Raise the Titanic Movie Review

Raise the Titanic

They said that God himself couldn't sink it. Now they say that no man could raise it.
Raise the Titanic Picture


Jason Robards, Richard Jordan, David Selby, Anne Archer

Alec Guinness, Bo Brundin, M. Emmet Walsh, J.D. Cannon, Norman Bartold, Elya Baskin, Dirk Blocker, Robert Broyles, Paul Carr, Michael C. Gwynne, Harvey Lewis, Charles Macaulay, Stewart Moss, Michael Pataki, Michael Ensign Update Cast


Look for Clive Cussler making a cameo appearance!

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"Raise The Titanic" was one of two videos that Dr. Robert Ballard had on his second search for the Titanic in 1985. The other was "A Night To Remember". He also has access to Cussler's report and, of course, the novel.

More Trivia from Raise the Titanic


"Raise The Titanic!" intriguing action-adventure drama, is perhaps the most ambitious motion picture in Hollywood filmmaking history.

Photographed on a score of distant locations, including the Pacific Coast, Washington, D.C., Alaska, Greece, England and Malta, the contemporary drama depicts the most prodigious challenge that modern man could attempt --the near-impossible feat of raising the 46,000-ton wreck of the liner Titanic, lying 2 1/2 miles down on the floor of the North Atlantic where she sank while on her maiden voyage in 1912 with the loss of over 1500 lives.

Experts in the U.S. government, military and defense have determined that the hold of the sunken vessel contains a metal more precious than plutonium and it's recovery would make any world power who did so impregnable to a foreign attack. The motion picture dramatizes the race to search and discover and the Herculean effort to raise the derelict ship to the surface and gain that priceless possession.

"Raise The Titanic!" starring Jason Robards, Richard Jordan, David Selby, Anne Archer and Alec Guinness, was produced by William Frye and directed by Jerry Jameson from a screenplay by Adam Kennedy, based on the Eric Hughes adaptation of the internationally best-selling novel by Clive Cussler.

That was the initial Press Release by ITC and AFD back in 1980 in their official Press Kit distributed to the press. Raise The Titanic had it's world premiere in Boston, MA on July 30, 1980 and released nationwide on August 1, 1980.

In all actuality, this film has hardly any resemblance to Dr. Cussler's best-selling novel. The script went through over 10 re-writes and the costs alone to make this film could have fed a third world country. Almost every single dollar invested in this film was spent rather poorly. This film had so much potential to become a blockbuster smash but it fizzled out before it even started. The press alone, with so many bad reviews, killed the box-office tickets.

"Raise the Titanic" was also released during the initial release of one of the biggest films that year; "The Empire Strikes Back".

Author: GabrielUpdate This Review


For many fans of novelist Clive Cussler (who makes a cameo here as a reporter during the press conference scene), the people behind this movie have a hell of a lot to answer for.

After all, Mr. Cussler, who was outspokenly appalled by this, the result of his most successful novel to date being brought to the big screen, that he vowed to never again allow one of his books to be made into a movie.

Thus, for more than twenty years, fans of his Dirk Pitt novels – one of the great modern adventure franchises – have been made to suffer without their hero making another foray onto the silver screen, instead having to settle for some guy named Jack Ryan or something (whose themed flicks have been of inconsistent quality at best).

It is only very recently, over two decades later, that Mr. Cussler has elected to give Hollywood another chance, with production on "Sahara" beginning later this year.

So why do Clive Cussler and so many of his fans, along with many critics who had never even read his books before, hate Raise the Titanic with such a passion? Ask many of the film’s detractors, and they will respond with an icy, “why not?”.

For truly, on so many levels, Raise the Titanic is an awfully made film and until the appallingly bad The Sum of All Fears made it to theatres in 2002, it really could have been called the worst adaptation of a good novel into a screenplay. While I myself do not look upon the movie with quite the same amount of vile hatred that so many others do, this is, admittedly, the result of some sentimentality on my part, equivalent in some ways to how I look at The Saint. It’s bad, I know it, but if it’s on, I won’t turn it off and I actually make a point of seeing this movie on purpose something on the order of once a year.

Perhaps it is because, for now at least, this is the only way to catch even a glimmer of Dirk Pitt on the screen. Maybe it’s just for those few scenes that do rise up from the shipwreck that is the rest of the film, or maybe it’s the simple fact that Raise the Titanic is in fact so much of a shipwreck, coming oh-so-close to that coveted level of Grade Z, which, were it not for the circumstance of the novel, it might easily have achieved.

Setting sentiment aside, however, whether one chooses to evaluate Raise the Titanic as a literary adaptation or as a stand alone film, the fact of the matter is that it is quite bad.

The most vexing part about that is that there’s simply no excuse for it. The film has an extraordinary and exciting novel upon which it has based itself, and the budget for Raise the Titanic was huge for its day; indeed, Producer Lord Grade lamented that “it would have been cheaper to lower the Atlantic”. (To put things in perspective, Raise the Titanic cost at least double the budget of The Empire Strikes Back, which was released earlier the same year, and didn’t even make a fifth of that money back.) There is simply no reason that this could not have been one of the great films of 1980, and the start of an exciting new movie franchise based on Cussler’s novels.

Unfortunately, two of the first things that the picture’s massive budget was used for were the hiring of a horrendous director, Jerry Jameson (whose main body of work, not surprisingly at all, lies in series television), and some awful screenwriters. Beginning with the latter, as before, these writers are given an almost heavenly gift from which to work; the transition should have been effortless.

Cussler’s novel is full of exciting adventures, scenes of intrigue, and gripping subplots. Somewhere between Eric Hughes (Against All Odds), who did the adaptation, and Adam Kennedy (The Dove), who wrote the final screenplay, nearly every bit of real adventure contained in the book was stripped away, and the characters by and large mangled into unrecognizability.

The central organization around which the book’s adventure is based, NUMA, doesn’t get a bit of mention in the film (if you look quickly, you’ll see the initials on the subs, and that’s all). The character of Admiral Sandecker is made into the complete opposite of the man he is in the book, a shifty, slimy military bureaucrat. Al Giordino is gone completely; many say that M. Emmett Walsh is playing Al, but if one listens to the dialogue, his name in the film is Walker - just as well, though, since if that’s supposed to be Al, then Laurence Olivier is Howard the Duck. Even Dirk Pitt doesn’t fully escape the shredder, though he’s slightly more intact than the rest. (And damn the writers for eliminating the striptease sequence!)

The director then takes this mangled script and makes things even worse. What adventure is left, he bogs down with a directorial style that looks like the very worst made for TV movie (which his pedigree would seem to explain; so why was this man hired again?). The sequences depicting the search for the Titanic are incredibly tedious, and the “action break” of the submersible running into trouble generates about as much tension and excitement as leftover spam sandwiches. The same with the accident that leads to the decision to raise the ship early; the film is quite simply utterly devoid of tension.

The decision was also made to hack out many parts of the script that managed to still have merit. Scenes that would have fleshed out the spy subplot (which is instead whisked away as if it were nothing) and several other points of character and plot development were written and never used, despite the fact that some were even filmed. One can only speculate that whatever passed for Mr. Jameson’s office on the set had “If I Only Had A Brain” from The Wizard of Oz playing one continuous loop.

The post production work manages to make things into even more of a debacle. The visual effects are of variant quality; the scene of the ship’s actual raising from the depths actually looks quite nice and comes oh-so-close (but not quite) to majestic. For example, while the scene where the ship makes its triumphant return to New York (right past the World Trade Center) is an obviously bad insertion of a photo image into a live action shot. And the ADR work (re-recording of dialogue) is atrocious; the dubbing often reaches Godzilla levels (with a poignant example being the especially horrid dub on the Japanese reporter at the press conference, though the meeting on the boat is just as bad). The work here is so slipshod, one really has to wonder where the money went for this film, because it’s just not evident anywhere.

Even John Barry seems to have known that this was something that wouldn’t require any major effort to be made memorable when he did the score; the normally excellent composer primarily rips off his own work from Moonraker and tacks on a reasonably forgettable theme.

And then there is the casting. Oh, but where to start. Jason Robards (Crimson Tide) is disgustingly miscast as Admiral Sandecker, period. M. Emmett Walsh, normally a fine actor, is out of place as the Giordino wannabe. David Selby (Dying Young) at least tries to get somewhere with his part, but he fails miserably; there is simply no way that he can hack it in such a prominent role. Anne Archer (Patriot Games) shouldn’t be allowed to act in anything more complicated than a TV commercial; she doesn’t do anyone any favors here, either, with the most notable nails-on-the-chalkboard moment from her coming with the projectile-vomit-inducing “wormie on the hookie” sequence, for which both she and the writer should be sent back down to the real Titanic as punishment.

There are exactly two exceptions to the casting fiasco. Most people who count themselves as fans of Cussler’s work are appalled at the casting of Richard Jordan as Dirk Pitt; I, however, beg to differ. Physically, he’s perfect, and Jordan captures the underlying spirit of Pitt rather well, it’s just that the script and the horrendous director don’t give him anywhere to go with it. What no one can dispute, however, is the brief but wonderfully likeable performance of Sir Alec Guinness (Obi-Wan Kenobi from Star Wars, et. al.) as a survivor of the Titanic disaster who asks Pitt if he would please return the ship’s pennant back to its rightful place. (Both the scene leading to and featuring the making of the request, along with Pitt’s later fulfillment of it, are the best in the film.) Guinness is simply delightful here, and the one true treat amongst the cast.

Overall, however, Raise the Titanic can only be looked upon as a disappointment, and for most fans of the novel by Clive Cussler (and for the author himself), it can easily be considered unbearable. While I may look upon the movie with a slightly kinder eye in terms of sentiment, when taken in terms of movie making achievement and looking at it as a film adaptation of one of the great adventure novels of modern times, Raise the Titanic hits a major critical iceberg and gets to sink all over again.

The musical score.
Sir Alec Guinness.
Terrible Screenplay.
Inaccurate model of the liner.
Historical inaccuracies.
Cardboard acting.

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The Movie Data

Key Crew

Director: Jerry Jameson, Jack Gold
Writer: Clive Cussler, Eric Hughes, Adam Kennedy
Producers: William Frye, Martin Starger, Lew Grade
Locations Manager: Mike Higgins, Philip Morris, Stuart Neumann

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Release Date: 01 Aug 1980
MPAA Rating: PG
Studio: ITC
Production: Incorporated Television Company (ITC)
Genre: Action / Adventure

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The Movie Trailer
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1980 ITC
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