Raise the Titanic (1980)
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Sure, RAISE THE TITANIC captures none of the power of Cussler's novel, but I don't really care! Yeah, they got the funnel configuration shot to hell, the underwater model as it surfaces looks much like the little rubber boat I used to play with in the bath as a child, and David Selby has the animal magnetism of Osama bin Laden, but I'd like to tell you something. Perhaps because I maintained a fascination with the TITANIC ever since I was a child and dreamed of just how it must have been that night, when watching that absolutely awesome scene in RAISE THE TITANIC as the great ship broke the surface I have never in my life been so emotionally moved. Tears just ran down my face and I cried like a child. When I got home that night my wife asked me what was wrong. I couldn't talk about it and was never able to explain, and you people reading this want to believe it, I am the absolute last guy you would consider to be a wuss! How anyone could have witnessed that scene in the theater and NOT been moved I could never understand.
So many memorable things in the film. Titanic survivor, Sir Alec Guinness' touching cameo in the pub when he gives Dirk Pitt (the late Richard Jordan) the white star flag that he removed from the stern the night the great ship foundered, and which he wanted replaced if they were ever to raise it from the bottom of the Atlantic. The inarguably realistic scene when Jordan and his crew members finally discover the wreck on the bottom, played out against John Barry's ultimately moving musical score, the best he wrote for ANY film. The external shots of the ship once it has been raised (Way better I thought than Cameron's digitised TITANIC) and the internal shots of the gymnasium still dripping with water. Finally, the wonderful scenes as it is towed into New York harbor to complete its (then) 68-year journey. True, the last twenty minutes or so were all downhill, but nothing can detract from what went before.
Worst thing they ever did was to FIND the wreck! A dream died that day!
The cast is pretty good. Jason Robards is great as Sandecker and David Shelby is perfect as Seagram, fitting Cussler's description perfectly. Anne Archer is good in the role of Dana and it's a shame we don't see more of her and her lines are terrible ("Wormy on the hooky." for example). Alec Guinness does so well in the role of Bigalow that the film is worth watching just for his small role. Richard Jordan is the only bad cast member. He doesn't fit in to the character of Dirk Pitt at all and seems to be overwhelmed in his scenes.
The music is the best thing going for this movie. The great composer John Barry gives one of his best scores ever for this film, giving the film a much needed boost in atmosphere. Everything else behind the camera though, doesn't live up to expectations. The film's editing, direction, production design all give this film a B- Movie feel.
The special effects are decent at least, with some good underwater work. The models of the subs look realistic. And the model of the Titanic is excellent and is, for the most part, accurate.
The writing is the worst thing about the film. This is were thee film dies with terrible dialog (back to Anne Archer's lines). The worst thing is that the plot of the novel is all but scrapped and the screenwriters had the nerve to change the ending! The original ending had Pitt finding the ore in the Southby graveyard, bringing back to the U.S. and testing the Sicilan Project successfully. But the film instead has Pitt and Seagram (who wasn't even in the novel's ending, having went insane after the ore isn't on the titanic, though it was a good change for the film) going to Southby and deciding that since the ore could be used for a bomb, decide not to bring it up. This has got to be one of the worst adaptations of a novel in film history.
A film that should have been good and started the film series of Cussler's Pitt novels instead turned into a $40 million B- Movie that was destroyed behind the camera. It Should Have Been Good....
In addition, the special effects sequences involving the ship and its rise to the surface were excellent. They were just as good as any sequences in Titanic (1997) and not nearly as expensive, I'll bet.
If you've read this book, my advice is to shell out a couple of bucks for a rental and see how your visualization of Cussler's story matches up against that of the directors. If you haven't read the book, you may still enjoy the movie, but keep in mind the book was written in 1976, when the Cold War was in full force and the Titanic was still undiscovered and would remain that way for another 10 years.
*SPOILERS BELOW* *SPOILERS BELOW*
I'll now go on to describe the primary differences between the book and the movie, in case that's what you're concerned with (that was my primary reason for renting it):
The opening scene in the book (April 1912, where the "mystery man" demands that Bigalow take him to the cargo hold and then locks himself in the vault) is not in the movie. I presume this is due to the large expense a scene such as that would require. Instead, we are presented with a montage of sepia-toned photographs of the Titantic through its construction and on its maiden voyage. The "Thank god for Southby" quote is instead found in a letter that Hobart sent to the U.S. Army the day before Titanic sailed.
The movie begins with the scene on Novaya Zemlya (except it's called something else in the movie, despite the fact that Novaya Zemlya is a real place), with the mining engineer discovering the abandoned Byzanium mine. The plaque identifying Hobart's grave explicitly says "Jake Hobart, U.S. Army", which clears up that little mystery and eliminates the scenes where they visit the mining machinery company in Colorado and Hobart's widow in CA.
For some reason, Pitt is a Captain in the U.S. Navy, not the Air Force, but whatever. Oh, and Sandecker is in on the project from the start, for some unknown reason. Arthur Brewster is referred to as a "con man" instead of a respected mining engineer. There is no mention of the Little Angel mining disaster.
The original mining crew board a Norwegian whaler to get to Novaya Zemlya, and on the way back it's the Russians (who are portrayed as Communists back then, despite the fact that the Czar was still ruling in 1912, 5 years before Trotsky and the revolution), not the French, who chaise them and the Byzanium from Aberdeen to Southampton.
Mel Donner does not exist in the movie, and Gene and Dana are not married, but appear to be dating. Dana appears to be a newspaper reporter or something in the movie (instead of working for NUMA), and its implied that she and Pitt had a prior relationship.
The Lorlei Current expedition does not exist. First, they're looking in the wrong place for the Titanic. Then they do the experiment with the tank, and discover where they should be looking, and only THEN do they find Graham Farley's cornet. And for some reason, they claim that Farley previously served on the Olympic instead of the Oceanic.
Pitt's meeting with Bigalow is pretty much the same as in the book - Alec Guiness is of course excellent - and he presents Pitt with the pennant.
Prevlov (the Russian officer) actually comes on board the ship to meet with the NUMA folks - there is no spying, no Silver and Gold, no fight scenes, no snapped towing cable, and no harsh North Atlantic Storm. Which is unfortunate. As I mentioned, however, the shots of the Titanic coming up are quite well done.
The ending was rather dismal, but I suppose in 1980, Cussler's 1976 ending wasn't acceptable. The movie ends with the discovery of Hobart's grave in Southby, however Seagram balks at the last minute, and refuses to dig up the Byzanium. Ah well, such is life.
Problem with the flick seems to be they focused entirely on the maritime hardware and underwater models. No way could a script so devoid of character development get greenlit by Disney or Dreamworks today. For example, they'd have figured a way to make Anne Archer's character relevant (why she's even in this movie I have no idea).
Jordan's good as Pitt. I agree that somebody needs to wrestle the rights free and film three or four of Clive Cussler's books, but the action of this story was confined to the bottom of the Atlantic and was pretty boring.
I won't even touch on how terrible the underwater models are because, that's really a given. The scene where the Titanic is towed back into New York Harbor wasn't bad though.
Interesting example of how much filmmaking has changed in 20 years. You can just imagine the younger cast, sweeping camera movements and digital fx added if this were shot today. This one feels like something translated from book to screen in the 1960s, actually, like Alistair Maclean "Where Eagles Dare". Very epic, very corny, little or no character development.
Raise the Titanic(!)is an adaptation of the novel by Clive Cussler. In its transition to the big screen however, most of the intricate cold war plotting didn't make it to the lifeboats. In its stead you have the basic story and of course the bank breaking poster promise of the doomed liner rising from her watery grave. It might have worked too had the source material been handled a little better. The screenplay is pretty talky and never really succeeds in building the necessary tension but what really sinks (sorry) the whole enterprise is direction from Jerry Jameson so moribund and lifeless, you'd think he was helming a movie for cable television. Its a mark of this that although it doesn't take very long to find the ship itself on screen you could be forgiven for thinking that you began watching the movie in 1912. Also RTT! has, for the most part a cut price look that undermines the epic scale of the story and its subject matter. When the ship does eventually see the light of day its via some model work and camera over-cranking that fails in producing that all important wow factor. To be fair though there are some very good shots of the ship entering New York harbour that do pack a punch, aided enormously by one of John Barry's best ever scores - a wonderful bombastic orchestral suite that is as good as hes ever produced. Were this a better film, and had anyone gone to see it Barry may have been in line for an Oscar (which he got when he plagiarised parts of the score for Out of Africa). In fact, its fair to say that Barry is the only person behind the camera who does the story any justice.
Richard Jordan gives a good performance as Cussler's hero Dirk Pitt and there's a nice Cornish Cameo for Alec Guinness but everyone else is really just waiting to die here. The twist is a good one but is handled poorly and you're left wondering what a director like John McTernian who did such good work with Clancy's Hunt for Red October may have made of the same material. Sadly the discovery of the real ship in two pieces has scuppered any remake possibilities so this is it. Raise the Bismarck anyone?