Cousteau's amazing journey to the Amazon
A new Odd Couple has emerged from the Amazon jungles. The combination of Capt. Jacques-Ives Cousteau (he does the exploration) and SuperStation magnate Ted Turner (he does the funding) has resulted in one of the most magnificent Cousteau series ever: ''Cousteau/Amazon,'' a six-hour exploration and investigation of the world's largest river system.Skip to next paragraph
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It took about $6.5 million and 18 months of perseverence through a turbid rain forest, but the dauntless Cousteau Society group has come through for ''Intrepid Ted'' with what may prove to be one of the last journeys into a world rapidly surrendering its primitiveness to the enticements of civilization. River of the Future (WTBS, Tuesday, June 12, 8:05-10:05 p.m.; repeated Sunday, June 17 , and Sunday, June 24, at 5:05 and 8:05 p.m. Eastern daylight time) is the final part of a six-hour special, ''Cousteau/Amazon.''
With Parts 1 and 2, already aired, the series of specials is a kind of ''Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom'' for intelligent adults - six hours of stimulating, tingling adventure in one of the world's most challenging areas. The thrill of discovery is never-ending.
Viewers without cable access to SuperStation WTBS will do well to check regular local listings during the month of June because 113 stations (44 on network, the rest independents) have contracted to air the series. Most of them have the right to repeat the series, so some urging on the part of local viewers may persuade local stations to make missed segments available once again. Believe me, it's worth the effort.
Whether or not you've managed to view the first two segments, the third should not be missed; it sums up what the expedition has learned during its 1, 000-mile Amazonian adventure.
Written - in fact, just a bit overwritten - by Mose Richards (who is also the co-producer), ''River of the Future'' takes an expert peek at various blueprints for Amazonia. It investigates past Utopian schemes like Fordlandia (Henry Ford's plan for vast rubber plantations) and Jari Plantation (the Daniel Ludwig attempt to cultivate fast-growing forests for the paper wood-pulp market). There's a search for a hidden jungle lake, a visit to the abandoned opera house at Manaus, Brazil, where Enrico Caruso and Jennie Lind once sang, a ride on ''the railroad of the dead'' - a railroad through the jungle between Bolivia and Brazil that now serves only as a tourist attraction, but for which 10,000 workers perished during its construction.
The special also berates the poachers who prey on the disappearing crocodiles , parrots, and giant otters and takes to task the cocaine traffickers who smuggle the dope out of the jungles north to the United States. (WTBS and Cousteau are planning an additional one-hour special to air in the fall, which will concentrate on the illegal Amazon cocaine trade.)
On the positive side, ''River of the Future'' investigates many signs of Amazonia's future use - the iron mining which may one day constitute a ''Pittsburgh in the jungle,'' the enormous potential for growing rice along the banks of the river, and the attempts to protect the forests from land-clearing homesteaders by government planning.
''Cousteau/Amazon'' is a sumptuous and spectacular attempt to define the Amazon, its past, present, and future. By doing so, Cousteau believes he is calling attention to the enormous potential of one of the world's last primitive areas. With trembling ambivalence, Amazonia seems to await rediscovery, evaluation, and development.
This irony, which Cousteau brings out so well, is that the very same civilization that exploits Amazonia may be its major hope for salvation.
After 18 months of exploration by boat, canoe, raft, amphibious truck, and helicopter, the expedition and its equipment converge on Belem at the confluence of the Amazon and the South Atlantic. I detect a hint of relief and almost contentment in the voice of Jacques-Yves Cousteau as he sails north to the familiar troubled waters of the civilized world with these words: ''Like the Amazon itself, we come home to the sea.''