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Crimson Tide is a 1995 submarine film directed by Tony Scott, produced by Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, and written by Michael Schiffer and Richard P. Henrick. It focuses on the tension that occurs aboard a nuclear submarine between the commanding officer, Captain Frank Ramsey (Gene Hackman), and the executive officer, Lieutenant Commander Ron Hunter (Denzel Washington). The two must share not only the scarce and dangerous space aboard an Ohio-class nuclear submarine, but also the weight of responsibility for the nuclear submarine-launched ballistic missiles they are trained to deploy, and the mental stress of the dire consequences that could result from this.

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.


The film takes place in 1994 (from several references made by the story) during a period of instability in Russiamarker. Units of the Russian military loyal to an ultranationalist have taken control of a nuclear missile installation and are threatening nuclear war if either the American or the Russian government attempts to confront him.

The United Statesmarker nuclear strategic missile submarine USS Alabama is given the mission to go on patrol and be available to launch its missiles in a preemptive strike if the Russian despot, Radchenko, attempts to fuel the missiles his men have captured. Captain Frank Ramsey (Hackman) is the commanding officer of the sub, and one of the few commanders left in the Navy with any combat experience. He chooses as his new executive officer (XO) 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, tensions between Ramsey and Hunter become apparent due to a clash of personalities: Hunter's more analytical, cautious approach towards his mission and the men, as opposed to Ramsey's more impulsive, fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants approach. The Alabama eventually receives an order to launch its missiles on the Russian nuclear installation, based on satellite information that the missiles are being fueled. Before the Alabama can launch, a second message begins to come through, but it is interrupted by the attack of a Russian Akula-class attack submarine friendly to Radchenko. Too deep for communications, attacked by the hostile Akula and with an order in hand to launch, Captain Ramsey decides to proceed with the launch. Hunter refuses to concur as is procedurally required to launch, and instead tries to convince Ramsay to confirm the second message, which he believes is possibly a retraction of the previous launch order. As the command crisis escalates, Ramsey portrays the XO as an upstart Harvardmarker graduate who does not respect his place in the chain of command.

When Hunter continues to refuse to consent to the missile launch, Ramsey tries to relieve him of duty of replace him with a different officer. Instead, Hunter orders the arrest of Ramsey for attempting to exceed his authority and do an end-run around nuclear launch protocol. The Chief of the Boat ("Cob"), who is an old friend of Ramsey, agrees with Hunter and has the captain removed from the conn and locked in his stateroom. The crew is visibly shaken, but order is maintained.

As Hunter attempts to confirm the second launch message, the Russian Akula-class reappears. An underwater battle ensues, in which the Russian sub is destroyed, but the Alabama is heavily damaged. The ship's communications are knocked out, several crew members are killed, and the boat takes on water, nearly sinking past the "crush depth" limit at which the submarine's hull will collapse.

While Hunter waits for communications to be restored, officers loyal to the captain leave the conn together. Ramsey escapes confinement with their help to confront Hunter with charges of mutiny, placing the XO and the officers who assisted him under arrest.

Ramsey nearly succeeds in launching the missiles, prevented only when Hunter persuades the weapons officer to stall for time while he re-takes the bridge with enlisted personnel by his side. In the end, a standoff ensues, and the conflicted officers agree to wait until the last possible moment to launch the missiles. The communications equipment is repaired in time and it is revealed that the Russian army has the situation under control and the rebellion is subdued, eliminating the need to launch the missiles.

The movie culminates in a review at the Pacific Fleet headquarters in Hawaiimarker where several admirals express grave concern about the breakdown of command aboard the Alabama and nuclear launch operations in wartime. While the elder Ramsey voluntarily retires, and the young Hunter is recommended for a command by Ramsey, the movie aims to present the intractably uncertain nature of the launch scenario, in essence placing full blame on neither as well as both characters. A gentlemen's reconciliation between officers occurs at the closure of the film.

Russian Civil War

The subplot of the film is a fictional civil war in Russia that caused the events on the Alabama. Most of the information about the war is from news broadcasts. On October 14, as the rebellion in Chechnyamarker spread to neighboring Caucasus republics, the Russian president ordered massive bombing strikes against Chechen forces around Rutul and Belokanymarker. The bombing strikes caused massive loss of innocent lives. As a result, the President of the United States, the British Prime Minister and the President of the French Republic cut all foreign aid to Russiamarker.

Russian ultranationalist leader Vladimir Radchenko denounced the pressure from the U.S. as an act of war. Radchenko also denounced the Russian President as a U.S. puppet and called for all Russian people to join him in revolt. On October 18, the Russian Parliament was suspended and martial law was declared as a result of riots and revolts. On the next day, Radchenko and Russian rebel forces seized a region around Vladivostokmarker. The region housed a naval base and a nuclear missile base with Russian ICBMs. Russian Forces began to seize the Radchenko-controlled areas. American, British and French forces went on a state of high alert.

On October 20, Radchenko threatened nuclear attacks against the United Statesmarker, Japanmarker and anyone who would move in on rebel forces. The American President set all U.S. forces to DEFCON 4. On October 26, Radchenko stole the launch codes for his ICBMs from the Russian government. U.S. forces went to DEFCON 3. However, on November 1, Radchenko and his forces surrendered to the Russian forces, ending the short-lived civil war. The war ended with fewer than 100 deaths of Russian soldiers.


The film is based on the premise that, at the time, U.S. submarine commanders were authorized to launch missiles on their own initiative if they could not communicate with the President of the United States after the order to arm the missiles was received. At about this time, the procedure was changed so that missiles could only be launched if a direct order from the Commander-in-Chief was received, even if communications had been broken off in the meantime, via the use of permissive action links. This matched Russian policy on submarine-based missile launches, which had always required direct orders to launch. Today, only on British nuclear submarines does the commander have the ability and authority to launch upon his own initiative, depending upon the orders of the Letters of last resort.

Although the film does not claim to be based on a true story, events that transpire throughout the plot are similar to one of the most tense periods of the Cuban Missile Crisis, only the roles of the Americans and Soviets are reversed. On October 27, 1962, a Soviet submarine officer named Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov had convinced his captain not to launch a nuclear-tipped torpedo while trapped by a group of U.S. warships near Cuba.


The score for Crimson Tide was composed by Hans Zimmer, and employs a blend of orchestra, choir and synthesizer sounds. The score won a Grammy Award in 1996, and has been described by Zimmer as one of his personal favorites.

The film has uncredited additional writing by Quentin Tarantino.

The U.S. Navy objected to many of the elements in the script — particularly the aspect of mutiny on board a U.S. ship — and as such, the film was produced without the assistance of the U.S. Navy. The French Navy (Marine Nationale) assisted the team for production with the French aircraft carrier Foch and one SNLE. Some scenes were also shot in Île Longuemarker (Brest nuclear submarine base).

Partial cast

See also


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