Time for more badness…
Yep, we’re going back to Titanic again, only this time she’s not sinking. The 1980 film, Raise the Titanic, which is loosely based on the highly successful Clive Cussler novel of the same name, is a tale of Cold War-era derring-do, a guy named Dirk Pitt, and firm suspension of disbelief.
The movie opens on a snowy island called Svartlov (which is probably Svalbard but with more trees), where a guy chisels his way down into an abandoned mine, and after puttering around with a flashlight and a Roetgen counter he finds the frozen body of an American private who froze to death in February of 1912. Well, he doesn’t look frozen to death so much as put on ice a la Link from Encino Man, but why quibble?
Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., we find out the guy was looking for a super-rare mineral called byzantium, which the United States now needs to power the Sicilian Project, a new forcefield they’re going to set up that will stop the threat of nuclear attack before it starts. Naturally, the Russians can’t know about it. Since the trek to Svartlov turned up nothing, the Americans have to find a new source.
Enter Dirk Pitt (Richard Jordan), a retired Naval hero who’s meant to be like James Bond only in sweaters and flannel. He not only knows where there’s a cache of byzantium, but how to get it, and to get there, Dirk first needs to take a trip to Southhampton and talk to John BIgalow (Alec Guinness) who was a surviving crewmember on the Titanic. John remembers an American always hanging around one of the cargo bays keeping an eye on some mysterious stash. He’s such a pest that on the night of the sinking John locks him in with his loot and bolts.
Dirk has this idea that instead of trying to root around inside the wreck, the wreck should be salvaged and brought to New York Harbour. Problem is, diving to the wreck is very dangerous and one submersible soon implodes when it begins to take on water. The plan doesn’t remain secret for very long, either, as the press finds out about it and runs lengthy exposes, not to mention the Russians seem to know about it in detail. The latter send out a team to steal the byzantium for themselves, but it may not be as easy as they think.
The next thing, of course, is to go after that famous ship, and disbelief must not only be suspended but the laws of physics as well. No, I’m not going to ruin anything.
Here’s the thing about Raise the Titanic: It’s not a bad movie per se, as long as one can ignore the scummy ethics of raising a ship that has long been seen as a gravesite (There are only a few passing mentions of the fifteen hundred people who died, although John Bigelow talks about the lifeboats being released half full). The writing is pretty good, if a little boring. It’s got a great cast which includes Jason Robards and Alec Guiness, and it’s paced pretty well. It looks decent. The tech is certainly ambitious. And it’s got its share of mildly nail-biting moments, most of them involving floating the prestigious wreck.
The problem is that it’s glaringly, hilariously inaccurate.
Now, a little grace is warranted because the film was made five years before Robert Ballard’s famous expedition, but when the ship pops out of the water all in one piece it’s hard not to snicker, especially when there isn’t a lick of decay on it besides a little bit of rust, some breakage and a few scuff marks, not to mention it’s seemingly unscathed by all the changes in pressure. It seems to take no time at all to get to the wreck even though it’s correctly stated that it’s two and a half miles down. The characters find an intact dead body in the cargo hold amidst completely dry wooden crates with no water damage whatsoever. The dome over the Grand Staircase is even mostly intact. The group sets up desks with all the trimmings in the first class lounge on the way back to New York, including electric desk lights (Amazing that they could dry everything out so fast). They stride around the upper decks like it’s no big deal.
All of these small liberties are nice ideas, but disbelief does have its limits.
Not surprisingly, Raise the TItanic sank like a lead weight at the box office, pulling in only seven million dollars. The critics weren’t kind, either. Roger Ebert called it an “almost a good movie.” Variety said it was “ridiculously expository.” The Winnepeg Free Press disagreed, but only slightly, saying, “There are enough plot holes and red herrings to sink a dozen armadas.”
Clive Cussler was the unhappiest of all since there had been a lot of changes made to his original story, and refused to sell the rights to any more of his works until 2005’s Sahara.
While Raise the Titanic is definitely not a great movie, the naïvete is kind of fascinating forty-three years after the film’s release and over a century after the disaster. We didn’t have a century of hindsight and decades of traveling to the wreck under our belts yet. In that way, the film is a time capsule and not entirely unworth a watch.
For more badness, please see our Day One posts here and today’s posts here. Thanks for reading, all, and I hope to see you tomorrow for another review, Oh, it is a doozie. Until then…
Raise the Titanic is available to own on multi-format Blu-ray from Amazon, and is also free to stream on Tubi and Amazon Prime.
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8 thoughts on “Are You Ready To Go Back To Titanic?”
The only good thing about this is the score. I cry laughing when it sails into the harbour perfectly intact with just one funnel missing after being raised. 🤣
I’m MUCH more interested in the story that two ships in that line had been swapped…and that the owners planned collect the insurance (as the shop has already been damaged).
It must be so disheartening to invest so much and work so hard on an epic film only to see it sink so ingloriously at the box office and the creator of the source material publicly disown it. It’s ironic that Cussler waited 25 years to give the go ahead to another adaptation, only to see Sahara bomb as well (although I suspect he laughed all the way to the bank).
This is a thoughtful and well-written review (as always). I have to admit I hadn’t heard of this film, but I may look for it in the near future. It so happens I’ve been Talked Into going to a screening of Titanic (1999), a film I’ve never seen – and I’m definitely NOT impressed by the 195-minute run time – but maybe I’ll be blown away by it and be on the hunt for all things Titanic afterwards…
I remember watching Raise the Titanic years ago and thinking so many times, “What the heck?!” The ship being intact always got me. It’s been a long time ago, but I seem to recall even the Ballard expedition they knew the Titanic was not in one piece! Anyway,I always felt kind of sorry for Clive Clusser and I really can’t blame him for not wanting to sell the rights to his books afterwards!
Excellent review, Rebecca! I remember watching this sometime before the discovery that the Titanic broke in two, but even then, the movie seemed kind of suspect. It’s too bad that despite all the talent involved with this production, the filmmakers couldn’t quite get it together.
This sounds like it could have been a good, cheesy action film if they hadn’t attempted to tie it to actual historic events. As soon as they did that, you expect a certain level of realism. Entertaining review, Rebecca, but then I expect no less from the queen of so-bad-it’s-good.
I loved reading your take on this one
My husband had a field day explaining most of the inaccuracies in this movie. Despite these it is a worthy guilty pleasure.