuclear power plant.
3. The masks were specially designed by Bob Kirby of Kirby Morgan to show a full view of the actors' faces, and had microphones fitted so that dialogue spoken at the time by the actors could be used in the film. The noises made by the regulators in the helmets were erased during sound post-production. Because the diving rigs were not fed by umbilicals, all breathing air had to be supplied via backpack assembly. This being the case, free flow helmets would have been far too wasteful so a demand breathing system was incorporated without oral nasal masks (CO2 build-up anyone?). The tank was equipped with an underwater high pressure manifold with whips so four divers at once could fill their backpacks on the bottom without surfacing.
4. Perhaps the most frequently asked question people ask about the film is in regards to the liquid breathing scene. The Navy has experimented with breathing an oxygen-rich liquid (perfluorocarbon), rather than breathing air. Problems with oxygenation, carbon dioxide removal and lung mechanics prevented this from becoming anything other than experimental.
For the movie, five different rats took five different takes for the liquid breathing scene in the movie. What is seen in the film isn't a special effect. The rat really was subjected to the anxiety of being submerged in this liquid, where it panics and struggles and is then pulled out by its tail as it expels the liquid from its lungs. The rat that actually appeared in the film died of "natural causes" a few weeks before the film opened.


What movies get you excited about diving? Comments are welcome!


  1. Well any movie with John Wayne is automatically my favorite....but what about "Men of Honor" with Cuba Gooding

  2. I wanted to explore the ocean my whole just because of Sea Hunt, Jacques Cousteau and Flipper!!

  3. As mentioned in our first paragraph but not nearly as fleshed out as some of the other notable films...
    For BostonMaggie ~ Men of Honor is a well known film chronicling the true story of Master Chief Boatswain's Mate Carl Maxie Brashear, USN (Ret.)'s journey to becoming the first Afican-American Master Diver. This movie continues to inspire new and seasoned divers alike.