Indy Film Talk: Jean-Michel Cousteau's Secret Ocean 3D



Underwater films reel in big audiences at the Indiana State Museum IMAX.

“These films play really well in this market because, well, we’re landlocked," theater manager Craig Mince said. "An IMAX 3D feature is one of the closer things around here to dipping your toes in the warm ocean."

The theater's newest underwater spectacular, Secret Ocean 3D, had children giggling and grabbing at on-screen sea creatures during a recent screening.

Director Jean-Michel Cousteau is familiar with that sense of childlike wonder. He was practically raised underwater by his father, Jacques Cousteau — the innovative explorer who brought the ocean into our living rooms. When Jean-Michel was seven years old, Jacques strapped a scuba tank on his back and tossed him overboard the family ship, the Calypso. He’s been diving ever since. And with Secret Ocean 3D, he plumbs depths beyond his father’s dreams.

The film is a 40-minute deep-dive exploring vibrant marine environments from the Bahamas to Fiji.

“We want to fascinate people by the diversity, the beauty and the fragility of creatures, which I’ve had the privilege of being exposed to for the last 69 years,” Cousteau told NUVO this week.

Secret Ocean 3D also features creatures that Cousteau has never seen before.

“Thanks to the new technology that we’re using today, we can film in slow motion and focus on very little things. I knew they were there, but I didn’t know how they behave, how they relate to other species,” Cousteau said. “What I see on the big screen, I cannot see when I’m diving. It’s only when I come out of the ocean and project it on a screen that I can see that behavior. Now I’m like a kid! I’m seeing things that I couldn’t see before!”

In addition to the stunning IMAX imagery that supersizes otherwise invisible underwater life, the film employs 3D in an incredibly immersive way. You’ll practically feel fish brushing against your legs as Secret Ocean 3D washes over you.

The film introduces viewers to over 30 species, some under an inch in size. It builds up to more iconic, otherworldly creatures, like eels, which I did not watch due to a lifelong phobia. While I looked down at the floor during one eel's appearance, I appreciated the use of snake charmer music to underscore its eerie aura. As if trying to convince me to look at the screen, narrator Dr. Sylvia Earle reassures viewers that “eels open their mouths wide to breathe, not to threaten.” Still scary.

But we'd ignore those eels at our peril. “It’s not just an issue of protecting those eels; it’s an issue of protecting yourself," Cousteau warned, alluding to the need to safeguard the entire biosphere.

“I’ll never stop diving,” he added. “That’s how I recharge my batteries — to be able to share with the public the fact that we all depend upon the ocean for the quality of our lives.”

Pointing toward the park across from the NUVO office, Cousteau continued, "Whether you live here, in this beautiful place, or you live along the coastline, every other breath you take is coming from the ocean."

Cousteau carries on the mission of protecting what has essentially been his family’s home for decades through the non-profit Ocean Futures Society, which he founded after his father's death.

“As a family, we’re all focusing on the ocean and the quality of water,” he said. “And we want to share that with as many people as we can. My dad used to say, ‘People protect what they love,’ and I used to say, ‘How can you protect what you don’t understand?’ We have huge opportunities to discover new species, understand how they work and how they are connected to our lives.”

In addition to making audiences feel closer to the ocean world, Secret Ocean 3D stuns with the spectacle of a son swimming out of his father's shadow. “He would be blown away,” Cousteau said.

Related Film

Jean-Michel Cousteau's Secret Ocean 3D

Director: Jean-Michel Cousteau

Cast: Jean-Michel Cousteau and Holly Lohuis


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