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Case Number 26855

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Raise the Titanic (1980) (Blu-ray)

Shout! Factory // 1980 // 115 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // January 17th, 2014

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All Rise...

Judge Clark Douglas thinks Dirk Pitt should try raising Atlantis next.

The Charge

They've found the Titanic. Now there's just one thing left to do…

Opening Statement

"We don't go to the mountain—the mountain comes to us!"

Facts of the Case

When U.S. government officials learn of a rare mineral that could be the key to ending (or reinventing) nuclear warfare, they're understandably eager to get their hands on it. The only problem? The only known location of the mineral is onboard the R.M.S. Titanic. Given that the legendary ship is too deep for divers to reach, the government initially gives up hope of ever recovering their prize. However, manly adventurer Dirk Pitt (Richard Jordan, Gettysburg) has an idea: rather than attempting to send divers down to the ship, why not use submarines to lift the ship to the surface? Will the mission succeed? Will the Russians beat Pitt and his Navy buddies to the mineral supply? Find out in Raise the Titanic!

The Evidence

Over the past few decades, writer Clive Cussler has made a very comfortable living with his Dirk Pitt novels. I haven't read enough Cussler to be able to offer a thoroughly informed opinion of his body of work, but he seems like an engaging airport novelist, at least. Despite the long-running success of his Pitt book series, the attempts to bring the character to the big screen have been failures. The 2005 film Sahara was one of the biggest flops of Matthew McConaughey's career, though it wasn't helped much by the fact that the film's producers were involved in legal disputes with Cussler throughout the production process. However, some 25 years before that fun yet financially disastrous flick was the Lord Lew Grade production Raise the Titanic, which sank nearly as dramatically as the titular ship. "It would have been cheaper to lower the Atlantic," Grade reportedly said.

While Sahara was an unfairly overlooked adventure flick, it's not too difficult to see why Raise the Titanic flopped. It plays very much like a James Bond film, minus the excitement, action, flavorful locations, beautiful girls, and compelling lead character (in other words, almost everything that makes a Bond film worth watching). The characters in the film spend much of the running time talking about raising the Titanic and navigating their way around political complications. Eventually, they raise the Titanic. To say the payoff isn't quite worth the build-up would be an understatement. The whole thing wraps up with a cornball stab at an anti-nuke sermon, turning what was simply a boring movie into a boring and preachy one. This is what happens when you have two directors and seventeen writers working on a film, I suppose.

Richard Jordan is an actor who gave his share of compelling performances over the years, but this isn't one of them. His take on Dirk Pitt is remarkably dull, a charisma-free Indiana Jones who's mostly asked to stand around and look like he's taking the whole situation seriously. More colorful actors like Jason Robards and Anne Archer fare better in supporting roles, but they're often undercut by weak writing. The only actor who emerges entirely unscathed from this slog of a blockbuster is Sir Alec Guinness, who has a lovely extended scene in which he reflects on the history of the Titanic. It doesn't really do much to advance the plot, but it's nonetheless one of the film's best moments.

Honestly, the chief virtue of the film is the score by the great John Barry, which is as good as anything else he wrote in the 1980s. The lush, expressive main theme is simply stunning, and he brings a sense of grandeur to the inevitable scene in which the Titanic is raised that the movie doesn't really earn otherwise. From the way he tenderly handles the film's romantic elements to his tension-filled suspense cues, the score is a winner from start to finish. It's a pity that it doesn't sound particularly great on this Blu-ray release (it often sounds a little distorted—to date, a proper score album doesn't exist to the fact that the original tapes were lost, though thankfully a wonderful re-recording was produced in the late '90s), but it remains the high point in spite of the occasional audio issues.

Speaking of the technical elements: Raise the Titanic (Blu-ray) has received a mixed 1080p/2.40:1 transfer. Much of the film looks quite soft; there were certainly a handful of moments in which I wondered if I were watching a standard-def upconversion. Even so, there are also sequences in which detail manages to impress, and depth is generally solid throughout. The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track is also a mixed bag. As I mentioned earlier, the score isn't nearly as crisp and clean as it ought to be, though dialogue fares a bit better. The mix is generally pretty front-heavy, though. Supplements include a making-of featurette, a trailer and a DVD copy.

Closing Statement

Cussler fans and Titanic aficionados may find themselves intrigued by this affair, though most in the former group will likely be upset by the film's treatment of the source material and those in the latter group will likely be amused by the notion that the Titanic is in one piece when it's finally raised. Honestly, I'd vote on seeking out the Barry score and skipping the movie entirely.

The Verdict


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Scales of Justice

Video: 75
Audio: 70
Extras: 70
Acting: 75
Story: 70
Judgment: 70

Perp Profile

Studio: Shout! Factory
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
Audio Formats:
• DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
• None
Running Time: 115 Minutes
Release Year: 1980
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
• Action
• Blu-ray
• Drama
• Thriller

Distinguishing Marks

• Featurette
• Trailer
• DVD Copy


• IMDb

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