Nature Rules

Today marks the 100th anniversary of Jacques Yves Cousteau’s birthday, the red-capped French explorer and nature lover whose love of the ocean was pivotal in raising the nature documentary from short-form curio and Technicolor vignette to a compelling statement on the fragility of oceanic and terrestrial environments.

Cousteau’s name may not be known to younger generations, but the reason there exists so many nature TV channels and docs geared towards educating and entertaining the masses is partly his. In addition to co-developing the aqua-lung, he managed a large crew who traveled the globe in the great ship Calypso, visiting wrecks, filming sea creatures, and sometimes going after intangibles like the lost city of Atlantis (thought by some, for a while, to be the locale where the Oceanic survivors were marooned in TV’s Lost. Ahem).

Cousteau’s birthday is being celebrated today by TCM through a day-long airing of his numerous docs, spanning The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau (1966) to The Cousteau Odyssey (1977). The month will also feature several classic water-logged films, including the rarely seen Howard Hughes idiocy Underwater! (1955), starring Jane Russell and her water-proof assets in ‘meh’ SuperScope (airing Friday June 19th).

The official Cousteau website is also making available Cousteau’s 1960 Oscar-winning doc The Golden Fish for online stream HERE.

Cousteau’s series was largely centered around things oceanic, whereas another series – Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom (1963-1988) – dealt with land-based creatures, as hosted by Great White Hunter Marlin Perkins. The Disney nature docs were also part of the mix, but for myself, it’s Cousteau and Wild Kingdom that influenced a keen interest in seeing animals on film.

If you play a David Attenborough nature doc, I’ll just sit there like a hypnotized kid, listening to the sounds of the Glooblecch Waterfincher as he dollies about the Hoomphahnacter tree, searching for his favourite staple food, the mighty Boobee worm, which gives the Glooblecch valuable protein in his otherwise arid tree-top environment in the isolated mountains of Pinikindu.

I could go on, you know?

Attenborough is the reigning king of nature docs because he knows his stuff, he loves traipsing around penguin dung, and seems to feel a kinship with the Bower bird’s elaborate efforts to snatch a hot mate on the floor of the Amazon jungle.

He’s also hugely prolific, and perhaps his international breakthrough series was Planet Earth (2006), billed as the first major leap in HD quality filming with an eye towards being overtly cinematic and ravishingly dramatic. The images in that series are art; you could splash hours of it on a wall, and remain transfixed by the animals, the weird plant formations, and blazing colours of aerial desert peaks.

The success of that series spawned cousin Life (2009), which made its home video debut June 1st in two versions – the original BBC edit with Attenborough’s narration, and the U.S. Discovery Channel edit, featuring narration by Oprah Winfrey and new music scores. This split run of what’s ostensibly the same series is available on home video, and I’ve reviewed the Blu-ray edition with an eye on how the Oprah version was crafted, and why it isn’t the monster child Attenborough’s fans believe it to be.

BBC Warner released both versions in Canada and the U.S., and, coincidentally, they also released several multi-disc volumes of Cousteau docs. TCM’s Cousteau salute may rekindle an interest in the French explorer’s cinematic canon, and it’s safe to say his personality as well as the subjects should overshadow the age of the docs.

Those wanting more of Cousteau can also enjoy John Scott’s music from the Odyssey series on CD. George Fenton’s music for Life hasn’t yet been released on CD, but the new scores (all quite excellent, by the way) by Fred Karns and Richard Fiocca can be enjoyed in the BR’s isolated music & effects track.

Coming next: a review of the DVD Tribute to Basil Poledouris, and a review of the newly expanded Robocop CD from Intrada, as well as some superhero soundtracks from La-La Land Records, and a recap of this week’s soundtrack releases.

And Please Note: the alternate blog site, is still undergoing some renovations, but it and the RSS feed it generates for will be up, running, and up-to-date by next week.

Mark R. Hasan, Editor


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