A-Ron’s Film Rewind Presents: Crimson Tide (1995) – 25th Anniversary

A-Ron’s Film Rewind Series Presents: “Gentlemen, we are at Defcon 3, war is imminent. This is the captain. That is all”. A 25th anniversary celebration of “Crimson Tide”. Directed by veteran action director Tony Scott, produced by frequent producing partner Jerry Bruckheimer and starring two of the best actors of the last fifty years. Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman go head to head in dynamic power roles that fills the screen with tension. Hackman and Washington are simply brilliant and are well matched. The original screenplay was deemed as having a storyline that is implausible by the actual United States Navy. The Navy objected to many elements in the script, causing the film to go on without the Navy’s assistance. The tension builds between the all star cast, with screenwriter Michael Schiffer’s crackling script that had help from ghost writers, Oscar winners Quentin Tarantino and Robert Towne. It’s taut, high energy thrills and has sheer suspense. It’s one of the rare 90s action films that holds up exceptionally well and is as engaging now as it was decades ago.

Tony Scott was one of the top go to directors of action producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson in the 80’s and 90’s. Tony Scott was the younger brother to director Ridley Scott (“Gladiator”, “Alien”, “Blade Runner”). Tony Scott has directed over 30 films and produced at least 60, many of them with Ridley. Tony Scott passed away from suicide at age 68 on August 19, 2012. 

He maybe gone but he was a staple of 80’s and 90’s action films: “Beverly Hills Cop 2”, “Top Gun”, “Days Of Thunder”, “The Last Blu Scout”, and “True Romance”. He kept directing until his death, making movies in a whole new filmmaking style that was all his own: “Spy Game”, “Man On Fire”, “Deja Vu”, “Enemy Of The State” and “Domino”. 

In 1995, coming hot off the success of “True Romance”, which was written by Quentin Tarantino. Tony Scott pitted two of Hollywood’s greatest actors head to head, Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman in “Crimson Tide”. This would be one of the many films Scott directed, that was produced by Bruckheimer and Don Simpson. It is also the first of five movies that Tony Scott and Denzel Washington would work together on.

“Crimson Tide” 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. 

Producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer’s collective creative wheels began to turn in coming up with the idea for “Crimson Tide” when they watched the four-part documentary, “Submarines: Sharks of Steel”. By the time “Crimson Tide” was pitched to director Tony Scott, he had a great relationship with the U.S. Navy after filming “Top Gun

In 1993 during pre-production, the United States Navy allowed Tony Scott and his crew did some research about life on a submarine and boarded the Trident submarine USS Florida for a brief stint. Those embarked included Hollywood Pictures president of production Ricardo Mestres, director Tony Scott, producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson, screenwriter Michael Schiffer, and writer Richard Henrick. 

While aboard, the Navy allowed the film crew to videotape Florida’s Executive Officer, Lieutenant Commander William Toti, performing many of the same actions (including the Executive Officer’s response to fire, flooding and missile launch sequence) these were all actions that Denzel Washington eventually performed in the movie. Washington’s remarkably accurate portrayal of a Trident submarine Executive Officer was due to the fact he studied these videotapes of Toti to prepare for the role.

Originally, 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 computer from launching nuclear missiles and starting World War III. The Navy was told the story would be “The 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 USS 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, the studio returned to the Navy with the revised storyline and Executive Officer, Lieutenant Commander Hunter (the character played by Denzel Washington) 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 idea that a sitting Trident. Bruckheimer has insisted that the movie was always about the Executive Officer leading a mutiny. The computer gone wild storyline may just have been a ruse to get the film crew onto the real submarine.

In the end, the U.S. Navy objected to many of the elements in the script, particularly the mutiny on board a U.S. naval vessel and as such, the film was produced without the U.S. Navy’s assistance. The French Navy assisted the team for production with the use of the aircraft carrier Foch and a Triomphant-class submarine. 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 laws against filming naval vessels, the producers waited at the submarine base at Pearl Harbor until a submarine was 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 she submerged, giving them the footage they needed to incorporate into the film. The Navy complained about the use of their submarine in the film, but since the filming was shot in the open, there was nothing the US Navy could do except strongly complain.

Screenwriter Michael Schiffer has earned the film’s sole screenplay credit, although Schiffer had some help from two of Hollywood’s leading screenwriters. The Oscar-winning screenwriter of Roman Polanski’s “Chinatown”, Robert Towne served as a ghostwriter on the film. The scribe’s work included the scene in the officers’ mess where Hackman and Washington reveal their different philosophical views and discuss the true nature of war, foreshadowing their major disagreement that comes later on.

Also contributing some words to the script is another Oscar winner Quentin Tarantino. He wrote the scene in which members of the crew talked about their favorite submarine movies, including the scenes about Silver Surfer, and the Scotty and Captain Kirk dialogue. Tarantino and Tony Scott had worked together two years earlier, for Scott’s previous film “True Romance”, when Tarantino wrote the script. 

There was a confrontation on set when Denzel Washington was very open with his anger about Tarantino’s use of racial slurs. Tarantino requested that they have their argument privately, was reportedly denied by Denzel. In a 2012 interview with GQ, Washington said that he has since apologized to Tarantino, and pointed out that his own daughter had just acted in Tarantino’s “Django Unchained”. Brad Pitt wanted the role of Commander Hunter, because he wanted to work with Al Pacino. Once Pacino’s name was no longer attached, Pitt had lost interest in playing Hunter and Denzel Washington was casted. 

Two high profile actors Warren Beatty and Al Pacino both fought for the role of Captain Ramsey. After many meetings with Simpson and Bruckheimer, the two producers moved on from Beatty and Pacino, because they took too long to commit to taking the part. It was also said that Tommy Lee Jones, was considered for the part. Hackman had agreed in a reasonable amount of time and got the role. Hackman was perfect as Ramsey, it’s hard to see anyone else in the role. In a scene Hackman had accidentally punched Washington. Although Hackman insisted to Larry King in an interview, that it was an accident, he commented “It made things tense”.

Aside from having two of the greatest actors going head to head, “Crimson Tide” is full of A-list stars: Viggo Mortensen, George Dzunda, James Gandolfini, Matt Craven and Steve Zahn. “Crimson Tide” is also actor Ryan Phillippe’s first feature film.

The films score is by legendary Oscar winning composer Hans Zimmer, a frequent collaborator with Tony Scott’s brother Ridley Scott. It’s said that Zimmer had argued with Jerry Bruckheimer and Tony Scott over a single music cue for nearly a week. “We just sat there, we’d come in every day and we’d go at each other,” Zimmer told Film Score Monthly. It apparently all worked out, as Zimmer had won a Grammy in 1996 for Best Instrumental Composition Written for a Motion Picture or for Television. Zimmer has since described it as one of his personal favorite works. 

Crimson Tide was nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Sound, Best Film Editing and Best Effects and Sound Effects Editing. It earned $18.6 million in the on its opening weekend, which ranked it in the number 1 spot for that week. Overall, it earned $161 million on a $53 million budget. 

“Crimson Tide” is one of the rare 90s action films that is as engaging now as it was decades ago. “Crimson Tide” develops itself into an actors’ picture, not just an action thriller. There are special effects, high-tech gadgets and violent standoffs, but the movie is essentially a battle between two wills. It pits the difference of opinion of generational divide as well as putting two of the best actors of the last fifty years on screen in a dynamic of power roles that fills the screen with tension. Hackman and Washington are simply brilliant and are well-matched. 


My sympathies were Washington and while I could understand the logic of Hackman’s senior officer Ramsey. He is not a warmonger or a mad dog, just an officer so obsessed with following orders. While it doesn’t mention “Das Boot” or “The Hunt for Red October,” it could have as “Crimson Tide” is in the same skillful tradition. Because of the contained environment within the submarine, it makes for a great setting for a thriller. The throbbing of the engines sounding like a pulse. “Crimson Tide” is no exception and the atmosphere alone is sufficient to keep us on the edge.

It’s great to see a high-tech thriller that thrills because of its actors and what the film lacks in big slam-bang action sequences, it more than makes up for in sheer suspense. It’s taut, high energy thrills and has cracking dialogue. “Crimson Tide” finds director Tony Scott once again near the top of his game and is another fantastic film in the career of Tony Scott as one of his highly regarded films. 



About Aron Medeiros

Aron Medeiros
Aron Medeiros lives on the beautiful island of Maui. He is a member of The Hawaii Film Critics Society, movie critic for Maui Watch, a commentator and cast member of the NerdWatch pod cast. He is a 2003 graduate from King Kekaulike High School. His favorite film of all time is “Back To The Future”. He has worked at Consolidated Kaahumanu Theaters for nearly 13 years as a Sales Associate and making his way up to Assistant Manager. He has loved movies since he was a young boy, learning about movies from his Grandfather and being self taught.

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