The novel felt a bit different to the usual Dirk Pitt adventure from those I’ve read before. For one, there wasn’t a lot of Dirk. There were also a lot of characters that sometimes it took re-reading a passage to catch up with what was going on, especially at the start. The film did not have that issue. In fact there are so many characters and scenes omitted in the film adaptation that I want to say the screen version is “inspired by” the original text, instead of an out-right adaptation.
I enjoyed that the machismo was dialled back in the novel and this had a strong political strategy woven into the plot. Pitt read more like a mystery man, an enigma, a quiet hero, leaving out the humour and campiness of later volumes of the Pitt adventures. Consequently the film version of Pitt was so much worse. In fact I thought he was a bit of an ass – not a good opinion to have of the leading man. There was no mystery, no earthiness, no sea-worn larrikin. The screen version, played by Richard Jordan came off as an elite aristocrat and very much a part of the ‘Old Boys Club.’ All of that school-boy humour that Pitt is famous for is also edited out. No shade to Richard Jordan, but he is nothing like what I have pictured Pitt to be, and nothing like how he is described in the novels.
Dirk Pitt (Played by Richard Jordan and Admiral Sandecker (Played by Jason Robards)
I was sad to see that Al Giordino was left on the cutting room floor.
The political strategy and multiple scenes setting up the existence and application of Byzanium in the novel feels like a detective novel, each scene carefully crafted and driving the plot forward. The films interpretation skips all of this apart from one key scene and turns the political landscape into a story of nuclear dominance between America and Russia. All the nuance was gone. All the interwoven plot points replaced with this simplified America – good; Russia – bad.
The iconic NUMA organisation Pitt is the masthead for is completely ignored in the film too. The only existence it has are the letters printed on the side of a submersible. They don’t mention anything about the organisation or Pitt’s affiliation to it. That, out of everything felt like a gut-punch for any Cussler fan. The salvage operation of the Titanic in the film instead is treated as a military operation.
You get a real sense of research and facts popping to the forefront in the novel. A lot of Cussler books are, but ‘Raise the Titanic’ felt even more so. I have to say this is probably the best written novel of Cussler’s I’ve read to date. The right balance of mystery, espionage, nautical hijinks and heroics in the face of world domination. The film disappointed me in all of these areas. I did not get a sense of wonder or the depth of specialisation needed for the feat. Whatever their might have been was overshadowed by the stylized treatment of the film. Like some 1980’s high school presentation accompanied with some of the characters actually eye-rolling.
The film also added in some completely new scenes around the extrication of the Titanic from the seafloor. The loss of the Starfish and its crew from decompressive explosion, and the crew of another submersible trapped under some rigging and turned into the main motivation for raising the Titanic within a time limit. These scenes also removed Pitt from being the specialist he is and attempted to paint Dr. Gene Seagram as a bit of a fool. Both which I thought unnecessary.
The novel sees scenes bringing journalist Dana back into the conclusion, where in the film she’s just a tool for the plot releasing news of the Titanic and Byzanium to the public. Apart from that, not a single female is present in the film whatsoever. The feminist in me just threw up in her mouth.
I can understand why this scene and many others were cut: the time restraints to fit all that into a cinematic production would have turned this into a mini-series. In actual fact maybe that’s the direction they should have gone in. The special effects are okay I guess for the time this film was released, but viewing it again today, it comes across as amateur. Long slow-motion panning shots and a soundtrack that felt repetitive did not help with creating a wondrous atmosphere and bogged down the pacing of the film.
Alternatively, the novel was excellently paced. The start is full of positioning the powers players on the chessboard, but after that is established, I couldn’t put it down. The tension is so well done. You can feel the dark abyssal pressures ready to crush you. The wonder of the Titanic, the need to beat the bad guys. In the iconic scene where the Titanic is drifting to the surface in the film however, obvious use of models detracts from my enjoyment; so too was the use of wind gusting sound effects. There was so much scientifically wrong with how it was filmed I laughed. With Cussler going to all the trouble researching and making the scene feel as realistic as possible, the film just made a mockery of the entire thing.
Model of the Titanic used in the making of ‘Raise the Titanic.’
The plot is mostly predictable both for the novel and the film – I mean it’s in the title – and you always want good to triumph over evil… but there were a few unexpected twists along the way which were a delight in the novel. The film left me bored. It was a 2 hour long yawn. It was interesting, but needed to be edited to pick up the pace. (And maybe make the hero look like a hero.)
After having read many of the later novels in the Dirk Pitt franchise, ‘Raise the Titanic’ not only introduced familiar characters, but also showed the beginnings of many relationships/careers which I found delightful. I did not get any of those feels after watching the film.
There was also an eerie precognition with this book written in 1977 before the discovery of the real Titanic on September 1, 1985, and how similar the ships condition was to the written text. The 1995 James Cameron documentary Titanic with footage was a joy to watch – I just wish the film would have been able to capture that same wonder. The film adaptation was released in 1980, and helped create publicity and momentum in the hunt for the iconic luxury cruise liners final resting place on the North Atlantic.
The novel has a very involved, intricate plot that hooked me in early and a title I highly recommend. The film however, a huge pass. No thanks, not ever. With so many of the core parts of the franchise cut from the film it felt soulless and delivered in a completely different tone. It didn’t even end in the same manner – all the characters were different except for Pitt.
Dr. Gene Seagram (David Selby) and Dirk Pitt (Richard Jordan)
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