Raise the Titanic

Movie Information

In Brief: It's the movie that helped drive Lew Grade — or Sir Lew Grade or Lord Grade (depending on where you are in his career) — from the film business. It's also the movie that kept writer Clive Cussler from allowing any of his novels to be filmed for the next 25 years. (He wasn't any happier with that one — Sahara either.) We may also note that it sent hack director Jerry Jameson back to TV where he belonged and killed any chance that Richard Jordan would be a major movie star. It's frankly hard to feel sorry for anyone involved in this turgid trudge — except maybe John Barry, whose score is the high point of it all. That Lord Grade had read the script and still envisioned the possibility of launching a new James Bond with this is so wrong-headed as to defy belief. It's not just that Richard Jordan has all the charisma of a deflated balloon, but the character he plays — Dirk Pitt (which sounds like a porn star) — may qualify as the world's first inaction hero. For a movie with such a screwy plot (the title is self-explanatory) — to which Soviet bad guys and a bizarre new element have been added — this is an unbelievably dull affair. That it was a spectacular flop is not surprising. That anyone believed otherwise is.
Score:

Genre: "Action" Drama
Director: Jerry Jameson (The Bat People)
Starring: Jason Robards, Richard Jordan, David Selby, Anne Archer, Alec Guinness, M. Emmet Walsh
Rated: PG

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It’s easy today to make fun of Raise the Titanic (1980) and its now quaint notion that the Titanic went down in one piece, but that was the prevalent belief at the time the film was made (and the book was written). Anyway, there’s so much more to make fun of about this misbegotten mess, why bother with that? Just look at the preposterous plot. The idea is to raise the ship from the bottom of the ocean by patching the hull, floatation devices, and what amounts to blowing up some really balloons — all of which has to be done via slow-moving, murkily photographed deep-sea diving vessels. Besides being improbable, it’s also the antithesis of exciting to watch. And why are we doing this in the first place? Well, it seems that the ship went down with a load of some mystery element called “byzanium,” which, we’re told, can put an end to the Cold War. Naturally, this means those pesky commies are interested, too, since they know what most of the good guys fail to perceive — this is the source of a super weapon. (The forces of good are none too bright.)

 

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While all this foolishness sounds like it might be entertaining, it isn’t. Why? Well, first of all, it’s so damned slow and the characters are uninteresting. But worse, apart from raising the ship, nothing much happens. Any excitement such a screwy scenario might generate never materializes. Even the showdown with those Russkies fizzles without a shot fired. Dull, dull, dull. On the plus side, Alec Guinness gets one rather charming scene as a steward who survived the sinking in 1912. Plus, yes, the effects work, the models, and the ship itself are all impressive — in a way that CGI so rarely is. But whether this makes it worth slogging through the movie…well, I certainly won’t be revisiting it.

The Hendersonville Film Society will show Raise the Titanic Sunday, March 29, at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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11 thoughts on “Raise the Titanic

  1. T.rex

    I’ve always heard bad things about this one…..Ive got to see it.

  2. Chip Kaufmann

    Just imagine what it would have been like if the original director, Stanley Kramer, had stayed on the picture

  3. Big Al

    Considering what we did not know at the time, like the fact that the Titanic broke in two when it sank and could not be raised whole, the concept and the novel were not too bad. The movie was just plain boring.

    Arthur C. Clarke included the movie “Raise the Titanic” in one of his novels about the 21st century, although all references to smoking were edited out, a prediction of how art really would mirror reality, and Clarke’s novel also had the Titanic raised in one piece, so Cussler could be forgiven this error.

    I found most of Cussler’s novels entertaining until “Shock Wave”, when he demonstrated a total ignorance of technical knowledge related to the subject of the ship Glomar Explorer, and “Sahara” where he predicted a military force deployed by the U.N. Fortunately this idea, both outrageous and offensive, was excluded from the movie, which I found to be just good enough to watch ONCE.

  4. DrSerizawa

    the world’s first inaction hero.

    Ha! You really come up with some good ones sometimes. I’ll have to remember that the next time one of these geriatric “action hero” movies gets released. Speaking of which, I haven’t seen Ahnold, Sly or Brucie lately. And it’ll be another 5 months for the next Neeson inactioner, right?

    • Ken Hanke

      Well, since the attempt to make Sean Penn the next Liam Neeson was such a critical and commercial fiasco, they may have to trot ol’ Liam out sooner.

        • Ken Hanke

          I didn’t see it — Justin reviewed it — but apparently so. It sure crashed and burned. Nothing Justin said made me even slightly interested in seeing it. Gotta admit I just don’t see Sean Penn, action star. And I have zero interest in seeing the latest film from the director of Taken.

  5. Harry Long

    >>>>Lew Grade — or Sir Lew Grade or Lord Grade (depending on where you are in his career)<<<<
    You left out Low Grade…

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