Have you seen…Raise The Titanic! (1980)


Tiger Media Network

Yep. That’s a real movie.

Since the night the Titanic sank, there had been numerous far-fetched plans to raise the wreck. Some of those plans included filling the wreck with ping pong balls, and somehow encasing it within a giant iceberg (kind of poetic) and having it rise to the surface. Some of these plans were rejected, and some nearly had full funding. But at every turn, all of these plans never went to fruition. A big reason as to why, is that for years there was no way to reach the wreckage. Not until 1985 did the Titanic remain undiscovered and untouched on the sea floor.

Of course, the idea of raising the wreck today seems implausible. In its final moments, the Titanic broke in half. It’s in two sections and has deteriorated gradually over the last 112 years. But before the wreck was discovered, people thought that it was perfectly intact (long story), so the idea seemed somewhat plausible, especially to writer Clive Cussler, who in 1976 published his novel “Raise the Titanic!” as a part of his Dirk Pitt book series. It was a best seller and attracted the attention of producer Lew Grade.

The idea was that if this film were a hit, then it would serve as the basis for a film series adapting the other Dirk Pitt adventure books. Hypothetically, it would’ve been the American equivalent of James Bond. To make a long story short, the finished project was released in August of 1980 and was a complete commercial failure. With a budget of $35 million, it made only $7 million. Grade would later reflect that “it would have been cheaper to lower the Atlantic.” Clive Cussler vowed never to allow any of his other books to be adapted for film, although a film adaptation of another one of his books was made – 2005’s “Sahara,” which also was a commercial failure.

I remember reading about this film as a kid. I thought it sounded like a cool idea for a story. For years, the only thing I ever saw of this film was the raising scene. I never bothered to actually check the whole thing out. I always figured I’d be disappointed, but now, for Titanic-a-thon, I have to. Plus, I get paid for it, so it can’t possibly be a full disappointment, right? Is the rest of the film worth it? Probably not.

The plot is as follows…

It’s the Cold War, and United States agents have discovered a long-buried secret, that in 1912, an element was stolen by a group of people from the Russians and was lost when the Titanic sank. This element, Byzantium, could give the United States of America the edge over the Soviet Union. They assign Dirk Pitt and his team to recover it from the ship. Their solution: Raise the Titanic. Seems sound.

I mentioned in the review of the 1953 “Titanic” film that every film made about the disaster reflects the time period in which it was made. This film very much reflects the Cold War. It’s pretty much the driving force. “We have to beat the Soviets. How? We show nature who’s boss and raise the Titanic.” Most of the film (that I remember) is focused primarily on either talking about the Cold War or how to raise the ship. It’s not engaging or interesting. It’s talk talk talk. There’s a little bit of action here and there, but not much. You’re basically watching C-SPAN with a little bit of fractured history. This makes the film a mostly boring slog to get through.

Speaking of history, this film is inaccurate. Both scientifically and historically. The scientific inaccuracies are obvious, but as for the historical inaccuracies… Well, what didn’t they get wrong? Almost nothing that they claim is historical beyond the basic info that everyone knows is right. The best example of this happens when they are searching for the wreck. They discover a cornet, with an inscription that reads, “Presented to Graham Farley by the grateful management of the White Star Line.” They saw that Graham Farley was the Titanic’s coronet player. The thing is, Graham Farley did not exist in real life, and on top of that, there was no coronet player in the ship’s band. The funny thing is, is that the characters in the movie say something along the lines of “You can fact-check this and find out that Farley was on the Titanic.”

Most of the acting is pretty one-note. I can’t really say much about any of the characters beyond the fact that they manage to raise the ship. I was kind of brain-dead from watching scene after scene of people talking. I guess they did their best, but the script isn’t exactly a fun adventure like you think it would be given the title. They play it straight, read their lines, and go on. That’s pretty much it. Well, except for one actor.

There are positives in this movie, and among them is Alec Guinness. Yep, he’s in this. After the success of “Star Wars,” Guinness realized he now had the opportunity to be in whatever he wanted because he was rich either way. So, he decided to star in this as one of the last remaining crew members of the Titanic. While his role is completely fictional and he’s only in a little bit of the movie, he plays it well. He’s honestly the best actor in the entire movie, but whether that’s because of the awesomeness of Alec Guinness or the fact that they gave him something to work with, I don’t know.

The raising scene is also very well done. It’s all practical effects. Just a giant model rising from the water with slow-mo, but it’s really well done. Since it’s pretty much the centerpiece of the film, it’s easily the highlight of the whole movie. Then later in the film, the US Navy towed the Titanic to New York, finally completing its journey. It’s kind of cathartic to see the Titanic finally pass the Statue of Liberty. And then, you see a shot with the Titanic in the foreground and the Twin Towers in the background. Pretty ominous.

Finally, there’s John Berry’s score. It’s really good. To this day, the score has remained a noted positive in the film. It comes across as triumphant, sad, and foreboding. John Berry has always made great movie scores, though. You can see his work in plenty of other films. Such as a decent chunk of the classic James Bond films or “Howard The Duck.” So, it’s pretty much a given that it’s going to be great regardless of the film.

Overall, “Raise the Titanic” is pretty boring, but there are still positives in there to at least look up some of the scenes on YouTube. That’s really all you should do. Wanna watch “Raise the Titanic”? Look it up on YouTube, and call it good. That’s about how I sum it up. It’s not worth a full viewing, but there are at least nuggets of worth. Perhaps that’s all you need.

Side Note #1

Originally, there was supposed to be a different opening to the film. It would’ve featured the Titanic sink. The scene was ultimately scrapped. While it hasn’t been released in full, clips of it were used in an episode of the 1982 series “Voyagers.”

Side Note #2

A 50-foot-long model of the Titanic was constructed for the film. For years after production concluded, it sat and slowly deteriorated. As of now, there is currently a project to restore it.