Okay, close your eyes for a second and picture the first image that comes to mind when you hear the word, “Titanic.” Is it the majestic, doomed liner heading out on her maiden voyage? The plight of 1,500 souls about to die in the icy waters of the North Atlantic? The eerie, ghoulish images of the rusting wreck on the muddy, ocean floor? Leonardo DiCaprio screaming “Rose!” 50 times, with Kate Winslet shouting back “Jack!” 80 times? (Yes, someone counted.) The suffering those of us old enough to have been teenage boys in 1997/1998 had to endure during theater viewing number 5 in the hopes of making out with then-girlfriend afterwards?
How about an amazing mystery/techno/espionage thriller turned into a boring, watered-down,* by-the-numbers salvage movie? If your answer is the latter…first, you need to watch better movies. And second, welcome back to Raise the Titanic!
(*- this pun, and many more like it, 100% intended!)
Image and Text Spoiler Alert
Clive Cussler wrote a book about a fictional salvage operation that brings the wreck of RMS Titanic back to the surface. Government investigators have learned that a rare (fictional) mineral- byzanium- was secretly mined in Russia in 1912 and smuggled onto Titanic. With this mineral, American scientists can finish the Sicilian Project: a pre-Star Wars force field that can protect the U.S. from a Soviet missile attack. (It’s named after a chess move.)
It was Cussler’s fourth novel to feature his hero character, Dirk Pitt (or the ‘American James Bond,’ as Andrew calls him), who leads the operation. However, the Soviets learn of the Sicilian Project and plan to take the byzanium for themselves- all leading to a climactic showdown on the Titanic’s risen hull. With all that, what could go wrong? Uh…
Before We Continue… Titanic’s wreck wasn’t found until 1985. Before then, it was unknown if the ship was intact or broken. Plus, oceanographers weren’t sure if corroding bacteria existed in the high-pressure, freezing waters of the ocean abyss. Therefore, Cussler’s idea of a preserved, intact Titanic was still considered plausible when he wrote his book in 1975. Anyway...
The Movie: A Truly Joyless Experience
After investigating a frozen mine, a man dressed like an Eskimo runs across a Russian glacier and is shot by a Soviet solider, who is then shot by another man, revealed to be Pitt (Richard Jordan). But we’ll call him BeardedBillPaxton. Back in the States, Dr. Gene Seagram (David Selby), whose skull looks like it could burst at any time, explains the Sicilian Project to several high-raking officers (see above). Five minutes later, BeardedBillPaxton reveals that the byzanium from the Russian mine was smuggled by American miners to the Titanic in 1912. NUMA (National Underwater and Marine Agency) chief Admiral James Sandecker (Jason Robards) and others then grant BeardedBillPaxton’s request to raise the wreck.
Meanwhile, the Russians get word of this and leak the information to the press. It all leads to a Soviet spy ship sending the KGB’s BaldingBillyZane via helicopter to Titanic. He menacing-though-not-threateningly asks them to leave so the Reds can pirate the ship and have the byzanium all to themselves. The Americans politely show him a nearby nuclear sub ready to attack and start WWIII and say, “no thank you. But please don’t leave without a copy of our newsletter. Bye.” BaldingBillyZane leaves.
Okay. That Was Dull. What Did They Leave Out?
Glad you asked. Uh... cool plot stuff for $1000, Alex. Alex: Answer: this was cut. Uh, how about the opening scene in 1912 where the Titanic crewmember (John Bigalow) is held at gunpoint by the last surviving miner (Joshua Brewster)? Also, the lengthy search in Colorado to track the miners’ actions from evidence found in Siberia? The Soviet Captain’s plan to take the Titanic by force? Pitt’s search for Soviet agents in his salvage crew? The violent showdown between the Soviet sailors and Navy SEALs on the Big T during a hurricane? The CIA’s plan to leak details of the Sicilian Project to lure in and capture a leading Soviet spymaster?
Alex: Good. Onto Round 2. Okay. Cool character stuff for $2000. Alex: Answer: left on the editing room floor. Where’s the all-too-human president who only wants to get through his second term and retire to Tahiti? Where’s Seagram’s manic obsession with the project that drives him to permanent madness and destroys his marriage? (In the film, his wife, Dana, is just his reporter girlfriend. More in a second.) Where’s his partner-in-crime, Mel Donner? Where’s the slimy Soviet Captain Prevlov, whose plan to capture Titanic may lead to a decent promotion? Where’s Pitt’s right-hand man, Al Giordino?
This film could qualify for its own series of ‘Have You Seen Me?’ milk cartons.
If I could sum this flick up in one word, it would be ‘boring.’ Just long stretches of padding and establishing shots peppered here and there with things that happen, but completely lack anything resembling buildup and payoff. That’s right. Nothing happens with any consequence to the plot. The audience is left not caring and why should they? Consider:
● A submersible, the ‘Starfish,’ explodes. Everyone’s sad. Then it’s back to the briny deep as thought nothing happened.
● The Soviets leak information of the Sicilian Project to the press (Why? Secrets are power in the intelligence business!), through Seagram’s girlfriend, Dana. After a brief press conference, the revelation is never mentioned again. No public outcry. No Congressional hearings. Back to the guys on the
● At sea, Pitt and Sandecker discuss a few crewmen who may be sleeper Soviet agents. (In the book, they really are.) Following this discussion, the plot thread completely disappears. Back to men on the
● As noted, the Russian arrival is as disappointing as finding a carton scooped free of ice cream. The scene feels like a business meeting without any true attempt at a hostile takeover. BaldingBillyZane just leaves on his chopper, with BeardedBillPaxton, Sandecker, and some extras on the
● The discovery of Brewster’s corpse in the vault is ‘meh.’ We learned nothing about him earlier (like we did in the book). Why should we care? The men onscreen stare, mope, and then get back to standing on the
Okay, we get it! We get it! They’re on a boat! They’re on a boat! Take a good, hard look of them on the m*****f****** boat! Yeah, yeah!
Damn You, the 70’s!
In addition to taking the fun out of the story, the filmmakers felt the need to re-fit the screenplay with bell-bottoms. For one thing, when Seagram and Dana go fishing, he calls her a ‘fisherperson.’ (insert groan here) Is this because there was no chance to mention ‘people-hole covers?’
And that thing about weaponizing the byzanium (isn’t it already being weaponized? –defensively, I mean?); well, it can’t be the 70’s without a cynical plot of evil military or government men, can it? After all, Jaws had it. All the President’s Men had it. Mitchell had it. And, dammit, this movie’s gonna have it, too!
Even worse than that, Pitt was completely gutted as a character. In the introduction to my Kindle version of the book, Clive Cussler called Dirk Pitt a man of action- “a man of the 80’s in the era of the 70’s.” He’s got a fierce independent streak and has to be recruited by Sandecker into finding the ship. In the film, people call Pitt a ‘pirate.’ But just calling someone ‘Han Solo’ doesn’t make him Han Solo. In fact, Pitt acts more like a bureaucrat, shouting in offices, and being meek in the field. This role called for a tough guy of the era, like Burt Reynolds or Tom Selleck. Instead, we got Richard Jordan wearing “sweaters that say I’ve read the works of Alan Alda.” (Mike Nelson, MST3K, Episode 0903, “The Pumaman”). Good grief.
And that ending. THAT ENDING!!!! What unimaginable bastard could’ve come up with something like it?! In the book, the last thing we read is the successful testing of the Sicilian Project. (The byzanium was recovered from the grave.) In the film, we get the usual lefty notion that no one should have the advantage in anything. Everyone should have an equal chance of being killed if nuclear war breaks out. Bad Americans for wanting a defensive weapon. Bad! Détente sucks, There, I said it.
Just to prove I’m not a total cynic, there are three things I like about this movie. First, the scene where the Titanic breaks the surface is truly beautiful. Second, the scenes of Titanic sailing through New York Harbor are also quite nice. And finally, the film score is truly awe-inspiring. But this is a film unworthy of its score. (Much like ‘John Carpenter’s The Fog.’) Full of boredom, horrific plotting, and characters duller than contestants on post-Regis Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, this flick was a box office bomb that sank faster than the real ship. (See Jason’s Mini-Major report for the full story on what it did to ITC Entertainment.) And, God willing, its heart won’t go on.