A new defence system is being developed by the United States Government, a form of security that would protect the nation from missile attack, and all they need is a special mineral called byzanium for their satellite devices. One problem with that is, the entire supply of the substance was lost after it was mined on a small Arctic island decades ago, and nobody knows its whereabouts now. However, an American adventurer has taken it upon himself to visit the mine on the island and has discovered a clue to where it might be, it's just that the Soviet authorities have tracked him down and mean him harm, so the Americans send another adventurer after the man: Dirk Pitt (Richard Jordan), who rescues him and brings back some surprising news...
As you may have guessed from the title, the hoard of byzanium is resting at the bottom of the Atlantic ocean, within a vault on the Titanic in this, one of the most notorious flops of all time. It was the first film based on a Clive Cussler novel to reach the screen, a bestselling author who guarded his material all the more when he saw how this turned out - it took decades for him to be persuaded to allow another Pitt novel to be adapted, Sahara, and he detested that as well, presumably because it also took his source and messed around with the plot, thereby creating another flop. It can't do the author's ego much good when that happens, and so it was, twice stung, Cussler resolved never to allow moviemakers to have their way with his novels again.
Certainly Raise the Titanic became known more as a punchline than a piece of entertainment at the time, since hardly anybody went to see it, not helping that the production was so expensive it would have to be one of the biggest blockbusters ever to make its money back. Now it has been eclipsed in movie lore by James Cameron's scrupulously factual (er, apart from the characters) Titanic, which really was one of the biggest of all time and proof the connection to the terrible tragedy did not necessarily mean audiences would be turned off. Nevertheless, there are those who look back at this and wonder if it wasn't poorly served by the popular opinion that it wasn't worth watching, and if it didn't stick to the book as much as the Cussler fans would like, it was a rare chance to see Dirk Pitt on the screen.
They may have a point, but the fact remained it wasn't a wholly engaging work no matter where it came from, with too many stretches where we were asked to either sit back and listen to yet another conversation which you had to assume was very important, or merely be prompted into awe by the special effects, which in their day were much maligned and gave rise to various bathtub related jibes. Actually, the model of the ship itself may not have been accurate to how the genuine article looked when it was discovered five years after this was released (it had split in two for a start), but if you like watching model work then the actual raising of the Titanic didn't look half bad, it was a very nice construction with abundant attention to detail, no wonder when it cost as much as it did.
The actors did not fare as well, with headliner Jason Robards relegated to the exposition role, Anne Archer an uninteresting love interest the film cannot muster enough engagement in to even complete her storyline, David Selby unable to do much with a colourless part, and Alec Guinness drafted in for a couple of scenes in Cornwall, just to give the main clue to the ending, but offered slightly embarrassing business with a barmaid to beef up an extended cameo. There was some hubris in depicting the infamously thwarted voyage of the Titanic as finally completed, though a degree of optimism that the past could be set right eventually did lend the script's frequent problem solving as drama a note of resonance. The Cold War aspect was rather disposable, as indeed was the business with the satellite which was left rather pointless considering the way this was wrapped up in a manner that had you wondering what the aim had been other than to show off engineering ingenuity. Producer Lord Lew Grade quipped it would have been cheaper to lower the Atlantic. Music by John Barry.
[If you think this has been given an undeserved reputation over the years, then Network's Blu-ray offers the film its best-looking transfer yet, with the effects especially benefitting from the high definition. There are extras, including Barry's music suite, the trailer, featurettes and photos, but it's the pristine print that's the main draw here.]