I had my first encounter with Dirk Pitt when I was in grade one. My teacher, Mr. Compton, was seated at his desk with his feet up, chair tilted back, reading a paperback novel while we were hard at work. I had finished the assignment and wandered over to ask him what to do next. I approached his desk, perplexed by the image on the paperback of something shooting up amidst a fantastic spray of water. I read the title.
“Something” the Titanic. Rise the Titanic? No, Raise the Titanic!
I knew what the Titanic was, hence why I could recognize that word before “raise”, which is really beyond a grade one vocabulary unless you’re me and had tried tackling the novelization of Star Wars earlier that year. The Titanic was a sticker in my book on ships; a ship that had sunk when struck by an iceberg. My burgeoning male psyche reveled in disaster; from the destruction of Japan in Godzilla movies to the explosion that consumed the Hindenburg, I was interested. So I was very interested in what Mr. Compton was reading.
Sadly, my attempt at reading Star Wars was a big enough failure to inform me I likely wouldn’t be reading Raise the Titanic any time soon. It would be another three years before I owned my own copy. It wasn’t hard to find, seeing as the movie adaptation was released that year. It featured the same cover art that Mr. Compton’s had, though I really liked my sister’s copy better, a dark blue monochrome of submersibles playing their lights across the surface of the ruined ship. I liked any picture of the titanic. My copy only had the stern rocketing up out of the water.
We each had our own copy because we were voracious readers, although my sister had two years on me in reading comprehension. As a result, she got to the part where the Russians threaten to cut off the femme fatale’s breast first. Deanna was always a more sensitive soul than I was in this regard. Gore never bothered me much. She quailed at the story of Solomon ordering the bifurcation of the baby claimed by two different mothers. I used to sit and look at the picture of Goliath getting a rock sunk in his frontal lobe with awe and wonder.
It would be another five years or so until I’d get to read that part. In addition to the threatened mastectomy, the book featured more coarse language than I’d ever laid eyes upon. Someone always seemed to be saying the “f-word” as we called it in those days. Raise the Titanic! went on the banned reading list in our house.
A note about that movie adaptation before I continue. I remember that Obi-Wan Kenobi was in it. And I remembered that the Titanic did indeed, get raised. Nothing else about the film was memorable. I don’t think the Russians threatened any mutilation. And above all, when I got around to reading Raise the Titanic! as a teenager and realized that Dirk Pitt was the hero, I couldn’t remember for the life of me who played him in the film.
It turns out it was Richard Jordan, who looks and acts nothing like Dirk Pitt. Clive Cussler, the author of Raise the Titanic! was so disappointed with the film adaptation that he vowed to never again allow one of his books to be made into a movie.
Somewhere along the way to 2005 he caved, but only with the proviso that nothing got done without his permission. Hollywood got tired of waiting for Clive to approve the perfect script, and went ahead and made Sahara, another novel that Dirk Pitt is the hero of.
Because Dirk is the hero of the lion’s share of Clive Cussler novels. After I read Raise the Titanic!, I read the rest of the books about Dirk Pitt that were available back then. Dirk joined the long list of my fictional heroes; Conan, Doc Savage, Superman, Mack Bolan, Wolverine…the list goes on, but unlike Conan or Superman, I kind of thought “I could be like Dirk.” He was an attainable hero goal (or at least I was naieve enough to think so at the time), especially since I usually read those novels in the heat of summer and could go swimming (All of Dirk's adventures are related to being under or on the water).
I had though the same thing about Doc Savage, and as a result was doing an exercise program about the same time my parents made Dirk verboten. Doc was a great hero for a kid or a young teen, but Dirk was the hero for a guy looking to become a man.
Dirk is a "man’s man," as the opening lines from What Women Want describe one. He smokes cigars, drinks hard liquor, has a great tan, wavy hair, chicks dig him and he’s tough as nails. He’s cavalier and yet compassionate. He’s intelligent but not a pedant. And most importantly, he lives a life of adventure.
And adventure is what Sahara is all about. It’s the sort of adventure that was in vogue in the mid to late 80’s, with treasures to be found and villains without any real political affiliation to be fought. In Dirk’s universe, bad guys are bad and good guys are good (but not too good) and Dirk takes it all in with a sly grin.
I’ve read some of the reviews for Sahara by Cussler purists. They likely think the old man has a leg to stand on in holding a grudge against the filmmakers. It goes without saying that Steve Zahn looks nothing like the Al Giordano of the books, but he sure makes a great comedic counterpart to Matthew McConaughey as Dirk. And while some people don’t like Matthew's portrayal, I think he’s perfect. He’s got the build and the tan and the wry smile, and above all…he’s got the wavy hair. Dirk has wavy hair. Something a guy with natural curl likes in a hero. After years of trying to get my naturally curly hair to look like Tintin’s, Dirk was a godsend. Furthermore, for those who don't like Matthew as Dirk, I have two words for you. Richard. Jordan.
I'm really hoping Sahara opens the door for a Clive Cussler film franchise, because I'm sick to death of James Bond, and Jack Ryan can often be a bit of a bore, and I'm not into Jason Bourne's grim universe where no one ever smiles and the hero never gets to drop a one-liner. I like the universe Dirk Pitt inhabits. It just looks like everyone is having a good time. Someone needs to go tell Clive that's the whole point, is to have a good time. Mr. Cussler, I had a great time reading your books, but I really liked the movie too. Now get over it. I have three words for you. Raise. The. Titanic.
If I haven't been plain enough, let me give you another example. For everyone who whined about Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings, I have a VHS copy of an old Ralph Bakshi flick I can lend you.
If you’re looking for mindless adventure that’s just a good time with no real pretense at being anything more than those things…go see Sahara. Or read any of Cussler’s novels. They won’t change your life, but they’re excellent page turning thrillers, so long as you don’t mind a whole lot of convenient coincidences, the proliferate use of the “f-word” and the occasional damsel in distress.
Just don’t tell my mom I told you to. I don't think she knows I got that second copy of Raise the Titanic!