In 1976, the wreck of the Titanic had not yet been discovered, and it was not known that the ship was lying in two pieces on the ocean floor and in no fit state to ever be brought to the surface, even if suitable technology were available. So Clive Cussler was able to write an adventure novel based around the concept, Raise the Titanic, starring his recurring protagonist, Dirk Pitt. In 1980, the book was adapted into a film, which had a budget of $40 million….and made $7 million at the box office. Watching the film, it’s not hard to understand why.
Raise the Titanic actually does start off with some decent intrigue: with the Cold War ongoing, American scientists are planning an advanced defence system – but to fuel it, they need a rare mineral called byzanium, last known to have been found in a mine in Soviet territory. A little investigation by former Navy officer Dirk Pitt reveals that American agents already mined out the byzanium in 1912, brought it to England, and then intended to take it home on the Titanic. So the desperately needed mineral is now at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, and the only way to get it is – you guessed it – raising the Titanic.
Once the project gets underway, we are treated to a long sequence of the protagonists searching for the wreck in their submersibles – and occasional intermissions, like one of the submersibles suffering a catastrophic failure and imploding, aren’t enough to make this interesting. Even individual scenes, like when the wreck is finally found, are dragged out for as long as possible. Other elements of the film don’t help: the character of Dirk Pitt has potential, as the classic adventurous hero with a military background, but Richard Jordan plays him without bothering with too much emotion. Journalist Dana Archibald, the girlfriend of the project’s chief scientist, has absolutely no meaningful impact on the plot and is apparently only there to stop the film from being a total sausage-fest; scenes involving her are even duller than everything else. And while I do like the musical score, it’s not especially varied and eventually gets repetitive.
The story continues to drag, even with most of the work to prepare the Titanic for raising happening offscreen, until another accident with a submersible forces the team to raise the ship early – which is all well and good! Admittedly, the actual raising isn’t a bad scene, from the tense silence after the explosive charges go off and we wait for the ship to rise, to the money shot when it actually breaks the surface. (You do have to wonder how all but one of the Titanic’s smokestacks stayed in place both going down and coming up, though.) The filming onboard the raised ship – for which a laid-up Greek liner, the SS Athinai, was used – also looks good. But it’s far from enough to save the film, given the tedious journey required to get this far, and the fact that the ending of the story is less than satisfying.
I wish I could think of some witty conclusion, but all I can say is, don’t bother with this one.