It might be a surprise to hear that an offspring of the Cousteau family hadn’t already taken the time to live underwater for an extended period of time. The idea of living underwater for a month might seem daunting to most people, even those readily volunteering to head to Mars to spend the rest of their life. And while those people may not understand the desolation of living on a place like Mars, we still don’t understand how fascinating living underwater might be in comparison. Considering we know less about what’s in our oceans than we do about what’s on Mars, it’s surprising there isn’t a huge influx of volunteers willing to live underwater with the Cousteau group.
What’s unprecedented about the Cousteau event is that they’ll be living in an underwater lab for a month to give the feel of a sci-fi movie where underwater labs were sometimes found. Yes, living underwater has been thought about before in films, sometimes in tongue-in-cheek ways. Looking back on those films, though, they were probably more right on the money on where the future might take us. Also, in many of those movies, something unexpected was found that we’re bound to discover in real life if we spend enough time under all of our oceans.
“Hello Down There” (1969)
This forgotten family film is one that used to get considerable airplay on local stations decades ago, though disappeared from TV in the 21st century. It’s the only movie about living underwater that isn’t under a sci-fi umbrella and falls strictly under family comedy. Starring Tony Randall and Janet Leigh, Randall plays a scientist who builds an experimental underwater home and convinces his family to live in it for a month. You have to wonder if the younger generation of Cousteaus watched this film on TV when growing up.
Because this was 1969, you had to have a rock band in the mix. With the kids in the family being part of the band, they invite their fellow band mates to also live in the underwater home. Naturally, this leads to some musical segues that are straight out of the 1960s rock musicals of the era. Watch for a very young Richard Dreyfuss as one of the band members.
Yes, there’s even a mention of Communists when the U.S. Navy hears the band playing underwater and thinks it’s those pesky Russians.
“The Neptune Factor” (1973)
Here you have a film that might have been directly inspired by Jacques Cousteau and his attempts to create an underwater lab back in the 1960s. Cousteau started a project called ConShelf Two that was a prototype for a lab not unlike the one called Aquarius his grandson is going to be living in soon. It also seemed inspired by the U.S. Navy’s experimental SEALAB habitats. In the movies, though, things have to go wrong, and that’s exactly what happens in “The Neptune Factor.” An underwater lab containing aquanauts gets damaged in an earthquake, and a group of scientists have to send out a search party to find them before the aquanaut air supply is cut off. Because this is a sea lab that isn’t fixed to the ocean floor, it’s tipped over into a deep trench that rescue teams notice is full of monstrous fish.
You can probably guess what happens next, including giant eels thrown into the chaos. Also, you can’t expect everybody is going to survive in a situation like this.
“Captain Nemo and the Underwater City” (1969)
It seems 1969 was a banner year for underwater movies with “Hello Down There” and this continuation of the Captain Nemo character, played by Robert Ryan. Supposedly, the producer of the film was also inspired by Jacques Cousteau’s underwater lab idea, and it recreates the still outlandish idea of an underwater city. In this film, the city is called TempleMer with obvious references to Atlantis. With the city run by Captain Nemo, you know that when visitors arrive there, there’s going to be conflict.
At first, the Nautilus rescues a crew of a sunken cargo ship and takes them to the city. Nemo, however, wants the rescued crew to live in his golden city for the rest of their life. He fears that they’ll spread the word of the city and others will discover it and try to pillage his inventions. This leads to a desperate escape mission that becomes deadly.
The film was quite outdated when first released, though it’s almost impossible to find now. As with all Captain Nemo projects, it also never kills him off in the hopes he’ll return in a sequel. It hasn’t happened since, even if a Cousteau might eventually become the world’s first Captain Nemo without anybody noticing.