Movie Article

'Crimson Tide': Technically Speaking

A translation guide for the movie

''The submarine service, that's the silent service,'' says Crimson Tide screenwriter Michael Schiffer. Yet sheer persistence got him aboard our nuclear subs and into U.S. Navy training facilities, where he copied down every word he could. And even though Schiffer was cautioned that he'd compromise national security if some of his dialogue weren't changed, he kept the words as true as possible. ''We just let it fly,'' he says. ''The audience might not understand at every moment, but they'll know it's real when they hear it.''

To help anchor viewers, we asked Schiffer and Crimson Tide technical adviser Capt. Skip Beard, USN ret., to brief us on a few terms:

THE COB Chief of the Boat, a sub's senior enlisted man.

THE CONN Short for conning tower, it's the sub's ''driver's seat.''

ZERO BUBBLE ''That's like a carpenter's level,'' Schiffer explains. ''When you're diving, you angle the ship, like five degrees down bubble, and if you want to level off, you say 'zero bubble.''' But that's only if you have the Conn.

SET CONDITIONS FOR 1SQ The highest degree of preparedness, 1SQ means missiles are ready to fire (a sub at base is at 4SQ). What do S and Q mean? ''I don't know, frankly,'' says Beard and neither does a baffled U.S. Navy spokesperson.

RIG FOR ULTRAQUIET ''It means there's somebody out there,'' Schiffer says. ''So you turn the music off, you shut the ship down, except for essential activity.''

CAVITATE! ''That's full speed,'' says Schiffer. ''The captain's saying, 'Crank it to the max, I don't care if we make any noise, we have to get the hell out of here.''' The verb refers to the making of cavities — bubbles — by a propeller at high speed.

BROADBAND CONTACT BEARING 0-4-7 ... TRACKING IN ATF ''Out of all that garble,'' Schiffer says, ''you know two things: We got a submarine and we don't know who it is. And when you see a sonar crew get nervous, you know damn well there's a sub up there.''

And you don't need subtitles to know that means trouble.

Originally posted May 12, 1995 Published in issue #274 May 12, 1995 Order article reprints