The Underwater Imagination: From Environment to Film Set, 1954–1956

The 1940s and 1950s were a revolutionary era in both access to and imagination of the underwater environment in the most modernized nations of the globe. This article examines new possibilities in the exhibition of the underwater environment in film thanks to new dive and filming technologies. It focuses on how the depths are portrayed as a setting in Richard Fleischer’s 20,000 Leagues under the Sea (1954), by the Disney studio, and Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Louis Malle’s The Silent World (1956). In both films, conventions for portraying terrestrial settings are adapted to the resistant conditions of the aquatic environment. Such adaptation unleashes creativity in filmmaking and results in portrayals in which audiences are at once at home in this alien area of our planet and able to assimilate and enjoy its unprecedented vistas and savage life.