The great video explorer Jacques Cousteau set sail into the world of television and discovered new ways to raise public consciousness of the natural world. The coming year marks the 25th anniversary of Cousteau’s debut on American TV, and to celebrate the occasion, Turner Home Entertainment is releasing a new series of six cassettes, The Cousteau Society Collector’s Edition.
These tapes of TV productions that aired on PBS between 1982 and 1990 capture Cousteau’s gift for taking important ecological issues and making them seem both pressing and, better yet, fascinating. Along with gorgeous photography, the tapes provide passionate but always charmingly deadpan commentary on environmental issues from Cousteau and his son Jean-Michel, the programs’ narrator and co-executive producer. The cornerstone of the collection is Pioneer of the Sea: The First 75 Years, billed as ”an exploration into the life of the explorer himself,” originally produced to celebrate Cousteau’s 75th birthday in 1985. We learn, for instance, that Cousteau used diving as a means of therapy following a severe auto accident as a young man.
While Pioneer of the Sea thoroughly documents Cousteau’s past, the five other tapes in this series flesh out the many roles he continues to play.
Administrator and concerned citizen: On ”Rigging for the Amazon,” the first of two segments in a tape entitled Amazon, Cousteau manages a far-flung enterprise in preparing for a year-long voyage through the Amazon Basin. In the second part, ”Snowstorm in the Jungle,” Cousteau investigates the Peruvian cocaine trade.
Undersea archaeologist and anthropologist: In Papua New Guinea: The Center of Fire, Cousteau films a sunken World War II bomber on the ocean’s floor and looks into the effects of mining operations on local tribal culture.
Visionary idealist: In Lilliput in Antarctica, Cousteau leads a group of children on a visit to ”the last continent touched by humans and the first that humans can set aside.”
Inquisitive adventurer and social activist: In Tahiti: Fire Waters, a provocative trouble-in-paradise documentary, Cousteau explores an undersea volcano and debates atomic-weapons testing policies with French military officials.
Father-teacher: In Alaska: Outrage at Valdez, Cousteau’s generative influence surfaces as his son Jean-Michel gives a blistering report on the despoilment of Prince William Sound as a result of the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster.
Clearly, Cousteau has constructed an extraordinary career by attending to his diverse personal concerns. These tapes allow us to share the adventure of that well-spent life. A