Armed with a strong cast (which also includes Anne Archer, M. Emmet Walsh, and Sir Alec Guinness) and some spectacular model effects, Raise the Titanic is engaging almost in spite of what seems like a pointed disinterest in its own silliness. This isn't to say that the film's tone is entirely wrongheaded, or that the project is naturally B-movie material, but it does feel like the movie's intended audience member is simultaneously age 10 and age 35, and it would probably be better if the filmmakers had picked one. (Personally, I'd have edged toward the former; a little more emphasis on fun could've bumped the production up from "enjoyable diversion" to "minor adventure classic.")
Adapted from the novel by Clive Cussler (the only movie based on his work until Sahara in 2005, both of which he was unhappy with) the real star of Raise the Titanic is its premise, but the talented actors assembled here help make it all seem plausible. When one considers the dialogue separate from the delivery, all three of them do a good job of building up an overall portrait of their man from little conflicts and disagreements. The script pitches a battle between Pitt and Seagram based on Dana (Archer), who lived with Pitt years ago, and is now married to Seagram, but Jordan and Selby make it into more of a philosophical disagreement about idealism versus cynicism. Guinness plays a co-captain who survived the Titanic disaster, and brings such wit and warmth to what is mostly exposition that it's a shame he only appears in one scene.
The story leaves the most to be desired. Author Larry McMurtry stated that he was among at least 17 different screenwriters who took a crack at Cussler's book, which he described as "less a novel than a manual." However, the challenges of lifting the ship might've provided more visual excitement. Instead, not only does it take an hour before the characters hit the water, but most of the film is taken up by exploration and explanation. The pacing of the film as it stands is fine, but it's not likely that anyone goes to Raise the Titanic for an hour of talk and another half hour of looking. An attempt to break up the tension with a scene of a sub springing a leak is abrupt and somewhat unnecessary.
What buoys (wink) the film during the second half is the extensive, impressive special effects work used to bring the undersea exploration sequences and the Titanic herself to life. When the ship is finally discovered, the crew must plant explosives around the hull in order to blast the ship loose from the sea floor, after which a ring of flotation tanks will simply lift the ship to the surface. It'd be nice if the events leading up to the big finish were a little more propulsive (another attempt at tension during the home stretch feels strangely subdued, lacking the obvious payoff moments), but there's no denying the satisfaction of the film's climax, which looks fantastic even now. Raise the Titanic was a massive financial disaster, earning less than half of its 40 million budget back, but the money is visible on the screen, used to great effect on the kind of hand-crafted visuals that are all but a distant memory in the 21st century.
The Video and Audio
Much like the film itself, a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track provides a somewhat reserved but still spectacular audio experience. The sound effects and music are presented here with great precision and vibrancy, especially when it comes to the film's big finale, from the muffled underwater explosions of the charges detonating to the creak and moan of the metal hull and the sound of rushing water. A 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is also included. The film was presented in stereo in theaters, so I believe the 5.1 must be a modern-day remix, but, like the picture, it sounded faithful to my ears, without any modern-day tweaking. Sadly, no subtitles or captions are included on this Blu-Ray.
An original theatrical trailer for Raise the Titanic is also included.