The budget for ITC Entertainment’s Saturn 3 was reduced greatly to help finish the same year’s Raise the Titanic, and when the title action is actually seen onscreen, one can see where much of that money went. Conversely when watching Saturn 3 one can see where the money was pulled from, unfortunately. Equally unfortunately, for all of the investment reallocation that both films experienced, this never quite resulted in box office success for either film, with Raise the Titanic earning about one fourth of its budget back at the box office. And Saturn 3 didn’t fare much better, percentage-wise.
The storyline of Raise the Titanic is every bit as exciting as its title might suggest (as readers of the Clive Cussler novel can attest). Naturally the concept of actually raising a ship that not only sank decades earlier, but was also broken in two pieces, may seem bizarre to those who have any understanding of the actual shipwreck, but both the Cussler novel and the Jerry Jameson film were completed years before the Titanic was actually discovered (and decidedly never raised).
That said, Raise the Titanic never purports to be a documentary, but an action/ adventure yarn revolving around Cussler’s famed hero Dirk Pitt (here played by Richard Jordan). Incidentally, the second time Pitt was portrayed on the big screen was 25 years later, by Matthew McConaughey in Sahara, a film that did almost as well in its initial box office run as the Titanic herself did on her maiden voyage.
The plot of Raise the Titanic is somewhat more complicated than the title might suggest (although the title alone is pretty nifty). Dirk Pitt is pulled into an international search for a certain rare element that is rumored to be so volatile that it could instantly make the Cold War obsolete. When the only surviving samples of the element are proven to have sunk with the Titanic herself, Pitt comes up with the brilliant idea of raising the ship to the surface.
This, of course, can’t be done without the help of surviving mate John Bigalow (Sir Alec Guinness) who provides vital clues in the location of the erstwhile unsinkable ship (in the voice of Obi-Wan Kenobi).
Of course, anyone who has seen the Blu-ray cover or movie poster or even simply read the title knows that it’s hardly a spoiler that the famous boat does get raised, but then again, as spectacular as this can be (considering the pre-CGI effects of the era), this event is treated as almost secondary in the Cold War plot and a rescue subplot that weighs down the third act.
That said, the use of miniatures and the recreation and raising of the Titanic are all amazing to see. The sole Special Feature on this DVD/ Blu-Ray Combo Pack (aside from the theatrical trailer) is a “making of” documentary that showcases the special effects and proves how much more impressive they really were for the time, making the ultimate box office failure that much more of a tragic eventuality.
The obvious question is, why wasn’t Raise the Titanic a success with all of this going for it? Sadly, for all of the excitement and intrigue promised by such a title and premise, the film never quite delivers on its potential. When tragedy strikes the submersible mission, hardly a loss is felt. When triumph ripples through the plot, it’s hard to truly feel that something great has happened. Most every major plot point feels much like another card dealt in this standard game, and very few points feel terribly exciting. In fact, Raise the Titanic can often be somewhat boring, even in the lead-up to the exciting action of the title.
Part of this may relate to the fact that, much like all of the sets of Saturn 3 looked like movie sets, all of the miniatures of Raise the Titanic look a lot like miniatures, especially to those weaned on every special effects breakthrough since the 1997 James Cameron film, Titanic. For the time, however, Raise the Titanic was a stylish triumph, if not always a triumph of substance. That said, even at its worst, Raise the Titanic is worth sitting through if only to find out where exactly the titanic plot is going.
And where the plot is going will satisfy many viewers with an open mind and understanding of pre-CGI special effects and everything that went into them. While the storytelling itself can be a bit dense and by the numbers, it’s hard to beat the premise (as far-fetched as it may have seemed then, it is even more so now) or the acting in most every case. The problem is that the excitement of this thrilling endeavor and the Cold War intrigue surrounding it never causes Raise the Titanic to float above the lackluster surface veneer it offers and even the viewers having the most fun might find this hull rings hollow.