Crimson Tide (film)

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Crimson Tide
Crimson tide movie poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Tony Scott
Produced by Don Simpson
Jerry Bruckheimer
Screenplay by Michael Schiffer
Quentin Tarantino (uncredited)
Story by Michael Schiffer
Richard P. Henrick
Music by Hans Zimmer
Cinematography Dariusz Wolski
Edited by Chris Lebenzon
Distributed by Buena Vista Pictures
Release dates
  • May 12, 1995 (1995-05-12)
Running time
116 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $53 million[1]
Box office $163.7 million

Crimson Tide is a 1995 American submarine film directed by Tony Scott, and produced by Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer. It takes place during a period of political turmoil in the Russian Federation, in which ultranationalists threaten to launch nuclear missiles at the United States and Japan. It focuses on a clash of wills between the new executive officer (Denzel Washington) of a U.S. nuclear missile submarine and its seasoned commanding officer (Gene Hackman), arising from conflicting interpretations of an order to launch their missiles.

The film was scored by Hans Zimmer, who won a Grammy Award for the main theme, which makes heavy use of synthesizers in place of traditional orchestral instruments.


In post-Soviet Russia, a rebellion originating in Chechnya prompts bombing strikes by Russia. The United States, the United Kingdom and France suspend all aid to Russia in response. Russian Ultranationalist leader Vladimir Radchenko denounces this as an act of war, and calls for revolt. Martial law is declared in Russia as forces loyal to Radchenko seize a region around Vladivostok, including a naval base and a nuclear missile base.

A U.S. Navy ballistic missile submarine, USS Alabama, commanded by combat veteran Captain Frank Ramsey (Hackman), is assigned to patrol in the Pacific Ocean to be available to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike. He chooses Lieutenant Commander Ron Hunter (Washington) as his executive officer, an officer with an extensive military education but no combat experience, as his XO has appendicitis.

During their initial days at sea, differing personalities cause tension to rise between Ramsey and Hunter; Hunter is more analytical and cautious, while Ramsey is more intuitive, impulsive, and demanding. Ramsey orders a mock missile launch drill while Hunter is tending to an out-of-control fire in the ship's galley, which delays his response to the drill. Afterward, Ramsey explains to Hunter that chaos is the perfect opportunity to test the crew's abilities, while Hunter privately feels the action was irresponsible and coincidentally resulted in the demise of a crewmember who suffered an MI.

Hunter believes crew morale will suffer from the situation and constant testing, and observes two crewmen fighting over a seemingly trivial matter. Hunter informs Ramsey but he is unconcerned, and embarrasses Hunter over the ship-wide intercom and tells the crew to stay focused on the mission.

Alabama eventually receives an Emergency Action Message, that Russian nuclear missiles are being fuelled, and ordering the launch of ten of its missiles against the nuclear installation. Before Alabama can launch its missiles a second message arrives, but the radio equipment is damaged by the attack of a Russian Akula-class submarine loyal to Radchenko, revealing only a part of the message.

With the last confirmed order being to launch their nuclear arsenal, Capt. Ramsey decides to proceed. Hunter refuses to concur—his concurrence is procedurally required to launch—believing the second message may be a retraction. Hunter argues that other submarines will launch their missiles if Alabama does not, as part of the Navy's standard redundancy doctrine. Ramsey argues that the other American submarines may have been destroyed, as theirs nearly was, leaving them the only ones to comply with the order to launch.

When Hunter refuses to concur with the launch order, Ramsey tries to relieve him of duty and to replace him with a different officer. Instead, Hunter orders the arrest of Ramsey for attempting to circumvent regulations, and is supported by the COB. The crew's loyalty is divided between Hunter and Ramsey, but Hunter eventually takes command. Other crewmen try to repair the radio while the battle for command ensues.

Alabama is attacked again by the Russian submarine. Alabama evades two torpedoes and destroys the Akula, but not before it fires a third, which explodes near Alabama, flooding the bilge bay and disabling the submarine's main propulsion. Alabama begins to sink.

The crew tries desperately to repair the damage. COB warns Hunter that the bilge bay must be sealed or the ship will be lost. Hunter orders the crewmen to exit the bilge bay and seal it. Unfortunately, they are unable to exit the bilge bay in time, and the compartment is sealed with them inside. Shortly before the Alabama reaches crush depth, the propulsion system is repaired in time and Hunter orders the sub to ascend to periscope depth.

In the meantime, Lieutenant Dougherty, who is loyal to Ramsey, organizes a mutiny against Hunter with Lieutenants Zimmer and Westergard, and tries to recruit Lieutenant "Weps" Ince. In A long-time friend of Hunter, Ince is hesitant, but through force of will, joins the mutiny. Ramsey and the mutineers draw small arms and recover the control room from Hunter, confining Hunter and his supporters. Ramsey then proceeds with the missile launch order, and engages the missile lock key at the bridge.

Hunter and supporters escape their confines and gain the support of Ince in the missile control room, further delaying the launch. Ramsey leaves the control room and tries to force Ince to open the safe containing the firing trigger. Ramsey threatens to shoot Ince, but since only Ince knows the combination to the safe, threatens to shoot a Petty Officer of Ince's team. Ince relents, and opens the safe.

Meanwhile, Hunter and his supporters retake the control room. Hunter deactivates the missile system just as Ramsey pulls the firing trigger. Ramsey returns to the control room and demands Hunter hand over the missile key, but Hunter refuses. With the radio team reporting their repairs almost complete, the two men agree to wait until the launch deadline to see if the radio can be repaired. After several tense minutes, communications are restored and they finally see the full message of the second transmission: it is an order to abort the launch because Radchenko's rebellion has been quelled. A chastened Ramsey leaves the control room.

After returning to base, Capt. Ramsey and LCDR Hunter are put before a board of inquiry. The panel concludes that both men were simultaneously right and wrong, while unofficially chastising both men for failing to resolve their differences. Thanks to Capt. Ramsey's personal recommendation, the panel recommends LCDR Hunter be given command at the earliest possible convenience, and that Capt. Ramsey be permitted to retire early. The men reconcile, and part ways.



The score for Crimson Tide was composed by Hans Zimmer, and employs a blend of orchestra, choir and synthesizer sounds. It includes additional music by Nick Glennie-Smith and was conducted by Harry Gregson-Williams. Within the score is the well-known naval hymn, "Eternal Father, Strong to Save". The score won a Grammy Award in 1996 for Best Instrumental Composition Written for a Motion Picture or for Television, and Zimmer has described it as one of his personal favorites.[3]

The film has uncredited additional writing by Quentin Tarantino, much of it being the pop-culture-reference laden dialogue.[4][5]

In 1993 the Navy allowed studio executives researching the movie to embark aboard Trident submarine USS Florida from Bangor, Washington, with the Gold Crew. Those embarked included Hollywood Pictures president Ricardo Mestres,[6] director Tony Scott, producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson, screenwriter Micheal Schiffer,[7] and writer Richard Henrick. While aboard, the Navy allowed the film crew to videotape the Florida's Executive Officer, Lieutenant Commander William Toti, performing many of the same actions (Executive Officer's response to fire, flooding, missile launch sequence, etc.) that actor Denzel Washington eventually performed as Executive Officer in the movie. Washington's remarkably accurate portrayal of a Trident submarine Executive Officer in the movie may have been due to the fact he studied these videotapes of Toti to prepare for the role.

The Navy had been led to believe that the movie's storyline was going to be about a Trident submarine crew attempting to stop the ship's (fictional) computer from launching nuclear missiles and starting World War III. In movie parlance, the Navy was told the story would be "Hunt for Red October meets 2001: A Space Odyssey." The Navy wanted the Florida crew to prove to the studio executives that "there is no computer on a Trident submarine that can launch missiles, hence the storyline is implausible.

Following the at-sea walk-through and missile launch demonstration, the Florida returned to port to drop off the studio executives. During that transit, Toti spent a great deal of time in the ship's wardroom with the studio executives, walking them through the missile launch redundancy procedures. A few months later when the studio returned to the Navy with the revised storyline, and the Executive Officer, Lieutenant Commander Hunter (the Denzel Washington character) was now leading a mutiny against the commanding officer to prevent a missile launch.

Some within the Navy alleged that Toti had planted the seed of the mutiny storyline in the heads of the producers during their wardroom visit. The possibility that a sitting Trident Executive Officer had potentially discussed the possibility of a mutiny to prevent a missile launch was understandably worrisome to senior submarine officials. However, Bruckheimer has insisted that the movie was always about the Executive Officer leading a mutiny, and the computer-gone-wild storyline was possibly just a ruse for the film executives to get onto the real submarine.

In the end, the U.S. Navy objected to many of the elements in the script—particularly mutiny on board a U.S. naval vessel—and as such, the film was produced without the U.S. Navy's assistance.[8] The French Navy (Marine Nationale) assisted the team for production with the French aircraft carrier Foch and one Triomphant class SNLE (SSBN). The dockside scene where Captain Ramsey addresses the crew with the Alabama in the background, and after his speech the crew runs on board, is of USS Barbel. The sail ("conning tower") was a plywood mock-up since Barbel's sail had been removed. Barbel had been sold by the U.S. Navy and was being scrapped.[9]

Because of the U.S. Navy's refusal to cooperate with the filming, the production company was unable to secure footage of a submarine submerging. After checking to make sure there was no law against filming naval vessels, the producers waited at the submarine base at Pearl Harbor until a submarine put to sea. After a submarine (coincidentally, the real USS Alabama) left port, they pursued it in a boat and helicopter, filming as they went. They continued to do so until it submerged, giving them the footage they needed to incorporate into the film.[10]


Box office[edit]

Crimson Tide earned $18.6 million in the United States on its opening weekend, which ranked #1 for all films released that week. Overall, it earned $91 million in the U.S. and an additional $66 million internationally, for a total of $157.3 million.[11]

Critical reception[edit]

The film received mostly positive reviews from critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 87% of 46 critics have given the film a positive review, with a rating average of 7.5 out of 10.[12] A number of critics cited Hackman and Washington's performances, and enjoyed the film's snappy, pop culture inflected dialogue.

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote, "This is the rare kind of war movie that not only thrills people while they're watching it, but invites them to leave the theater actually discussing the issues," and ultimately gave the film three-and-a-half stars out of four.[13] Meanwhile, Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote, "Crimson Tide has everything you could want from an action thriller and a few other things you usually can't hope to expect."[14]

Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly wrote that, "what makes Crimson Tide a riveting pop drama is the way the conflict comes to the fore in the battle between two men. ... The end of the world may be around the corner, but what holds us is the sight of two superlatively fierce actors working at the top of their game."[15]


Crimson Tide was nominated for three Academy Awards, for Editing, Sound (Kevin O'Connell, Rick Kline, Gregory H. Watkins and William B. Kaplan) and Sound Editing (George Watters II).[11][16]


  1. ^ "Crimson Tide (1995) - Box office / business". IMDb. Retrieved July 25, 2010. 
  2. ^ Franklin Celebrates 72nd Birthday With Denzel Washington
  3. ^ "Hans Zimmer Interview". Film Score. Retrieved 2008-08-03. 
  4. ^ Peary, Gerald (August 1998). "Chronology". Quentin Tarantino Interviews. Conversations with Filmmakers Series. University Press of Mississippi. p. xviii. ISBN 1-57806-050-8. Retrieved 2008-08-03. 
  5. ^ "Quentin Tarantino Biography". Yahoo Movies. Retrieved 2009-02-10. 
  6. ^ imdbname:0582338
  7. ^ "Michael Schiffer". IMDB. 
  8. ^ Suid, Lawrence (2002). Guts & Glory: The Making of the American Military Image in Film (2 ed.). University Press of Kentucky. p. 748. ISBN 978-0-8131-9018-1. Retrieved February 2, 2009. 
  9. ^ "Crimson Tide (1995) Trivia". IMDb. Retrieved 17 March 2016. 
  10. ^ Ryan, Tim. "Navy wasn't privy to 'Tide'" Reading Eagle (May 12, 1995).
  11. ^ a b Crimson Tide at Box Office Mojo
  12. ^ Crimson Tide at Rotten Tomatoes
  13. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Crimson Tide," Chicago Sun-Times (May 12, 1995).
  14. ^ LaSalle, Mick. "Tension Hot in Crimson: Submarine thriller a first-rate story," San Francisco Chronicle (May 12, 1995).
  15. ^ Gleiberman, Owen. "Movie Review: Crimson Tide," Entertainment Weekly (May 12, 1995).
  16. ^ "The 68th Academy Awards (1996) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011-10-23. 

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