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Tony Scott, brother of director Ridley Scott, was no stranger to military action movies when he signed on to direct Crimson Tide (1995), the story of a submarine poised on the brink of a devastating nuclear war. He had directed the Tom Cruise Air Force adventure Top Gun (1986), but unlike the earlier film, many critics found this picture, for all its epic scope and action sequences, to also be a worthy character study played by two strong actors, Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington.
Washington was not the first choice for the role of the young, by-the-books Naval officer who clashes with a hardened veteran commander inclined to act from his well-honed instincts when their submarine, ordered into Russian waters to stop a potential nuclear attack against the U.S., loses radio contact with the topside world. Val Kilmer had been sought but declined, a decision he later regretted, and Brad Pitt was also considered. Al Pacino had been considered for Hackman's part as the ship's commander. The two roles fit well within the tradition of the Navy film format, pitting two very different men of different generations against each other in times of crisis, a plot element evident in such movies as Mutiny on the Bounty (in all its many versions) and Run Silent, Run Deep (1958).
There is a direct reference to the latter film in a scene in which the crew quizzes each other about submarine movies. That bit was purportedly written by Quentin Tarantino, who also contributed a character name as a tribute to a former video store co-worker. Although Michael Schiffer received the only screenplay credit, several other writers were brought in at various times to punch up the script, including Robert Towne, who wrote Chinatown (1974) and Scott's other Tom Cruise movie, Days of Thunder (1990), and Steven Zaillian, an Oscar® winner for Schindler's List (1993).
Because of the mutinous actions in the plot, the U.S. Navy refused to cooperate with Scott's request to get authentic footage of a submarine in action. As luck would have it, he found out that the USS Alabama - the same ship featured in the movie (thus, the title, which is the nickname of the University of Alabama football team) - was scheduled to ship out of Pearl Harbor within days. Scott and his crew flew to Hawaii and chased the sub via yacht and helicopter for six miles with cameras running. The Alabama's commander tried to get them to clear off and finally submerged, which was exactly what Scott wanted.
The technical adviser on the picture was Captain Skip Beard, who had once served as the commanding officer of the real Alabama. He also plays a small part in the film as a member of the Board of Inquiry.
Director: Tony Scott
Producers: Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer
Screenplay: Michael Schiffer
Cinematography: Dariusz Wolski
Editing: Chris Lebenzon
Production Design: Michael White
Original Music: Hans Zimmer
Cast: Gene Hackman (Capt. Frank Ramsey), Denzel Washington (Lt. Commander Ron Hunter), Matt Craven (Lt. Roy Zimmer), George Dzundza (Chief of the Boat), Viggo Mortensen (Lt. Peter Ince).
by Rob Nixon