The Titanic Documentary Avalanche

What really sank the Titanic?
What really sank the Titanic?*

Since the week of the 100th anniversary, I’ve watched several Titanic documentaries I recorded off History and Discovery in the week preceding 14 April..  Some thoughts:

Titanic’s Sister Ship: The Sinking of the Britannic

  • Good: decent footage of deep wreck diving by experienced divers Chatterton and Kohler (from the excellent book Shadow Divers).
  • Bad: About 30 minutes of fluff and 10 minutes of actual wreck diving.
  • Other observations: this really had nothing to do with Titanic at all, and to use the more famous ship in the title was just cheesy.  Also, the events here were documented in Titanic’s Last Secrets.

The Titanic’s Last Secrets

  • Good: interesting documentation of discovery of a couple key bottom portions of the ship.
  • Bad: A lot of cheesy music intended to make the dive seem more exciting than the footage allowed.
  • Other observations: You’ll get tired of the phrase ribbons of steel.  Really, you will.

Titanic’s Achilles Heel
Expands on the information from the previous two docs — follows Chatterton and Kohler on a boring dive of Britannic.  Should have been blended into the episode about Britannic — there was plenty of fluff they could have trimmed to make the two into one episode.

  • Good: The historical portion of the show focused on the hearings in both the U.S. and Britain.  Interesting recap of the British whitewash and American scouring.  The brief discussion of how the changed expansion joint would have been stronger works nicely.
  • Bad: Underwater footage is terrible — the viewer sees none of the interesting new evidence they find.  The bulb at the end of the expansion joint–the key discovery–is invisible to the viewer.  Making a lot of hay out of nothing (as in: Will the inexperienced Greek boat captain be able to find the wreck? Yes, he did it! Ugh.)
  • Other observations: The documentary leaves out poor Stanley Lord of the Californian.  He took quite a whipping in both investigations, but has been exonerated so these docs ignore him completely.
  • Writing of scapegoats, the poor naval architect Roger Long gets full credit for being wrong in this episode.  Every chance they get, the narrator says “Roger Long believes… .”  Then we see him admit that they’ve “shot holes in his theory.”  It’s like a little schadenfreude in lieu of something interesting to see on the dive.

Titanic at 100: Mystery Solved!

  • Good: cool robots being used to map 15 square miles of ocean floor around the wreck site, accident investigators hired to piece together what happened, cool digital effects, cool footage of the wreck site.
  • Bad: if you strung together the content of the 120-minute show without commercials, re-caps, or pre-commercial promos, it’s probably no more than 70 minutes of show.  Lame.
  • Other observations: the show doesn’t mention the stop/start detailed in Last Log of the Titanic, has flawed explanations of the rivet tests (or else flawed tests), offers same old excuses for deaths.  Only Andrews comes out looking better because they decided there was not a technical flaw in the ship’s design.

*I spent a couple minutes trying to track down the original fabricator of this image, to no avail.  Such things circulate on the Internet much like jokes in daily life — yes, someone told it originally, but its author gets lost in circulation.  The difference, of course, is that re-posting an image someone else made takes no creative spark or ability whatsoever.  Telling jokes takes at least a memory and a performative spirit.


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