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New Zealander goes deep into Bermuda film

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The tank on Boaz Island, made for the movie The Deep (Photograph supplied)

Back in 1976, American film-makers dug a hole for one of the largest underwater sets in history, on the top of a hill on Boaz Island in Sandys.

The urethane-lined tank — 120ft wide and 30ft deep — was created for hit movie The Deep (1977), starring Jacqueline Bisset and Nick Nolte.

Movie blogger David O’Roarke in Queenstown, New Zealand (Photograph supplied)

“The hole was later filled in,” said New Zealand film buff David O’Roarke. “Looking at satellite views over time, you can still see where the hole was, because the vegetation growth is very different, and a very specific shape on top of the hill. It is quite interesting to look at.”

Mr O’Roarke, an Auckland resident, has never visited Bermuda, but would like to.

If he ever does, the Boaz Island site will be top on his list of things for him to see.

He maintains www.thedeepfilminglocations.com, a blog exploring locations used to make the movie. It acts as a kind of travel guide for fans.

The Deep was based on Peter Benchley’s 1976 novel, by the same name. Some critics said it was better than his earlier book Jaws. The plot revolves around a young couple who discover treasure, and an illicit shipment of drugs, while scuba diving around a shipwreck near the island.

Marley Beach in Warwick, the site of the fictitious Orange Grove Hotel in The Deep (Photograph supplied)

“Over 20 locations in Bermuda were used for The Deep,” Mr O’Rourke said. “Marley Beach in Warwick was one.”

This was the location of the fictitious Orange Grove Hotel where the couple stayed in the story.

“It is still used for accommodation, as far as I can see,” Mr O’Roarke said.

The Queen Elizabeth Gallery at the Bermuda National Museum in Dockyard represented the Hamilton Library in The Deep.

“That was a real rabbit hole for a researcher, because that was the site where Bermudian treasure seeker Teddy Tucker discovered the Tucker Cross had been stolen,” Mr O’Rourke said. “That was before Queen Elizabeth’s visit in 1975.”

Actress Jacqueline Bisset in The Deep (Photograph supplied)

The author of The Deep was great friends with Mr Tucker, who makes a cameo in the film. Mr Benchley fashioned his crusty sea dog character Romer Treece, after Mr Tucker.

Mr O’Rourke is asking Bermudians to help solve a mystery.

“In one of the scenes there are little paintings on the wall by an American artist called Cecile Ryden Johnson,” Mr O’Rourke said.

Ms Johnson was an award-winning watercolourist, who was once commissioned by the US Navy to paint the activities of women in the Women Marines and Navy Nurse Corps.

Mr O’Rourke said: “She did many commissions in Bermuda, including murals for the Regatta Restaurant, at the old Civil Air Terminal.”

The Civil Air Terminal became the LF Wade International Airport in 2007, and reopened in a new location in 2020.

The blogger wants to know what happened to the murals.

“One of the murals depicts the Newport Bermuda yacht race coming past St David’s Lighthouse,” he said. “The lighthouse is a plot point in the film, so I wanted to find a picture of the mural.”

Ms Johnson died in Washington in 2010, and her family do not know the location of her Bermuda murals.

“When I contacted Bermuda Aviation Services, they did not know what I was talking about,” Mr O’Rourke said.

He first saw The Deep on the big screen, when he was 10.

“My parents loved to go to the movies,” he said. “Sometimes we would meet my father in the city when he finished work, and go and see a film together.”

Watching The Deep for the first time, he was blown away by the saturated colour of the film, and the lush underwater scenery.

While some below sea scenes were filmed in the tank, others were actually done in the ocean, with real fish and corals.

“From what I understand, they made quite a lot of technological achievements to be able to film underwater,” Mr O’Roarke said.

Directed by Peter Yates, the movie was nominated for a Bafta, a Golden Globe and an Academy Award.

It was 25 years before Mr O’Rourke saw the film for a second time, this time on DVD.

“It was quite a different experience to see it on the small screen,” he said. “It is really a big-screen film. When you are ten and you see a film, it is all about the action, but as an adult, you can be a bit more intrigued by different aspects of it.”

He found it pleasant to watch a film made before Google and iPhones.

“The characters all had to work towards getting the plot resolved,” he said.

The blog about The Deep is not his first.

“Before Covid-19, I worked as a flight attendant for 20 years,” he said.

Visiting the same locations over and over, the usual tourist attractions quickly grew stale.

San Francisco, California, was a frequent stop for him.

One weekend, back in New Zealand, he found Dirty Harry at the DVD store.

“It was dusty, and on the bottom shelf,” he said. “I could remember seeing that as a teenager. When I looked at the back of it, there were small photos from the film.”

Looking closer, he realised that the opening scene of Dirty Harry took place in San Francisco.

“That was a great scene in a swimming pool,” he said. “It occurred to me that it might have been filmed in a real location, rather than in a studio.”

From then on, every time he landed in San Francisco he visited some location from Dirty Harry and blogged about it.

He wanted to create a similar blog for The Deep.

“It is very visual, so it would be easy for people to engage with,” he said.

However, when he first thought of it, Bermuda did not have Google Street View coverage, which allows people to view public streets and locations on the internet. He could not corroborate any of the information he found.

“I do not publish anything unless I can verify it as factual,” he said.

It was only when Google Street Maps partnered with the Department of Tourism and the Parks Department in 2015, that things started to progress.

“As soon as they did that, I could finally see Bermuda from the street, so to speak,” Mr O’Rourke said. “And I was able to corroborate a lot of the research I was doing.”

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Published May 08, 2024 at 8:00 am (Updated May 09, 2024 at 8:18 am)

New Zealander goes deep into Bermuda film

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