Raise the Titanic," which surfaces in a cloud of bubbles today at the Up-town theater, is a lavishly produced adventure movie starring Jason Robards. The plot is absurd but intriguing, the performances typically stylized, and there is no attempt whatever at redeeming social value.
Despite that design for summertime box-office success, something went wrong. Lord Grade and his team, despite what seem to be the best of intentions, have bobbled their bauble.
As Clive Cussler has explained many a time on talk shows -- he's the former advertising man who wrote the novel -- "Raise the Titanic" sprang from a "what if" premise. What if America's military safety depended on a rare mineral to be found only in the cargo hold of the sunken White Star liner? What if the Titanic was raised? What if the Russians then tried to hijack her?
Movie audiences, used to seeing ships upturned ("The Poseidon Adventure"), aircraft imperiled ("Airport") and much other what-if monkey business ("Planet of the Apes episodes 1-5") done in the name of entertainment, might reasonably be expected to form themselves into lines.
Unfortunately, try as it does, this particular story just doesn't hold water. The central problem seems to be confusion over who or what plays the starring role.
Jason Robards, as a crusty admiral charged with a difficult task, has little more to do here than adjust his cap, but it is always a delight to watch him work for the money instead of for the further explication of Eugene O'Neil. Richard Jorden, as the obligatory robust undersea expert, completely fulfills the promise he showed in the television mini-series "Captains and Kings" (Robert Shaw will never be satisfactorily replaced anyhow). Anne Archer, as the obligatory good-looking female journalist, gives great credit to The Washington Star.
Somebody decided, however, that the Titanic herself ought to be the star. Maybe it was all the trouble the film-makers went through to show the refloating of the old girl -- making a 56-foot close replica for their trick shots, leasing a large derelict ship for other scenes and borrowing a small fleet of ships and bathyspheres from the Navy.
The real Titanic, of course, will never be raised. She lies two miles deep off Newfoundland, and the economics of refloating her are about the same as those of moving the Empire State Building across the street.
Clive Cussier's plot solves this, in its offhanded way, by placing the priceless byzanium (the world's supply having been mined before the Titanic's illfated voyage of 1912) in her hold. The result is that when the Titanic finally breaks the surface, and is towed to New York, her star turn is over.
The movie, which is just over two hours long, unfortunately is not.
"Raise the Titanic" was shot in many dramatic locatins, including Washington, where Sheridan House served as the Soviet Embassy. The time is early autumn, and the ciy has never looked better. Football weather. Leaves just beginning to fall. Sweaters coming out.
The film isn't much, and will soon find its rightful place on network television, where commercial interruptions will do it little harm. But at least the weather report is encouraging.