PBS, WNET’s New Titanic Documentary Stays Afloat From Beginning To End Despite Its Setup

Courtesy: PBS/WNET

More than 100 years have passed since the R.M.S. Titanic sank in the waters of the North Atlantic.  In the century-plus since that tragedy happened, leading to the deaths of approximately 1,500 people, much has been said and written of the events of April 15, 1912.  From examinations off the Titanic’s construction, to the action (and possible inaction) of its Captain, to the accuracy of the descriptions of its sinking, so much ground has been covered about what is among the worst maritime disasters in modern history.  Early this past October, PBS and WNET added another topic to that list of discussions with the new episode of Secrets of the Dead: Abandoning the Titanic.  It is unknown at this point whether the program will see a home release anytime soon, but regardless the program is streaming free in the meantime.  The nearly hour-long program is a presentation that while imperfect, will still appeal to a wide range of viewers.  That is due in part to its central discussion, that of whether the passengers and crew of the Titanic were in fact abandoned and if so, by which ship.  This will be discussed shortly.  While that discussion, which takes up the second half of the program, ensures viewers’ engagement and entertainment, the program’s first half detracts somewhat from the episode’s overall presentation.  It will be discussed a little later.  The visual effects and recordings used to help tell the story round out the doc’s most important elements.  They will also be discussed later.  Each item noted here is important in its own way to the whole of the program.  All things considered, they make Secrets of the Dead: Abandoning The Titanic a presentation that while imperfect, is still well worth watching.

PBS and WNET’s recently debuted Secrets of the Dead episode Abandoning The Titanic is a presentation that will appeal to a wide range of audiences.  Students and lovers of maritime history and those of history in general will find something to like about this program.  That is due in part to its central discussion.  The discussion in question is that of whether the Titanic’s passengers and crew were abandoned by another ship that was in range of the doomed liner, and if so, which ship abandoned them.  This discussion takes up the second half of the nearly hour-long program.  This aspect will be discussed a little more at length shortly.  While it only takes up the second half of the program, the depth of that discussion ensures viewers’ engagement and entertainment in its own right.  The exact location of the Titanic at the time of its sinking is examined in comparison to that of other ships in the area.  That examination is provided to show proximity of the closest ships, of which there were two:  the Californian and the Mount Temple.  As the examination proceeds, viewers are taken briefly into World War I history to learn that one of the two ships did indeed abandon the Titanic, and that had the ship in question responded to the emergency, every life on board the “unsinkable” giant might have actually been saved.  Even more interesting is that the examination concludes by exonerating the Captain of the other ship while also firmly pointing the ultimate blame on the Captain of the Titanic for his inaction early on that led to the fateful collision.

There is no denying that the investigation of which ship abandoned the passengers and crew of the Titanic is in itself engaging.  It alone makes this recently debuted episode of Secrets of the Dead worth watching.  For all that this element does for the overall episode’s presentation, the episode’s first half counters that success.  The first half of Abandoning The Titanic is spent telling the same story that audiences have heard countless times.  It is just the story of how the Titanic made its way into the North Atlantic ice field that ultimately led to the collision that sank the ship.  The already known matters of how warnings about the ice field from other ships were ignored and the alleged inaction of the ship’s Captain are raised once more.  For the most part, the first half of the program does little more than set the stage once again.  So while maybe it does play some kind of part to the bigger story, it is a part of the program that audiences can largely skip past while streaming the episode.  Perhaps the most interesting part of the story that is even noteworthy is that of the examination of the bilge pumps.  It is revealed in the initial set up that the Titanic’s bilge pumps were not set up to handle the widespread flooding that the Titanic took on following its collision.  Rather they were set up for “localized” flooding, as one of the interviewed “experts” explains.  That is a topic that has rarely if ever been addressed in previous docs from other sources about the Titanic.  It adds yet another layer to that story.  Other than that aspect though, there is little else to really interest audiences.  The mention of the ship on the horizon is brief at best and is not even really re-visited in depth until approximately 32 minutes into the 55-minute program.  To that end, audiences will be encouraged to watch the one noted brief discussion about the bilge pumps in the first half, but skip through everything else featured in that portion of the program.  The real engaging portion of the program comes, again, approximately 32 minutes into its run time.  That portion of the program, along with the visuals used to help tell the story, make the whole worth watching at least occasionally.

The visualizations that are used to help tell the story of the Titanic’s abandonment are obviously aesthetic elements, but they do help ensure viewers’ engagement and entertainment, even through the first half of the program.  There is a lot of footage used from vintage movies focused on the Titanic to help show how people reacted as the ship sank.  The morse code messages sent between ships leading up to Titanic’s sinking help are superimposed on screen.  It drives home the lack of action taken on the part of Titanic’s crew.  Also used are photos of the crews from the ships and even photos of the hearings that were held following Titanic’s sinking to help illustrate the story.  There are even CG depictions of how the Titanic collided with the noted iceberg and slowly fell beneath the cold waters of the North Atlantic.  The one thing that these depictions get wrong is how high the ship’s back end rose as the bow went below the water line.  It has already been proven in past documentaries that the Titanic’s back end never rose as high as so many depictions show.  Rather, it only rose a few feet above the water than the hugely inverted angle so often shown.  That aside, the CG depictions in general work with all of the other noted visualizations to help tell the story of the ship’s sinking and abandonment, stressing what could have been.  It all collectively works with the story (including the first half) to add even more appeal to the overall presentation and make it worth watching at least occasionally.

Secrets of the Dead: Abandoning The Titanic is an interesting addition to the long-running series that will appeal to a wide range of audiences.  That is proven in part through the program’s examination of whether in fact the passengers and crew of the ship were abandoned by another ship’s crew, and if so, which ship and its crew.  That examination comes in the second half of the nearly hour-long presentation.  The first half of the program is largely able to be ignored, since it sets up the second half, telling a story that most everyone knows.  The one positive to the first half of the program comes in the brief discussion about the failings of the ship’s bilge pumps.  Other than that one aspect, audiences can largely just avoid the program’s first half.  The visualizations that are used to help tell the story are aesthetic, but they do their own share to keep viewers engaged and entertained.  They make sure that audiences will be able to see the words spoken and written rather than just hear them.  They also personalize the story by showing the pictures of the figures involved in the story.  What’s more, they also give glimpses into the events that followed the Titanic’s sinking, as well as much more.  Between this aspect, the in-depth examination of the Titanic’s abandonment, and even the one detail added to the first half of the program, the overall presentation of Secrets of the Dead: Abandoning the Titanic makes itself a show that stays well afloat from start to end.  The documentary is streaming now.

More information on this and other episodes of Secrets of the Dead is available online now at:




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Raise The Titanic Is Unsinkable In Its New Re-Issue

Courtesy: itv Studios/Shout! Factory

Courtesy: itv Studios/Shout! Factory

The sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic is one of the most talked about tragedies in the history of transportation.  The ship, said to be unsinkable, went down on its maiden voyage in 1912.  Over a century after that doomed cruise, that tragic event remains at the forefront of so many people’s minds.  That is thanks in large part to the countless documentaries and movies that have been churned out by movie studios and television networks over the past half century, the least of which being 1997’s story of a doomed romance, Titanic.  Thankfully there have been more enjoyable stories such as the famous The Band Played On and the 1980 drama that was Raise The Titanic.  Now twenty-four years after that movie debuted, it has been resurrected for the masses by itv Studios and Shout! Factory.  The movie, based on author Clive Cussler’s novel by the same name, uses the Cold War as a backdrop for its plot.  It’s just part of the writing that makes this movie worth watching at least once.  The movie’s script is just part of what makes Raise The Titanic worth at least one watch.  The movie’s soundtrack is another important aspect of the overall presentation.  John Williams’ score captures and creates so much emotion throughout the story.  And the special effects used throughout the movie are minimalist at best.  It actually makes the movie that much better.  It’s discussed in the bonus “Making of” featurette that’s included in this re-issue.  Each of the noted factors plays a role in the success of Raise The Titanic especially now in its new life.  Together, they make this a movie that any classic movie buff will want to check out at least once.

The first aspect of Raise The Titanic that audiences will agree to be a positive is the movie’s script.  Theories about what led to the Titanic’s sinking and how to potentially raise the ship have run rampant for ages.  However author Clive Cussler’s book based on those theories was the first of its kind to gain major success.  The same can be said of the final product crafted by screenwriter Adam Kennedy and his writing partner Eric Hughes.  To that extent, it can be argued that both the book and the script that it spawned were both quite original in their own right.  In hindsight, it’s interesting to see how prophetic this story turned out to be, even if it did change some things from Cussler’s original book.  Not that many years ago, the Costa Concordia wrecked off the Italian coast.  It sat there until recently when means were undertaken to lift the half-sunken ship and get it away from its crash site.  In the same way that many of the theories on how to raise the Titanic were deemed impossible (among other words), the method ultimately used to raise the Costa Concordia seemed impossible until one of those theories worked.  Having seen the Costa Concordia raised from its wreck site, one can’t help but wonder if it could be the foundation of a way to raise other ships as impossible as it might seem.

Raise The Titanic’s script is an important piece of the whole that is the movie’s success.  Just as important to the movie’s overal enjoyment is its music.  Legendary composer and maestro John Williams created a score for the movie that captures and creates so much emotion.  Nowhere is this truer than the scene in which the Titanic finally breaks the surface of the North Atlantic waters.  The moments as it makes its way into New York’s harbor are just as emotional, musically speaking.  Williams more than exhibits his ability to interpret any scene with these moments alone.  They are but a pair of moments that show how important the movie’s score is to the whole presentation.  There are far more moments throughout the movie’s near two-hour run time that exhibit just as much of Williams’ talent and that of the musicians that bring the movie’s soundtrack to life.  Audiences will find their own favorite moments when they buy or order the movie’s new Blu-ray/DVD combo pack re-issue from Shout! Factory.

The script and the soundtrack of Raise The Titanic both play pivotal roles in the movie’s success.  There is one more aspect of this movie that could be argued to trump those previously noted aspects.  That aspect is the movie’s special effects.  Watching this movie, one can’t help but make a quick comparison to the likes of The Hunt for Red October, Crimson Tide, and to a lesser degree, The Abyss.  The latter of that trio is perhaps the closest comparison.  The difference is that where James Cameron went completely overboard with his special effects, Raise The Titanic used minimalist special effects for even its biggest scene.  A couple prime examples of this less-is-more approach are the subs used to find the Titanic and the ship itself.  It turns out that the subs used in the movie were actually r/c subs.  The mock-up of the Titanic, it turns out, was actually a fifty-five foot “model” that weighed roughly ten tons.  And the methods used to raise the ship were just as interesting.  That minimalist approach to its special effects actually made the movie even more enjoyable because it forced its writers to focus on story development.  The end result was a movie that is just as rich in its special effects as it is in its story.  It makes Raise The Titanic a movie worth at least one watch by anyone that has never seen it before.

The special effects used throughout Raise The Titanic played a big role in the movie’s success thanks to the less-is-more approach taken by those behind the special effects.   There is much more worth noting, including the in-depth commentary on the movie shared in its bonus “Making of” featurette.  The commentary includes a rather damning statement regarding the over use of special effects in today’s major motion pictures.  The statement in question is made by one of the individuals that helped bring the movie’s special effects to life.  Fans can check out this statement and more when they purchase or order the movie now from Shout! Factory’s online store at http://www.shoutfactory.com/node/218884.  More information on this and other releases from Shout! Factory is available online at http://www.shoutfactory.com and http://www.facebook.com/shoutfactoryofficial.  To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

NOVA’s newest special is as good as a three hour tour

Courtesy: PBS

It’s Summertime again.  that means that millions of people worldwide will take to the high seas on the many cruise liners that traverse the world’s oceans.  For the most part, cruise liners are safe.  But the capsizing of the  Costa Concordia earlier this year brought back memories of another ill fated cruise liner called the Titanic.  When the Costa Concordia capsized off of the Italian coast earlier this year, it was only months removed from the one hundredth anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking.  Now, PBS’ NOVA takes a look at what led to the demise of not only the Titanic and the Costa Concordia, but cruise liners in general.

In trying to answer the question of why ships sink, NOVA looks at a  variety of possible causes.  It starts off its hour long investigation by looking at the construction of the Titanic versus that of the Costa Concordia.  The program notes how Titanic was built using riveted metal.  The Costa Concordia, on the other hand, was constructed in an entirely different fashion.  That difference in general construction is one of the possibilities examined in what led to the two ships going down. 

In relation to the two ships’ general construction, NOVA also examines how many of today’s cruise liners are being built with a much higher center of gravity.  That center of gravity is in direct relation to the shape of the ships’ hulls.  This is very similar to a discussion on the shape of Titanic’s hull having an impact on its sinking in one History Channel special centered on the liner.  NOVA’s investigation points out the newer design of today’s cruise liners causes an increase in the risk of ships capsizing and potentially sinking.  It points out that the risk has increased because the different shape of the hull changes the ship’s water displacement, thus increasing the chance of the ship capsizing and/or sinking in rough waters.

The newer, high-centered design of today’s cruise liners has likely posed a big threat in safety of ships.  However, for all the possible issues with construction, human error is always a possibility, too.  NOVA looks into that in the course of this special, too.  It ties the higher centered design of today’s cruise ships to the choice made by the captain of the Costa Concordia as one example of possible human error leading to a ship going down.  The special notes that because of the ship’s high center of gravity, the captain’s last second choice to turn away from the rocks off of the Italian coast could have led the ship to list to one side.  It doesn’t say that was the cause.  It only questions if that could have contributed to the ship capsizing.   

“Why Ships Sink” goes in to much more detail than what is noted here.  The in depth investigation examines not only the Titanic and Costa Concordia, but other cruise disasters, too.  It seamlessly ties those disasters in to the overall presentation, making for a special that will keep audiences’ attention over the course of its hour long run time.  “Why Ships Sink” is available on dvd, beginning today.  It can be purchased in stores or online at http://www.shoppbs.org

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Titanic at 100 adds another chapter to the history of the Titanic

The sinking of the Titanic is arguably one of the most talked about tragedies in transportation and nautical history.  Even just over a century later, there are still conflicting views on what really happened, and who’s to blame.  Earlier this year, History Channel released what is one of the most interesting discussions to date on the tragedy in “Titanic:  The Complete Story.”  Now, the network has released another documentary centered on the great ship’s doomed voyage in “Titanic at 100:  Mystery Solved.”

“Titanic at 100:  Mystery Solved” is a wonderful companion piece to History Channel’s previous documentary.  That documentary was released March 13th of this year.  What makes this most recent documentary the great companion to the prior is that it provides a different viewpoint of what exactly did or didn’t happen to the doomed vessel.  “Titanic at 100:  Mystery Solved” argues that the belief that the ship’s lack of structural integrity was to blame for its sinking was wrong.  One way that it supports its argument is by testing rivets made from hundred year old metal.  The theory in question being tested was that when the Titanic scraped against the iceberg that ripped it open, rivets on the ship had actually come loose from the hull, thus allowing the iceberg to basically “unzip” the hull.  In turn, that “unzipping” allowed the cold North Atlantic waters to flood into boiler room six.  The test results show that perhaps the rivets had not come undone after all.

Testing the rivet theory was only one part of the investigation by the team from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.  After the Titanic was ripped open, the ship’s front half went into the water.  This is where this documentary takes a different turn.  The research team in this documentary argues that when the ship broke, the front half of the ship actually hung onto the back end for a moment before breaking off and sinking.  This would tie in to the argument made by the 2005 History Channel expedition to the Titanic.  That crew’s expedition led to the conclusion that a poorly constructed expansion joint led to the ship’s demise.  But according to this documentary, if the ship had actually stayed connected even for a moment, then the expansion joint could not have been the culprit in the ship breaking.  It doesn’t come right out and say that.  But it does seem to intimate that argument by making mention of the ship at least temporarily staying together before sinking.  The documentary does make a brief mention of the expansion joint in the team’s research.  It also makes mention of the pieces of the ship’s bottom discovered in the ’05 expedition.  It ties that discovery in to its argument, claiming that those pieces are what held the ship together before it sank in two pieces.  The prior documentary, though, used those same pieces to argue that the expansion joint was at fault. 

Having tested and debunked the rivet theory as a cause for the Titanic’s sinking, the research team had to find another way to support its argument about the ship’s integrity.  It did this by becoming the first research team to ever completely map out the debris field.  It wasn’t an easy journey for the team.  In the process of mapping everything, the team had to abort its voyage at least for a day because of a hurricane.  It nearly even lost a highly important piece of equipment trying to outrun the hurricane.  That piece of equipment was a camera that had gotten tangled in the ship’s remains.  The team does manage to get the entire wreck site mapped out, including the long lost middle section.  That middle section was right around where the expansion joint was, thus the reference to the previous expedition.  According to the researchers, when they realized the missing piece they had found was mostly still in tact, that was fodder in the argument against the ship cataclysmically breaking apart.  Having gathered all of this information, the team uses a virtual set to “reconstruct” the Titanic to try and find out what they believe to have been the cause of the Titanic’s final hours.  That, combined with the extensive mapping of the wreckage site will keep audiences enthralled throughout the documentary’s presentation.

Whether or not the team is correct in its assumptions as to what might have happened that fateful night, audiences will love the discussions created via this presentation.  It’s a wonderful companion piece to “Titanic:  the Complete Story” in that it presents a different view of what happened.  It even includes more stories of the passengers on board, including an alleged affair between two of the passengers.  One of the people involved in the creation of the famed Coney Island Witching Waves ride was on board, too.  These small tidbits of information are the extra spice that make “Titanic at 100” such an interesting watch.  Whether one has a special interest in all things transportation or nautical, or is simply a history buff in general, “Titanic at 100:  Mystery Solved” is one more example of what makes History Channel’s documentary programming some of the best on television.  It’s great both for the average viewer and for the classroom.  And while countless documentaries are released each year surrounding the doomed ship, this is one documentary that manages to stand on its own merits both by itself and with its companion documentary, “Titanic:  The Complete Story.”  Put together, the two documentaries give an even more complete story, making for an even more enthralling look back into history.

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