There are many movies about ocean-going disasters, from depictions of the sinking of the legendary Titanic to Irwin Allen’s disaster classic The Poseidon Adventure, but in 1981 a made-for-television production tried to make a “Prime Time Event” about an ocean liner that was sunk during WWII and the surprising events surrounding the wreck’s discovery in the present day, but what is more surprising is what Network executives thought could pass for a movie.
In 1998, at the MTV Movie Awards, Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn performed a comedic bit where they pitched to James Cameron a sequel to his blockbuster Titanic, with the idea that Leo’s character, along with hundreds of other passengers, somehow survived the sinking and now lived in an “undersea utopia” called Titani, the last letter of the boat’s name having been rusted off, now, even though that skit pitched an absolutely ludicrous premise would it surprise you to know that seventeen years earlier ABC aired a movie with almost that exact same premise?
Forty years after the sinking of the Goliath, a research ship looking for manganese discovers the wreck lying upright in 1,000 feet of water, and while exploring the outside of the sunken wreck oceanographer Peter Cabot (Mark Harmon) hears systematic banging and music coming from inside the ship, but he is even more shocked to see the face of a beautiful young woman (Emma Samms) peering out of a porthole. Needless to say, upon returning to the surface Cabot’s claims are chalked up to poor oxygen mixture and he’s quickly rushed to a hospital, where he eventually gets a meeting with Admiral Wiley Sloan (Eddie Albert), who pretends to consider Cabot’s insane story and orders Cmdr. Jeff Selkirk (Robert Forster) to contact a British salvage company to check out Cabot’s claim. The twist here is that the idea of finding a pretty girl on a sunken ship was not the reason behind this mission being greenlit, turns out that onboard the Goliath were documents forged by Nazi spies and if these papers were to ever see the light of day they could destroy NATO, so a joint American/British military team is sent by the Admiral to retrieve and destroy those documents.
Note: A year earlier saw the release of Raise the Titanic, a film based on the Clive Cussler novel where a secret agenda in “Raising the Titanic” had to do with an extremely rare mineral called Byzanium that was rumoured to be on board the Titanic, which the U.S. Government needed for a new defence program.
When they take a submersible back down to the Goliath all doubts surrounding Cabot’s story are put aside when they hear a message in Morris Code from inside the sunken ship, stating, “Goliath. Onboard, 337. Danger. Air toxic. Beware, McKenzie” and with that startling and cryptic message, the plot of Goliath Awaits is finally underway. We soon learn that back in 1939, while the ship was sinking, John McKenzie (Christopher Lee) and the crew were able to get the pressure inside Goliath equalized with that of the pressure on the outside while it sank, so that the water was held back, and then a shipment of barrel lime was spread around to soak up the carbon dioxide which would allow the survivors to breathe until they could later construct a more permanent air scrubbing system. Now, if that sounds like utter nonsense that’s because it is, even if all of that had worked, which it wouldn’t have, forty years of saltwater would have eventually rusted portions of the ship away and the ocean would have flooded in and drowned everyone onboard, but this is the bold and idiotic premise of this movie and I do give credit to the actors for delivering such ridiculous dialogue with at least a modicum of seriousness.
Things are quickly revealed to be not all that peachy keen aboard the Goliath, being underwater for forty years that is to be expected, but Cabot and company, which includes Selkirk, Dr. Sam Marlowe (Alex Cord), and engineer Bill Sweeney (John Ratzenberger), soon discover that there are factions aboard the Goliath, some of which who want to overthrow the dictatorship regime of McKenzie and escape to the surface, while others seem more than happy to remain at the bottom of the ocean under McKenzie’s brutal hand. An even darker cloud is revealed when Cabot learns that McKenzie and his “Number One Guy” Dan Wesker (Frank Gorshin) have been keeping the population of the Goliath under control via mandatory contraception, euthanasia, and outright murder disguised as a mysterious ailment called Palmer’s Disease when rescue threatens McKenzie’s “Utopia” and his position as “God-King. ” He does his best to stop his people from listening to Cabot and Selkirk and things reach a boiling point when McKenzie informs Wesker that “We’ve created a very special world down here, you and I, and I don’t intend to let it die.” Needless to say, things go badly from there and it’s up to our heroes to rescue as many people as possible.
• Upon seeing a sonar image of the sunken ship, Peter Cabot remarks, “Damn, she’s at least as big as the Queen Mary” in fact, the filmmakers used the actual Queen Mary to double for much of Goliath’s interiors.
• If you find Christopher Lee at the bottom of the ocean, alive when he should be dead, you should put a stake right through his heart, just to play it safe.
• Aboard Goliath they have a movie night where they screen a film supposedly starring John Carradine’s character, but it’s actually The Black Night starring Christopher Lee’s old friend Peter Cushing.
• Robert Forster had already dealt with a crazed ship commander a few years earlier in Disney’s space adventure film The Black Hole.
• The Goliath derives its power from a pair of Scotch Boilers, and we are told that they are fueled by oil when in fact they actually ran on coal, but regardless of the type of fuel used the idea of either one lasting forty years is rather absurd.
• Clothing in the late 30s must have been made of incredible material because the outfits worn by the Goliath passengers didn’t seem to wear or fade even after forty years of constant use.
• If McKenzie and Wesker have implemented some kind of euthanasia plan to remove “non-essential personnel” from Goliath, in the form of a mysterious ailment called Palmer’s Disease, it’s odd that there are so many elderly people still alive.
These kinds of films do require a certain amount of suspension of disbelief but Goliath Awaits will put even the most open-minded person to the test by its sheer absurdity, and not even the supplied love story between Mark Harmon’s character and the pretty daughter of Christopher Lee’s Captain Ahab wannabe can distract one from just how utterly nonsensical the entire plot is, which sinks faster than a torpedoed ocean liner, but we at least have fun performances by Christopher Lee and Frank Gorshin to entertain us, unfortunately, as this movie is over three hours in length even those legends weren’t able to provide enough heavy lifting to keep this thing afloat.
The liberal use of stock footage from various ocean disaster movies, and a budget that strained itself in creating this undersea utopia, resulted in a world that didn’t look all that convincing, and then there is the subplot dealing with those forged WWII documents that wasn’t so much implausible as it was completely unnecessary and basically forgotten about half-way through – we do get some bullshit from Christopher Lee about its existence proving that the upper world isn’t worth living in but it makes about as much sense as him ignoring the fact that his ship only has a month or so left of power but he still doesn’t want his people rescued – and thus when the film reaches its “exciting” conclusion we don’t really care about any of these people, most who are too stupid to live. In conclusion, Goliath Awaits was one of those made-for-television events that are only memorable due to the absurdity of its premise and for its noteworthy cast, and not for being especially good.
Goliath Awaits (1981)
Movie Rank - 5/10
This three-hour behemoth of a movie may include the likes of Christopher Lee, John Carradine, and Frank Gorshin but it also has Mark Harmon subjecting us to a cardboard performance and Robert Forster clearly hoping this thing does not appear on his resume, basically, Goliath Awaits is a disaster movie in more ways than one.