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
Starring Denzel Washington
Gene Hackman
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 $157,387,195

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 in Chechnya quickly spreads into the neighboring Caucasus republics, and in response the Russian president orders massive bombing strikes against rebel positions. Appalled at the loss of human life, the President of the United States, the British Prime Minister, and the President of France suspend all foreign aid to Russia. Ultranationalist leader Vladimir Radchenko denounces this as an act of war against Russia, and calls the Russian president a puppet of the United States. Martial law is declared in Russia as Radchenko openly revolts against the Russian government and seizes the region around Vladivostok, which includes a naval base and a nuclear missile base which houses Russian ICBMs. Regular Russian military forces encircle Radchenko's forces, while the Allies put their military forces on high alert.

A U.S. Navy ballistic missile submarine, the USS Alabama, is assigned to a patrol mission to be available to launch its nuclear missiles in a pre-emptive strike if Radchenko attempts to fuel his missiles. Captain Frank Ramsey (Hackman) is the submarine's commanding officer, one of only a few active commanders left in the U.S. Navy with combat experience. He chooses as his new executive officer Lieutenant Commander Ron Hunter (Washington), who has an extensive education in military history and tactics, but no combat experience.

During their initial days at sea, tension between Ramsey and Hunter becomes apparent due to a clash of personalities: Hunter is more analytical and cautious, while Ramsey is more intuitive and impulsive. This becomes evident when Ramsey orders a mock missile launch drill while Hunter is tending to an out-of-control grease fire in the ship's galley. Hunter eventually responds to the drill, but not before hesitation due to disagreement. The fire is quenched, but the ship's mess chief, Marichek, has a heart attack and dies. Ramsey terminates the drill upon receiving this news. Afterwards, Ramsey explains to Hunter that chaos is the perfect opportunity to test the crew's abilities, but Hunter fears crew morale will suffer due to constant testing and failure. The next day, Hunter observes two crewmen fighting over a seemingly trivial matter, confirming his fear. He tells Ramsey, but Ramsey is unconcerned, even going so far as to embarrass Hunter over the ship's ship-wide intercom and telling the crew to stay focused on the mission.

The Alabama eventually receives an Emergency Action Message, ordering the launch of ten of its missiles against the Russian nuclear installation, based on satellite information that the Russians' missiles are being fuelled. Before the Alabama can launch its missiles, a second radio message begins to be received, but is cut off by the attack of a Russian Akula-class submarine loyal to Radchenko.

The radio electronics are damaged in the attack and cannot be used to decode the second message. With the last confirmed order being to launch, Captain Ramsey decides to proceed. Hunter refuses to concur—his concurrence is procedurally required to launch—because he believes the partial second message may be a retraction. Hunter argues that the Alabama is not the only American submarine in the area, and if the order is not retracted, other submarines will launch their missiles as part of the Navy's standard redundancy doctrine. Ramsey argues that the other American submarines may have been destroyed, as theirs nearly was.

When Hunter refuses to consent to launch, 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 protocol. The crew's loyalty is divided between Hunter and Ramsey, but Hunter initially takes command. Other crewmen try to repair the radio while the battle for command ensues. The Alabama is attacked again by the Russian submarine which initially fires two torpedoes, which after the deployment of counter-measures both miss. The Russian submarine is subsequently destroyed, but not before it manages to fire one further torpedo, which explodes near the Alabama, flooding the bilge bay and disabling the submarine's communications and main propulsion.

The crew tries desperately to restore what has been damaged. Three crewmen are attempting to stop the bilge bay flooding, but Hunter reckons that, if the bay is not sealed, too much water will be taken on to enable the sub to rise once propulsion is restored. Hunter orders the crewmen to exit and the bilge bay to be sealed. Unfortunately, the men are unable to exit the bilge bay in time, and the compartment is sealed with them inside, drowning them. Shortly before the Alabama reaches crush depth, the propulsion systems come back online, and Hunter orders the sub to proceed to near-surface level. Once repairs are complete, this would allow the Alabama to re-establish communications and receive the cut-off message.

In the meantime, Lieutenant Dougherty, who is loyal to Ramsey, organizes a mutiny against Hunter with Lieutenants Zimmer and Westegard. They try to recruit Lieutenant "Weps" Ince, but Ince is hesitant, having been friends with Hunter for a long time and feeling Hunter may be right. Ramsey and the others draw small arms and recover the control room from Hunter. Ramsey then proceeds with the missile launch order, and engages the missile lock key at the bridge.

Hunter escapes his arrest and gains 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. When Ince initially refuses, Ramsey threatens to shoot him but hesitates since Ince is the only one on the sub that knows the combination to the safe. He then relents after Ramsey threatens to shoot another crew member. Meanwhile, Hunter and the crew members siding with him stage another retaking of the control room. Hunter removes the missile key just as Ramsey pulls the trigger to fire a missile. Ramsey returns to the control room and demands Hunter hand over the missile key, but Hunter is resolute. With the radio team reporting their repairs are almost ready, the two men agree to a compromise; they will wait until the launch deadline to see if the radio can be repaired. They talk about Lipizzaner horses being from Portugal or Spain. After several tense minutes, communications are restored and they finally see the full message from the second transmission: It is a retraction ordering that the missile launch be aborted, because Radchenko's rebellion has been quelled. A chastened Ramsey leaves the conn.

After returning to base, Ramsey and Hunter are put before a naval panel (board of inquiry) to answer for their actions. The panel concludes that both men were simultaneously right and wrong, so Hunter's actions were lawfully justified. Unofficially, the rear admiral in charge of the panel chastises both men for failing to resolve the issues between them. Thanks to Ramsey's personal recommendation, the panel agrees to grant Hunter command at the earliest possible convenience, while allowing Ramsey to save face via an early retirement. Both men then reconcile their differences and part ways.



listen to a clip from the score of the 1995 film Crimson Tide.

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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]

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.[6] 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 the USS Barbel (SS-580). 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.[7]

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.[8]


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.[9]

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.[10] 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.[11] 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."[12]

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."[13]


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).[9][14]


  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. ^ 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. 
  7. ^ "Crimson Tide (1995) Trivia". IMDb. Retrieved 17 March 2016. 
  8. '^ Ryan, Tim. "Navy wasn't privy to 'Tide," Reading Eagle (May 12, 1995).
  9. ^ a b Crimson Tide at Box Office Mojo
  10. ^ Crimson Tide at Rotten Tomatoes
  11. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Crimson Tide," Chicago Sun-Times (May 12, 1995).
  12. ^ LaSalle, Mick. "Tension Hot in Crimson: Submarine thriller a first-rate story," San Francisco Chronicle (May 12, 1995).
  13. ^ Gleiberman, Owen. "Movie Review: Crimson Tide," Entertainment Weekly (May 12, 1995).
  14. ^ "The 68th Academy Awards (1996) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011-10-23. 

External links[edit]