Raise the Titanic (1980) – Film Review

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Director: Jerry Jameson
Cast: Richard Jordan, Jason Robards, Alec Guinness
Certificate: PG

by @Roger Crow

Chances are you know that old gag about this epic 1980 flop. Apparently it cost so much money, producer Lew Grade said: “It would have been cheaper to lower the Atlantic.”

But there’s a vast difference between a flop film and a bad movie. So which is this? Well, any film which features a score by York legend John Barry is already worth a look and listen.

Based on Clive Cussler’s best-selling 1976 novel, this adventure follows a team of scientists on a historic and potentially deadly mission to recover valuable raw material Byzanium from the depths of the doomed passenger liner.

The cast are superb, especially Richard Jordan as the he-man hero Dirk Pitt (a role later played by Matthew McConnaughey in Sahara).

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“High concept winner”

Solid support comes from Jason Robards and Alec (exposition) Guinness; it’s great to see M Emmet Walsh, just before films like Blade Runner and Blood Simple made him a cult hero. And the dreamy Anne Archer is terrific as the wholesome love interest, a few years before her stunning turn in Fatal Attraction. She really needed to go along for the mission because there’s far too many blokes standing around being serious.

It looks fabulous. The wintry location shots in the opener are amazing, and let’s just sing Mr Barry’s praises again. Absolute class. It’s like adding a thick layer of audio velvet over every shot.

Director Jerry Jameson, veteran of TV classics Search (a lost masterpiece) and The Six Million Dollar Man) keeps things ticking over.

The story is a high concept winner that in the hands of a great screen writer would be a solid gold smash. But the problem is the script. It’s just slightly off, like listening to a great song on a badly tuned radio.

Lew Grade, having backed a load of TV classics like The Persuaders and The Protectors, obviously threw piles of cash at the project as he turned movie mogul, so full marks for effort, but no cigar.

The problem is that money shot when (spoiler alert), the ship is re-floated. It goes on forever… in slow motion… few reaction shots from the cast. Just the ship. Being re-floated. From every angle. Majestically. Best to go and make a cuppa during that bit, which is a shame. Give me decent model work over CGI any day, but water just doesn’t scale down, so anyone trying to create such a spectacle in 1980 really had their work cut out.

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“Fascinating curio”

Had it been remade now, which is not a bad idea, James Cameron or Roland Emmerich would work wonders. But while some might think it’s a pile of ‘Dirk Pitt’, it’s actually a fascinating curio with an ending that feels like it pre-empted the denouement of Raiders of the Lost Ark a year early.

However, as with all of these Network double bills, it’s great to see the original certificate cards at the start of the film, and those adverts in the middle. Adverts for cigarettes! Apt as many kids would have seen this film in a flea pit while smokers puffed away on one side of the cinema. (How I long for the days when you can just watch a film in a cinema, let alone one in a smokeless auditorium).

In a perfect world all retro movie releases would have those nostalgic extras.

So it only took 41 years, but I’m glad I finally saw the film that has been a running joke for decades. With a tighter money shot, and some snappier pacing, there is a great film here, but problems aside, it’s still well worth a look regardless.

Raise the Titanic is currently showing on a double bill with Silver Dream Racer on Network on Air

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