Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Raise the Titanic (1980)

Milky tea, rhino pie and plenty of hot potatoes fill the groaning board of what must be - pound-for-pound - the dullest film ERH has ever seen...

Raise the Titanic (1980, Jerry Jameson)
Starring: Jason Robards, Richard Jordan, Anne Archer, Alec Guinness, M. Emmet Walsh, Dirk Blocker, Nicos Savalas, Ken Place.

Tagline: ‘They said that God himself couldn’t sink her. Now they say that no man could raise her.’

Trailers: Shelby’s Memory, Operator! Operator!, The Cleveland Steamer
Cherrypick: “You’re not talking about raising the Titanic, are you!?!”

Dancing a crazed yet listless jig around that empty dead man’s chest upon which genre filmmaking found itself marooned for those barren years that preceded the kamikaze rescue mission launched by the Rear Admirals of the ERH flotilla, Raise the Titanic could not be any more dated or bemusing if it was wearing chintz loon pants and singing 'Deutschland Über Alles' through a rusted-out megaphone.

Perhaps the very last film to be designed solely for the Dad Market, RtT must surely rank as one of the most magnificently boring films ever made. A four and a half hour long adaptation of Clive Cussler’s humdrum best-seller, it manages to shoot its bolt in the title and zoom straight downstream from there. To be fair, a skilfully assembled pre-credits sequence in which some dude chases another dude across the frozen wastes of Novaya Zemlya (that’s Russia, you fucking dimwits!) to the strains of John Barry’s fine score is reasonably exciting and promises much. This section, however, would seem to have been filmed by the second-unit director, since as soon as we move on to the meat of the matter things swiftly become stodgier than rhino pie.
Is that a canoe in your pocket, or..?
Following this fairly intriguing Arctic opening, we are mercilessly airlifted to Washington DC where, after a brusque debriefing, we find ourselves assigned to the cinematic equivalent of a desk job - the main responsibility of which will prove to be having ourselves slothfully marshaled through an increasingly tedious series of musty boardrooms, bleak dockyards and yet more boardrooms in which many, many very, very old men will stare at indecipherable blueprints, drink milky tea and blather endlessly on about an entirely pointless - and possibly wholly criminal - maritime salvage venture. If you are prepared to envisage The Hunt for Red October or Crimson Tide denuded of any and all submarine action, then you’re already way more than half way home.
Rhino pie-chart
Somewhere along the path of our eternal meanderings through the halls of power, the observant of us might learn that back in 1912 an American expeditionary mining party working in northern Russia struck a lode of an incredibly rare mineral named – oh, boy! – Bizanyum. Proprietary claim over this precious ore immediately mushroomed into something of a political hot potato. The aggrieved Russkies gave chase to the thieving Yanks all the way to Scandinavia and then on to northern Scotland, from which point both sides engaged in a “running gun battle between Aberdeen and Southampton” (that this is a distance of 564 miles provides an example of the Californian author’s white-hot mastery of British geography and typifies the sort of attention to detail that runs through the film like rhino pie). Not to give too much away, but when the American party eventually get themselves to Southampton a the glorious spring morning of April 10th, the boat they choose to convey their disputed cargo back to the States doesn’t quite make the distance…

Cut to the present day where the US Department of Defense is much in need of an amount of this Bizanyum to power its new missile-busting Star Wars programme, and the only place they know of to come by any is in the hold of the Pride of Belfast on the bottom of the Atlantic ocean.
Guinness pun
The salty seadog they call in to reclaim it is perennial nearly-man Richard Jordan (The Yakuza, Logan’s Run, The Hunt for Red October) who, as the fantastically bearded been-there, done-that US Navy bastard Dirk Pitt, is charged with heading up the team of watery scientists who are to devise the film’s incredibly unlikely and in no way elucidatory bid to find, repair, inflate and strip bare the world’s least appropriately monickered cruise liner.

Along the way he gets to visit soused ex-crewman Alec Guinness in his Cornwall retirement home, participate in an entirely manufactured antipathy between himself and David Selby’s unremarkable Head Boffin and endure a man’s share of coma-inducing waffle from an array of garbling elderly gentlemen in a featureless complex of endless meeting rooms. It’s all about as exhilarating as experiencing continental shift on a real-time basis, but ultimately the ship does indeed surface and we can at last all go off and get on with doing something more fun. Like eating coal.
A danger to shipping
Originally conceptualised as the bellwether for a fleet of fatuous follow-ups that would have eventually included such goofproof winners as Quick, Hide the Titanic!, Spacetanic and Dude, Where’s My Titanic?, RtT proved  such a financial disaster of a disaster film that its producer, Sir Lew Grade, summing the whole episode up far better than ERH ever could, famously claimed that it would have been cheaper on balance to “lower the Atlantic”, thereby scuppering all such future plans.

As cautionary tales of man’s consummate arrogance in the face of nature and the technological vanity that may yet engulf him go, that of the White Star Line’s greatest folly would not be surpassed for the best part of a century, when angry will-to-power merchant James Cameron’s 1997 film would make the Titanic a byword for an altogether different form of hubris.

Mom, can I have..?

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