Raise the Titanic!

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Our rating: two lava lamps.

Information about this film in the Internet Movie Database.

Up from the depths, 30 stories tall,
it's Godzilla!
Oh no, wait... it's the Titanic.
Obviously, the reason we went back and dug up this moldy oldie was because of the current success of James Cameron's epic Titanic. Between the two of us that make up Stomp Tokyo we've seen Titanic five times, and we've seen Titanic the Exhibit which is showing in St. Pete, FL right now. We've read the books, and we've visited the web sites. Heck, we've done everything but gone down to the wreck to see it ourselves.

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."

Jason Robards (right) wonders why his
character doesn't have a cool name
like Dirk Pitt! (Richard Jordan)
So who can possibly raise the Titanic, thereby ensuring world peace? There is only one man up to this daunting task, and that man (and what a man!) is international man of action Dirk Pitt! Yes, Dirk Pitt! That's his name. Dirk Pitt! Doesn't the name Dirk Pitt! just scream to have an exclamation point after it? We think it does. Dirk Pitt!

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.

The original White Star Lines pennant
is raised over the resurfaced Titanic.
And surface she does: Dirk Pitt! (played by Richard Jordan) forms a plan to patch up the holes in the liner's hull, flush the water out of the lower decks with a buoyant foam, and float her to the top with some sort of compressed gas. If we give this movie credit for nothing else, we will say this: the scenes in which the ship actually surfaces are quite impressive. Even without today's fancy computer technology, the filmmakers have created not only a convincing model of the ship from afar, but also a darn good replica of the raised Titanic's decks for the actors to walk around on afterwards. It's not completely seamless, of course, but certainly enough to convey the emotion involved as Titanic floats on the ocean once more.

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.

Rent or Buy from Reel.

Review date: 2/6/98

This review is © copyright 1997 Chris Holland & Scott Hamilton. Blah blah blah. Please don't claim that it's yours blah blah, but feel free to e-mail it to friends, or better yet, send them the URL. To reproduce this review in another form, please contact us at guys@stomptokyo.com. Blah blah blah blah.























*In all fairness, the reports that Titanic had broken in two were downplayed by many historians who didn't believe that such a colossal ship could have done such a thing. It wasn't until the wreck was discovered in September 1985 that the theory was confirmed. Now back to your regularly scheduled review, already in progress.