Case Number 20938: Small Claims Court


PBS // 2009 // 104 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Roman Martel (Retired) // March 20th, 2011

The Charge

Say you lose something valuable and have only a vague idea of where you left it. Then you find out that your arch nemesis not only knows exactly where it is, but has mounted a secret operation to find your lost goody. The only hitch is -- you can't prove that they are after it. That's how the Soviets felt in 1974. And that's how I feel when my cat hides the video game controller.

The Case

In 1968 the Soviet Union lost the K-129 submarine carrying the most advanced missiles and technology they had at the time. They hoped no one would ever find it. Little did they know that the American military knew exactly where it went down and were more than willing to salvage it. The problem was that attempting the salvage would take an engineering miracle and could lead to an escalation in the cold war. The leap in intelligence and technological data from the submarine were simply too tempting to ignore, so the United States initiated Project Azorian, as shown in Azorian: The Raising of the K-129.

Azorian called for the creation of a ship designed specifically to lower a retrieval device nearly three miles to the ocean floor, grab hold of the submarine wreckage and pull it up into the ship. The ship had to be designed to allow the lowering structure to remain stationary above the target. In addition the ship had to be able to pull the submarine and retrieval device completely into itself, so that the Soviets would be unable to get a visual confirmation of the salvage attempt.

The operation took six years to plan, design and build before it could be executed. It required an elaborate cover story which involved Howard Hughes and deep sea mining. It depended on the creation of devices and machinery never seen before in scales and numbers never attempted. And it was so secret that the government refused to confirm the attempt occurred at all for three decades.

Writer, director and producer Michael White brings you quite a story, one that seems like it came right out of a cold war spy novel. But it actually happened, confirmed by interviews with people who participated in the design, building and execution of Project Azorian. The interviews range from the engineers who spent years figuring out the specific perimeters they had to meet, to the Soviet Naval commander who suspected the entire operation was going on. This documentary is loaded with these interviews, vintage footage taken from cameras aboard the ship, as well as archival footage from the time.

Azorian: The Raising of the K-129 is presented in two parts. Part one covers the sinking of the submarine and the story of how the U.S. figured out where it ended up. Then it dives into the project itself, all the way up to the ship leaving California for the target site. A big chunk of this section delves into serious engineering talk. Frankly, I got lost in the maze of technical speak about pressure ratios and heaving variables. Luckily, there's plenty of actual footage as well as helpful computer animated diagrams to clear things up. I especially loved how a special submersible barge had to be created to transport the top secret retrieval device from it's building site to the pick up point off Catalina island.

Part two deals with the salvage mission itself. White keeps things cooking along, building tension as a Soviet ship shows up to observe the operation. Needless to say, not everything goes as planned, and as the men who attempted the task speak you can see how dangerous the whole situation really was. The episode ends with the results of the attempt and how political events ended up affecting the outcome of mission.

PBS gives you a decent presentation here. The image was nice and clear, but nothing special. The sound was fine, with source recording sounding nice and clear. There are no extras, but this documentary is so packed with information, you won't really miss it.

At just over 100 minutes, Azorian: The Raising of the K-129 provides a fascinating story, plenty of suspense, and a heaping helping of engineering. Anyone interested in cold war missions or super machinery should give this documentary a look.

The Verdict

Too intriguing and amazing to be guilty.

Review content copyright © 2011 Roman Martel; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 86

Perp Profile
Studio: PBS
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

* English (SDH)

Running Time: 104 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* None

* Official Site

* Wikipedia: Project Azorian