Published on October 13th, 2021 | by Tim Chuma

Becoming Cousteau Review (2021)

Becoming Cousteau Review (2021) Tim Chuma

Summary: For someone as famous as Jacques Costeau you would think there would be not that much to still find out about him. An interesting documentary for fans of naturalists.


Ocean master

Jacques Costeau is well known enough that there are parody movies about him these days but what do we really know about the man? This documentary goes into his early days in the French Air Force and the car accident that led him to start diving as a means to recover.

From his diving he invented the aqualung to do free diving and had the ship the Calypso for his diving expeditions that he sailed on for many years. What comes out in this documentary is the work he did for the oil and gas industry for exploration, something that he obviously reconsidered in his later life as he became such a big environmentalist and the film ends with him at first climate change conference in 1992.

Some of the earlier footage is a bit confronting as working as a recovery diver after World War II they came across thousands of dead bodies in the water and they show that in this movie. Also in his first major movie the Silent World (1956) the crew drag a shark from the water and beat it to death. Jacques Cousteau would not allow that film to screen again while he was alive as his opinion on it changed.

What does not come out as much about the early naturalists and explorers is that they often had a commercial sponsor due to the expense. An early naturalist before David Attenborough was Armand Dennis who hunted gorillas for zoos in Africa before he set up his own nature reserve.

The documentary does not shy away from the fact that the Calypso was contracted for oil exploration in the Persian Gulf by BP. They did not have any money at the time and some of the divers also contracted on other projects.

After the death of one of his sons Jacques Costeau’s attitude changed and he became more pessimistic and was dropped from the TV networks that ran his shows. The Costeau Society was one of the biggest conservation groups of its time and they mentioned Greenpeace was founded around the same time.

What they point out in the documentary is that Jacques Costeau say himself as a film maker rather than a documentary maker and he studied at film school. He also made one of the first underwater cameras and filmed work that is still being screened today.

I would recommend this documentary if you are a fan of Jacques Costeau’s work or stories about ocean conservation and it should get a wide audience screening as a documentary from the Discovery Channel.


Film details:

Director: Liz Garbus

Writer: Mark Monroe, Pax Wassermann

Featuring: Jacques-Yves Cousteau

Genre: Documentary

Content advisory: Dead bodies, cruelty to animals

Language: English, French with English subtitles

Length: 1h 33min

About the Author

Writer, photographer, artist and music fan from Melbourne, Australia.

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