Oscar winning documentaries…07/11/2011
PART 2: “WORLD WITHOUT SUN”
Cousteau’s epic adventure to the ocean floor…
For a beautiful and awesome excursion into an underwater realm that combines superb actuality experience and a touch of science-fiction fantasy, you don’t need skin diving equipment. You can simply go to see Jacques-Yves Cousteau‘s latest French-made picture of undersea exploration, “World Without Sun.”
Not since that fine Cousteau document of a journey into the depths, “The Silent World,” have we seen such magnificent achievements in underwater photography as there are in this handsome color picture.
Gorgeous and eerie visions of skin divers clad in silver suits gliding through translucent waters into caverns beneath the sea, brilliant and magical glimpses of all sorts of fantastic fish and surrealistic compositions of plant-like animals and underwater growths are caught by the deep-diving cameras of Mr. Cousteau and his rubber-suited group of oceanauts, as he calls them, who labored to make this film.
Even more striking and exciting is the description the cameras convey of the underwater colony set up by Mr. Costeau’s expedition to explore systematically the resources of the ocean and observe the behavior of marine life.
While it isn’t stated in the narration, this colony is in the Red Sea off Port Sudan on a formation described as the continental shelf—an underwater ledge beyond which there is a precipitate drop. Here, at a depth of 45 feet, is established a base—a dual cylindrical construction containing five rooms in which the oceanauts live. They are supplied with food and electricity from the expedition’s ship, Calypso, which is anchored above.
The purpose of this base is to provide quarters in which the men may dwell under pressures that are safer and more congenial for their daily plunges into the waters below. Here they may also study the biological specimens under conditions more consistent with those of the realms from which they were brought up.
This base also contains a fantastic garage for a “diving saucer” called Denise. This is a piece of submarine machinery, worthy of the imagination of Jules Verne, which is propelled by jets, carries two men and is capable of diving to depths of 1,000 feet, according to the narration. Shots of this weird contraption gliding through the sea provide some of the most fascinating sequences in the film.
But, alas, the climactic sequence, showing this saucer at a depth, of 1,000 feet (or something close to that) moving through a tunnel into what is described as a wholly enclosed “underground lake” and there surfacing, presents an adventure that gravely challenges credulity.
It is reasonable and permissible that some of the scenes should have been shot in a studio, in an aquarium and in a tank, as they evidently were. This sort of simulation was understandably necessary to assure control. For instance, a shot in which the camera moves from the interior of the underwater house through a window and away from it was obviously made in the studio. Otherwise water would have poured through the window and flooded everything.
But when Mr. Cousteau presents that incident of the saucer surfacing in the underground lake after a vastly impressive journey down the wall of the continental shelf, and even permits one of the occupants to open a topside hatch and climb half-way out, the character of the picture suddenly becomes that of a science-fiction fantasy. And one is inclined to question whether Mr. Cousteau has not perpetrated a hoax.
Oceanographers consulted here yesterday said it was highly unlikely that a deep-sea cavern, containing a “bubble,” or pocket of air, at its top, could exist. If it did, the atmosphere in that bubble would surely be noxious, they said. It would be methane or marsh gas. And the pressure in it would be intolerable for man.
Yet this film shows an occupant of the saucer emerging into such a pocket of air. Furthermore, the shot is made from the exterior by a camera that has presumably arrived ahead of the saucer and is already waiting in that cavern beneath the sea.
It is too bad that this obvious faking should finally excite one’s doubt and mar one’s complete enjoyment of this otherwise plausible film. For it is a delightful experience—an achievement of pictorial poetry, complemented by a good English narration and an excellent musical score.
“WORLD WITHOUT SUN” 1964 directed by Jacque-Yves Cousteau