Raise the Titanic!
All of this brings us to Raise the Titanic! Based on the pot-boiler by Clive Cussler, this movie would seem to be the perfect sequel to Titanic. Cameron spent 3 hours and 15 minutes sinking the ship, and now we get to watch a cast of 1980's character actors spend 90 minutes bringing it back up again.
First off, understand that Raise the Titanic! is a really big budget movie. The production values are lavish, the cast is all-star. Heck, they even got Alec Guiness to play a survivor of Titanic's sinking. Jason Robards plays an Admiral and the venerable M. Emmet Walsh is also featured. Anne Archer shows up and demonstrates her nearly boundless ability to deliver annoying dialogue. ("I am a good fisherperson. I just can't get the wormy on the hooky!") John Barry provides the score, but that fact has a downside, because it inspires the irrational hope that James Bond will show up. The only person among the creative staff that doesn't seem to be a movie veteran is the director, Jerry Jameson. Pretty much everything he did before and after Raise the Titanic! has been for TV. That may go a long way towards explaining why so much of the drama in this movie plays like an old TV mini-series.
Why would anyone try to raise the Titanic? We're glad you asked. It seems that some secret organization in our government has designed an anti-missle shield (Salt II, anyone?) that will protect the U.S., but they need a certain radioactive element to power it. That element is Byzanium, a made-up word that doesn't even sound real. Now it turns out that almost no Byzanium has ever been found, but then Dr. Gene Seagram (David Selby) discovers a possible source. It seems that a U.S. agent working on an arctic island that is claimed by Russia discovers that an earlier group of American miners located a motherlode of Byzanium in the early years of the 20th century. All of the Byzanium was transported to England, where (you guessed it) it was put on the Titanic in a big vault for the last leg of its trip. If our heroes can get to the Byzanium, the government can activate their defense system. "If we're lucky," quips Seagram, "we can make nuclear warfare obselete."
Where were we? Oh yes, the Titanic. We got distracted by Dirk Pitt! So our heroes have to find Titanic. Rather than just raising the vault, or punching through the hull of the ship to get at the mineral, they decide to raise the entire darn thing from the bottom of the Atlantic. But with a man like Dirk Pitt! on their team, they can do it.
Unfortunately, the Titanic isn't at its last reported location. D'oh! Now they have to find it. As they search the sea floor in one of many long, boring, murky scenes where spotlights scan the ocean bottom, they find their first clue: A trophy congratulating a doctor for his three years of service on the ship Olympic. We are then informed that the same doctor was aboard Titanic when it went down. Uh huh. This begins a long line of historical and factual errors that could ruin your enjoyment of Raise the Titanic. Olympic, one of Titanic's sister ships, was launched only 11 months before Titanic, so there is no way anybody aboard Titanic could have three years of experience on the other ship.
Our heroes, blissfully ignorant of history, continue on. Eventually, Titanic is found, ten miles from where it went down. Now wait a minute! Titanic sank in 2 miles of water, and when last seen it was heading straight down. How did it move horizontally 10 miles from where it sank? It was a hunk of iron, and not hydrodynamically shaped. Also, when Titanic is found, it's in one piece. This is a problem because several survivors reported seeing her break in two.* We'll forgive this, though, for the sake of the story -- if you don't assume that the Titanic is essentially seaworthy once you get her up off the bottom, then you don't get those cool shots of her surfacing triumphantly after seventy years.
It's too bad that the movie loses its momentum there. Once the Titanic does surface, the only thing left to do is sail it into New York to a huge crowd of onlookers (actually footage from the American Bicentennial celebration 4 years previous) and excavate the hold for the Byzanium. If they had done that in a timely manner, then this film would be getting a better review. Instead, there's an exercise in stupidity involving some Russians and a surprise "twist" ending involving the Byzanium. What this really does is extend the movie well beyond its climax, boring the audience to tears.
The problems with the ending reflect the problems with the film in general: too little of the action deals with the Titanic itself, and too much of it conecentrates on the people involved. Do we care that Seagram's girlfriend, Dana (Anne Archer) used to be involved with Dirk Pitt!? No. Do we care that it inspires jealousy in Seagram? Not really. Are we interested to learn that Byzanium can be used for other weapons, thereby creating a moral quandry for Dirk Pitt! and Seagram? Of course not! All we want is to see them raise the stinkin' ship.
What we have here is a shipwreck nearly as bad as the Titanic's. A lot of money and effort went into this film, and we're sure that those who bankrolled it thought they had a surefire hit. Unfortunately, there was a large hidden iceberg in their way, one which could have been easily avoided by hiring better writers. OK, so we're beating this metaphor to death. Perhaps there is a deeper problem here. The story of the Titanic going down is one that speaks to everybody -- that's why the current movie is a worldwide hit. Maybe the story of the Titanic coming back up just doesn't hold the same appeal.
Review date: 2/6/98
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