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Not bad, just rather dull
on 4 November 2006
Not bad, just rather dull
"Dirk Pitt. What kind of a name is that? Sounds like a pirate."
A one-time Stanley Kramer project before he jumped ship after a couple of weeks' filming, Raise the Titanic is one of those films that isn't really that bad, it just isn't much good. It handles the exposition and setup briskly and efficiently and the raising of the wreck genuinely spectacularly, but everything inbetween is just tedious and undramatic. A huge problem is the decision to drop the parallel narrative from the book: where the film only concentrates on the modern-day story, which means lots of looking at sonar screens while mini-subs float around in the darkest depths of the ocean for almost as long as it took the ship to sink, the book livened things up with the ship's maiden voyage and sinking as well (the sinking was filmed, but Lew Grade was dissatisfied with the footage and cut it, replacing it with a photo montage overture of the construction of the ship: part of the deleted footage turned up on a 1983 episode of US TV series Voyagers).
Other plot strands, such as the unmasking of a Soviet spy, are handled in the most uninterestingly perfunctory way possible, while Anne Archer's reporter, who conveniently happens to be the current girlfriend of one of the male leads and the ex-girlfriend of another, seems there purely to try to create a bit more antagonism between the guys and break the story before being promptly forgotten about. And true to its disaster movie-in-reverse premise, there's no real threat or tension: a standoff with the Russians is easily dispensed with while the possibility of a much-needed exciting setpiece when the raised Titanic ("a ship that never learned to do anything but sink") is threatened by a storm is quickly averted by a jump cut to New York.
The end result is by the rules storytelling that keeps everything under two hours, but which keeps everything pretty flat as well. Still, it has its moments - Alec Guinness' cameo as a sailor who's had more ships sunk from under him than Only Fools and Horses' Uncle Albert, a stylish scene of floodlights sinking to the ocean floor that's shot as part underwater ballet, part soft focus romantic dream scene, the billowing clouds of silt caused by explosions completely swallowing the wreck, Richard Jordan wandering through the ghostly skeleton of the Titanic's ballroom, the image of the raised Titanic sailing into New York past the Twin Towers inadvertently linking the first great civilian tragedy of the 20th century with the first great civilian tragedy of the 21st - it has a very nice score by John Barry and the raising itself is well worth its encore under the end credits. It's hard to imagine modern CGi effects having half the impact of the film's impressive 55-foot model doing it the hard way, and it's striking just how remarkably close the earlier scenes of the discovery of the wreck are to the footage of the genuine wreck's discovery five years later.
Sadly, while the film looks good in its original Scope ratio, Carlton's UK DVD is cropped to 1.85:1 - for the full original 2.35:1 widescreen version you need to track down the Australian, Swedish PAL DVDs or Network's more recent UK DVD, though considering the amount of material available for the film at the time of its release (such as the Clapperboard TV special, the mock news report documentary that can be found on the internet or the additional trailer) the extras are rather skimpy.
Shout Factory's Region A-locked Blu-ray and DVD combo is a better proposition, offering a decent 2.35:1 widescreen transfer, though one that rarely pops or dazzles you with detail, a new 23-minute documentary concentrating on the effects work with interviews with cinematographer Matthew F. Leonetti, model unit director Ricou Browning (the original Creature from the Black Lagoon himself!), model and mechanical effects supervisor John Richardson and underwater camera operator Mike Ferris and the full theatrical trailer, which makes it all look a lot more exciting than it is (but sadly not the teaser comparing the film to the birth of flight and man landing on the Moon).
By contrast, Network's pending UK Blu-ray promises a music suite from John Barry's score (Barry is given almost as prominent billing on the cover as the Titanic itself), stills galleries and trailer.