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Raise the Titanic(1980)
An American special agent and group of experts embark upon an exciting and chilling underwater race against the Russians to salvage the Titanic and its vital defence cargo seventy years after the tragedy of its sinking. Adapted from Clive Cussler’s international best-selling novel.
For more about Raise the Titanic and the Raise the Titanic Blu-ray release, see Raise the Titanic Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on January 21, 2014 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Jason Robards, Richard Jordan, David Selby, Anne Archer, Alec Guinness, M. Emmet Walsh
Director: Jerry Jameson
» See full cast & crew
Raise the Titanic Blu-ray Review
Ever get that sinking feeling?
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, January 21, 2014
Hidden among the glitz and ersatz glamour of Las Vegas is a fascinating exhibit that is historically significant and very interesting, to boot. On the second floor of The Luxor (the "pyramid hotel") is a museum of sorts dedicated to the Titanic. The exhibit has been very smartly arranged, with recreations of various rooms as well as a recreation of one of the decks that passengers might have walked upon that fateful night of April 15, 1912. But by far the most impressive thing (at least to me) in the presentation is a mindboggling room that features a tiny piece of one side of the Titanic, which was raised from the ocean floor by one of Robert Ballard's expeditions. Now, I use the term "tiny" in an intentionally ironic way. This sheath of riveted metal rises probably two to three stories in the already gigantic room, and is probably at least several hundred feet wide. But here's the amazing thing: next to this more or less intact piece of the doomed liner is an illustration showing the actual full breadth of the Titanic and where this piece fit, and it is, yes, a relatively tiny morsel of a humongous object. The scale of the Titanic simply can't be easily realized, though this particular exhibit certainly helps to bring everything into sharper focus. Anyone who has ever stood next to a massive ocean liner or something like an aircraft carrier may know the feeling of being inconsequential in the shadow of such an immense structure, but somehow that same feeling is only magnified when one considers the awful fates of so many passengers who lost their lives in that horrific debacle.
Raise the Titanic's central conceit, as evidenced by the film's title, has of course been negated by the actual course of history. When Clive Cussler wrote his bestselling novel in 1976, thoughts of ever finding the Titanic seemed remote at best. There also hadn't been the glut of analyses that actually picked up steam just a few years after the book's release and which reached a fever pitch once Robert Ballard's expeditions got under way. In Cussler's formulation, the Titanic rested as a more or less intact ship on the ocean's floor, which of course has proven not to be the fact. In another way, though, Cussler's Cold War drama (which is essentially what Raise the Titanic turns out to be, its central conceit notwithstanding) is rather remarkably prescient. The reason the Titanic must be raised is that is supposedly contains the only stash of a valuable mineral called byzanium (not quite as horrible a "fake" name as Unobtainium) which is needed to power a missile defense system which sounds remarkably like the "Star Wars" program posited by one Ronald Reagan just a few years after the book and film came out (could Ronnie have seen Raise the Titanic and taken notes perhaps?).
The wreck of the Titanic actually takes a while to show up in Raise the Titanic's increasingly convoluted plot. The film begins with a rather well done sequence that sees what appears to be some kind of prospector digging his way into some frigid Arctic wilderness when his Geiger counter goes ballistic. He manages to get into a long buried mine where he discovers the remnants of a body and a clue pointing to the year 1912. It turns out the man is not exactly a prospector, but actually a United States spy on an undercover mission, a mission which considering the Siberian geography ironically goes south, at which point various spymasters and military types in the United States get involved.
It's only at this point that the actual MacGuffin (to quote one Alfred Hitchcock) of Raise the Titanic is revealed. The Siberian spy had been out to find a source of byzanium, the only mineral known to be able to power a huge new missile defense shield which is being developed under the code name The Sicilian Project. The Sicilian Project is the brainchild of scientist Gene Seagram (David Selby, Night of Dark Shadows), who scoffs when his boss, Admiral Sandecker (Jason Robards), suggests bringing in dashing oceanographer Dirk Pitt (Richard Jordan, The Hunt For Red October). Further clues have pointed to the Titanic as holding a sizable stash of byzanium, and Pitt has the mad idea that the ship can be raised from the ocean floor.
That sets up the longish second act of the film, where an expedition is put together to find the Titanic, which, unlike Ballard's efforts, happens in fairly short order. Then there are two attempts to get down to the ship itself, both of which have various orders of calamity attached to them. Playing out against this kind of technological side of the film is the actually more interesting political element, where the Soviets (remember, this was the 1970s) become aware that the Americans are trying to retrieve the precious mineral. The Soviets' perspective is that since the mineral was originally mined in Russian territory, it's theirs by default and any attempt to retrieve it violates international law. The fact that the mineral is going to be used for The Sicilian Project (which comes as no surprise to the Soviets, naturally) only ups the ante.
Raise the Titanic was big cinematic news in its day, but it nearly sank Sir Lew Grade, who poured copious amounts of cash into the project, only to see it siphon down the drain of lackluster box office. And it's not hard to see why, really. The film evidently was initially optioned by Stanley Kramer, a writer-director who would have probably emphasized the geopolitical side of the story over the technological. The faults of the final film can probably be attributed more or less equally to Eric Hughes, the original adapter of Cussler's novel (and one of the people Kramer evidently had a certain distaste for), scenarist Adam Kennedy (a former actor who had worked on Kramer's The Domino Principle), and director Jerry Jameson. The screenplay is clunky to begin with, but Jameson (whose career was made up largely of episodic television with occasional outings on the big screen like the lamentable Airport '77) doesn't seem to know how to shape the material in any viscerally exciting way. There are a couple of standout sequences—the diving bell attempt to get to the Titanic and the raising of the boat itself, both of which were probably handled by Ricou Browning—but this is one film that can't quite jettison its ballast.
Raise the Titanic Blu-ray, Video Quality
Raise the Titanic is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Shout! Factory with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.35:1. This is a occasionally problematic looking high definition presentation that nonetheless is one of those middle of the quality scale releases that looks okay if you do a bit of figurative squinting. Colors have faded slightly, giving flesh tones a ruddy pink hue at times. A lot of the film is cast in browns and beiges anyway, which results in a visual experience that is substantially devoid of significant pop. While there has certainly been no egregious digital tweaking like grain removal done here, there are compression artifacts, relatively minor but noticeable nonetheless, that crop up throughout the presentation, especially in the darker sequences. Those darker sequences also have at least a few moments of noticeable crush—pay attention, for instance, when Pitt gives the lowdown on the plan to raise the Titanic to the other men on the yacht. The people standing in the background—including Seagram—who are wearing black jackets almost melt into the shadows, becoming disembodied heads. On the whole though, this is a solid effort from Shout!, which continues to unearth (and/or un-submerge) cult films from yesteryear with largely commendable results.
Raise the Titanic Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Raise the Titanic features both the original stereo mix of the film available via DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 as well as a quite well done surround repurposing, offered via DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. The 5.1 track has some nice immersion (no pun intended, considering the setting of the bulk of the film), with good use of panning effects in scenes like helicopters zooming over Seagram's home or, later, when the crew is aboard an aircraft carrier. A couple of sequences with dinghys that have powerful motors attached offer much the same sonic oomph. The underwater sequences sound appropriately cloistered and almost claustrophobic. Dialogue is always presented cleanly. The one aspect of this film that came in for almost universal acclaim was John Barry's score. I will be the heretic once again (as I often am when discussing Maurice Jarre's music) by saying this is not my favorite work of Barry's, but it does sound great in the 5.1 repurposing, where Barry's magisterial strings are nicely splayed over the surround channels.
Raise the Titanic Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Raise the Titanic Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
To horribly paraphrase Scooby-Doo, Raise the Titanic might have gotten away with it if it hadn't been for that meddling Robert Ballard. At least the film's positing of an intact ship that could be brought topside might have withstood the actual tide of history. But nothing could have overcome this film's stilted dialogue and meandering pace. There are fans of this film, though, and they should be generally pleased by the look and especially sound of this release. The supplemental featurette is also excellent.
Raise the Titanic Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Raise the Titanic Blu-ray - November 21, 2013
Shout Factory will bring to Blu-ray director Jerry Jameson's Raise the Titanic (1980), starring Jason Robards, Richard Jordan, David Selby, Anne Archer, Alec Guinness, and M. Emmet Walsh. The release will be available for purchase on January 21.
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