The most recent diving-related offerings on Netflix aren’t especially cheery, we have to admit – in fact some are downright gloom-laden – but if you need a break from the Christmas festivities, there should be plenty here to keep most divers happy, certainly among the longer-established movies, documentaries and fiction series. STEVE WEINMAN takes a dip…
Thai Cave Rescue (2022, 6 x 60min episodes)
The real-life plot has proved irresistible to film-makers, though many of you might feel you’ve now had more than enough of the 2018 Tham Luang cave rescue of the young Thai footballers, what with the documentaries, the books and Ron Howard’s definitive Hollywood take.
I went into this six-part Thai-led dramatisation of the mission for Netflix in much that mood, but was won over by the sensitive treatment of the theme. It delves deeper to emphasise the plight of the 12 boys, their coach and the families, and to examine the work put in not only by overseas cave-divers but by the local governor, emergency services and the army of volunteers, in particular Navy SEAL Saman Kunan.
And when it does get to the final push to dive the boys out, it’s Australian cave-diving anaesthetist Richard Harris – who had so much to lose in the undertaking – who is given the limelight.
Thai Cave Rescue, directed by Kevin Tancharoen and Nattawut Poonpiriya, is in Thai and English (and better watched with subtitles than overdubs). IAtmospheric (that endless rain) and often moving, it is also long – recommended.
TRAILER of Thai Cave Rescue
No Limit (2022, 1hr 58min)
One for the freedivers, this French movie was inspired by the life of Audrey Mestre. I well remember the vitriolic response to her shocking death on a 2002 dive, directed mainly towards her husband, Cuban freediving star Pipin Ferreras. Conspiracy theories abounded, fanned by the intriguing book The Last Attempt by former friend Carlos Serra in 2007, and the rumours never really went away.
UPDATE: Freediver sues Netflix over No Limit movie
Netflix, while issuing the usual denials that No Limit bears any connection with real people alive or dead, describes this production as a “visually stunning romantic drama” in which “a prodigiously talented freediver strikes up a destructive romance with her trainer”, which seems to cover all the bases.
Camille Rowe plays Roxana with Sofiane Zermani as Pascal, and the action starts in 2016 as the latter goes for a 172m No Limit (up and down the line on a sled) record at Porquerolles in the Med. This happens in an alternative universe in which Herbert Nitsch had not smashed the 200m barrier back in 2007 and 250m five years later.
As control freak Pascal’s repeated black-outs curb his further progress, he turns to pushing his lover Roxana to dive ever-deeper in his stead, at the same time finding it difficult to control his jealousy. Viewers will have his measure within seconds of his appearance, and might well be as baffled by his Svengali-like hold over Roxana as I was, despite the steamy bedroom scenes.
The film develops over its two hours towards what seems to be an inevitable conclusion, and my attention did wander at times, but it’s well shot and the on and underwater sequences are good to watch.
Link to watch Netflix movie NO LIMIT
TRAILER NO LIMIT
Seahorse Man (2015, 52min)
This documentary narrated by the late John Hurt came out seven years ago but has only recently surfaced on Netflix. It follows marine biologist Kealan Doyle as he investigates the traditional-medicine trade in seahorses in pre-pandemic China, and we share his shock as, visit by visit, he comes to realise the enormous scale of the problem.
More than 150 million seahorses were thought to be fished for this dubious trade annually, with the diver favourites caught, dried and ground up to provide everything from aphrodisiacs to insomnia cures. In China dried seahorse is sold as routinely as paracetamol in the West, albeit on no scientific grounds, and as a result the little fish are becoming ever harder to find.
As Doyle visits a typical market in a typical Chinese town he realises that its sales alone probably account for some 20 million seahorses a year. But what is inspiring is that he is no misty-eyed seahorse-hugger but a hard-headed pragmatist – he knows that the only way to save the fish from extinction is to put aside the lecturing, gather information and engage with Chinese businesses to provide a viable alternative to snatching seahorses from the wild. It’s a thought-provoking film.
Also on Netflix (with apologies for some of its synopses):
47 Metres Down (2017, 1hr 29min) “With little oxygen left in their scuba tanks [sorry!], two sisters are trapped in a shark cage at the bottom of the ocean while great whites circle nearby.” If you haven’t already, you have to see this to believe it. Or don’t.
Chasing Coral (2019, 1hr 29min) “Divers, scientists and photographers around the world mount an epic underwater campaign to document the disappearance of coral reefs.” Worthy and recommended documentary, Divernet review.
Coral Reef (2013, 50min) “This nature documentary takes a mesmerising journey into the incredibly diverse marine life supported by coral reefs in the Indo-Pacific.” If you’re not actually out diving, at least you can get some vicarious kicks with travel docs like this.
Dive Club (2021, 12 x 27min episodes) “In the aftermath of a treacherous storm, Maddie, Stevie, Anna and a new friend kick-start their search for Lauren and her beloved boat Indy.” Teenage girl action on an Australian island, with some diving but also quite a lot of singing and dancing.
Great Barrier Reef (2018, 53min) “Experience the magnificent spectacle of the world’s most diverse marine habitat, and the effort to save it, in this eye-opening documentary.” German doc featuring scuba diver and reef champion John Rumney, who died two years later.
Hold Your Breath: The Ice Dive (2022, 40m) “Follow freediver Joanna Nordblad in this documentary as she attempts to break the world record for distance travelled under ice with one breath.” A very good, chilly watch.
Last Breath (2019, 1hr 25min) “A commercial diver becomes trapped on the ocean floor with dwindling oxygen and little hope of a timely rescue, so he tries to save himself.” True story, real people, great film – Divernet review and interview with directors Alex Parkinson and Richard da Costa. A dramatisation with Woody Harrelson is on the way.
Magical Reef: The Islands of The Four Kings (2020, 52min) “Dive into an underwater paradise between the islands of Indonesia, where the vibrant coral reef houses species of sea life found nowhere else on Earth.” Some of the underwater colours aren’t so hot in this one, though.
Mission Blue (2014, 1hr 34min) “This documentary follows oceanographer Sylvia Earle’s campaign to save the Earth’s oceans from threats such as overfishing and toxic waste.” Earle’s organisation has achieved a great deal in setting up its “Hope Spots” since this was made.
My Octopus Teacher (2020, 1hr 25min) “A film-maker forges an unusual friendship with an octopus living in a South African kelp forest, learning as the animal shares the mysteries of her world.” Enduring wonderment – if you haven’t got round to seeing it yet, now is the time.
Puff: Wonders Of the Reef (2021, 1hr 2min) “A baby pufferfish travels through a wondrous microworld full of fantastical creatures as he searches for a home on the Great Barrier Reef.” Appealing underwater visuals that could hold children’s attention too.
Red Sea (2017, 45min) “This documentary dives in to the wonders of the Red Sea, revealing its vital coral reefs, diverse marine life and captivating underwater landscapes.” More nice visuals.
The Red Sea Diving Resort (2019, 2hr 10min) “Undercover agents open up a fake hotel to real tourists as a cover to help smuggle thousands of Ethiopian refugees to safety.” Inspired by true events, there’s not that much diving despite the title, but it’s a ripping yarn.
Seaspiracy (2021, 1hr 30min) “Passionate about ocean life, a film-maker sets out to document the harm that humans do to marine species – and uncovers alarming global corruption.” Self-taught cinematographer Ali Tabrizi got quite a lot of pushback for his well-intentioned documentary, but it’s well worth watching.
Sharks (2013, 51min) “This documentary presents these underwater apex predators not as monsters that kill for sport, but as intelligent and cautious creatures with a bad rap.” Not all divers were on the same page as late shark expert Erich Ritter but most will share the sentiments above.
Sharks: Monster Of The Media (2019, 51min) “Feared as killers, sharks are the ocean’s most misunderstood creatures. This documentary tells their true story – and examines the dangers they face.” Netflix can’t get enough of Erich Ritter!
The Trapped 13: How We Survived The Thai Cave (2022, 1hr 43min) “In this compelling documentary, members of the Thai soccer youth team tell their stories of getting trapped in the Tham Luang cave in 2018 – and surviving.” So we end where we began with this new documentary, but perhaps even further into the cave than everyone would want to follow! Netflix
13 Lives. The best of the Thai Cave rescue films. Far more factual with no mention of “oxygen bottles” for one thing and no nauseating narrator. Even has Rick Stanton’s and John Volanthen’s kit accurately portrayed.
Rick Stanton’s book, Aquanauts, is a great read (or on Audible).