Raise The Titanic Review
Deep in the middle of the Cold War, a secret government project plans making a seismic shift in the race for superior weaponry. Inside the Pentagon, this group has drawn up a design for a ballistic defence system that can defend the shores of the United States from incoming missiles by means of sound waves alone but the only material that can power such a system is byzanium, a rare mineral. However, the only known quantity of byzanium that exists is in the USSR, in a small mine. Sending a top geologist there, the Pentagon find that the Byzanium had already been mined and was done so sometime during the early 1910s. Tracking those thought to have mined it, the Pentagon discover that it passed hands multiple times, eventually reaching those of a Joshua Brewster, whose last known whereabouts was as a passenger on a boat leaving Southampton on 10 April 1912, the RMS Titanic.
Realising the value in taking hold of the byzanium on board the Titanic, Admiral James Sandecker (Jason Robards) leads an expedition to recover it. With the help of Gene Seagrave (David Selby), they approach adventurer and member of NUMA (National Underwater and Marine Agency) Dirk Pitt (Richard Jordan) and give him an almost impossible task. And that is to raise the titanic!
"It would have been cheaper to lower the Atlantic!" It's what Lord Lew Grade had to say about the film that had been financed by his ITC film company and that would, years later, ring in the ears of James Cameron as he got ever closer to finishing his platinum-, diamond- and maybe even byzanium-budgeted romance. And it's Cameron who this viewer thought of when watching Raise The Titanic, not just for their sharing of the sunken White Star Liner but for the rather hopeful way in which Grade's film ends with the Titanic sailing majestically into New York in completion of what must be the longest ocean-going voyage on record. If Cameron's film taught us anything, it's that the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker have more of a chance of reaching New York than does the Titanic. As do the owl and the pussycat.
Such realism, though, has no place in Raise The Titanic, a film that is to shipping what Smokey And The Bandit is to driving with due care and attention. And like the Bandit, Raise The Titanic has smuggling on its mind, that of the mysterious radioactive element byzanium. Somewhat of a conspiratorial brother to red mercury, byzanium is either something with which to create an enormously powerful weapon or the means to defend oneself against being attacked by one. Either way, it doesn't matter a great deal other than to say that the filmmakers demanded that both the Russians and Americans be on hand to witness the raising of the Titanic and that byzanium was author Clive Cussler's means to do just that, no matter how ludicrously overblown an idea it was. This isn't, if it wasn't clear by now, a film where the how and why of such things matter a great deal.
Like Sahara, which starred Matthew McConaughey, Raise The Titanic is a boy's own adventure tale, featuring a hero who would have been at home in either World War - Dirk Pitt...He Smashes The Messerschmitt! - as the Cold War. Clive Cussler's reputation suggests that he takes Dirk Pitt a good deal more seriously than do either film fans or production companies but this is a sometimes entertaining film that's a little bit darker in tone that the comic-book Sahara and has as much of an eye on Moore-era James Bond as it does more dramatic fare. The few moments of tension in the film, such as a submersible sinking to the bottom of the ocean or the standoff between the Russian and American are lifted by knowing that the Titanic is in the background. In the case of the latter, it actually occurs in the ballroom of the ship with an American submarine surfacing not far from where a Russian battleship is readying its guns. And that's largely the pleasure in this film, not the sometimes dreary Cold War plotting but the fact that with compressed air, a welding kit and a lot of dynamite, Dirk Pitt really is going to raise the Titanic. In his review of the film, Roger Ebert says of the criticism of some of the special effects, "If you're not prepared to go halfway with a movie named Raise The Titanic you are possibly in the wrong movie to begin with." He's right but not only in the matter of the visual effects on the film, more that it's clearly a very daft film to begin with and is often too adoring of the very dry subplots regarding the Russians, espionage and byzanium. But what Raise The Titanic does well is to offer glimpses of the romance of great ships, big engineering, some stunning underwater footage and the lovely sight of the Titanic sailing into New York. It's a nonsense but what romantic nonsense it is, just the very thing for those whose inner child still dreams of things like the Blue Flame, Donald Campbell's Bluebird, the Saturn V rocket and, yes, the Titanic.
Unfortunately, though, it's hard to talk about Raise The Titanic without mentioning its shocking performance at the box office, with which ITC Entertainment lost a reputed $30m and would, in its aftermath, steer itself away from movie production. Like Heaven's Gate, there is something of a reputation around this film, that of its rottenness humming to high heaven. But like so many of these box-office disasters, there's still much to enjoy in Raise The Titanic. No, not the interfering Russians, the love interest in Anne Archer and not the flim-flam over the byzanium but, as the title of the film suggests, it's the daring attempt to lift the Titanic off the bottom of the floor of the Atlantic. Utter nonsense but when that water starts to froth, the John Barry score sweeps in and the bow of the ship breaks the surface, it's a marvellous moment. And one that, in its living up to its title, many films would do well to take note of.
It's hard to think of very many non-anamorphic releases recently - the Region 1 release of season one of House is the only one that comes to mind in the last couple of years - but Network have managed to stain this otherwise enthusiastic Raise The Titanic review by issuing the film in 2.35:1 non-anamorphic. What makes this a particular shame is that the print they've sourced and restored is actually not a bad one. There are occasional moments when white spots appear on the picture but the kind of thing that might be expected, such as more obvious print damage, are almost entirely absent. Being non-anamorphic, the picture, when zoomed into on a big television screen, isn't at all sharp but colour presentation is good. On the other hand, other than this being in the right aspect ratio, there isn't a lot to recommend it over just watching a showing of it on television. Similarly, the DD2.0 isn't an impressive one but does a reasonable job of carrying the dialogue and audio effects. It gets better once all the bits and pieces of espionage are hurried out of the story and Raise The Titanic gets on with getting the submersibles into and the Titanic out of the water but it's still only a fairly ordinary listen. Finally, there are no subtitles.
Network haven't done very much for this release of Raise The Titanic other than including the Trailer (3m00s and, unlike the main feature, is anamorphic) and some Photo Galleries (6m03s, 4m35s, 2m14s and 2m53s). With three of them being concerned with behind-the-scenes and promotional shots, the last one is a short but interesting little look at how one of the models has fared over the year. Granted, Raise The Titanic wasn't much of a success but it's surprising to see that there isn't some rich-but-eccentric person who isn't prepared to lavish a little love and money on the boat. This extra charts a sorry tale of the model lying rusting in Malta. With one of the funnels now lying on the deck, there is as much hope for this model as there is for the real Titanic, being something of a shame that, when all manner of movie-related memorabilia has a market, this model is currently in a bit of a shambles. Finally, there is a Raise The Titanic Press Pack in PDF format.
There are three kinds of films that I will watch almost regardless of how good or bad they are, being those set in snow, trains and ships. Having something more than a passing interest in the career of Steven Seagal, I'm hoping that Under Siege 3 can live up to this particular celluloid fetish by being set in an Antarctic research station, thereby leaving me a trilogy to get excited about. So, it's to sign off from this review by saying that Raise The Titanic can be dull, it can be utter nonsense and it can, for a very expensive film, look very cheap but the moment they take to the sea, it becomes a very entertaining thing, more so when they actually get the old White Star Liner off the ocean floor and ready to complete its journey. If it wasn't, thanks to Robert Ballard's discovery of the wreck, such an unlikely sight, it might even bring a tear to your eyes.