Dr. Robert Ballard of Woods Hole Oceamographic Institure and his research team become the first undersea explorers to locate, photograph, and explore the wreckage of the ill-fated HMS Titanic, which sank on its maiden voyage 2 1/2 mile deep in the icy waters of the Atlantic in 1912, taking 1500 passengers and crew with it to a watery grave. Utilizing dazzling state-of-the art equipment and cutting edge expertise they record the decaying remains of the ocean liner once thought "unsinkable." Written by
As I wrote in a review of the 1958 A Night to Remember, I am convinced that the ultimate Titanic story has yet to be told. While that version is about as good as the existing Hollywood versions get, Nicolas Noxon's National Geographic: Secrets of the Titanic (1986) is still the best Titanic story on celluloid, for MY money. It has as much drama and pathos as any of the movie versions and is even more riveting than the Hollywood accounts. I wish future studio directors would take time to absorb some of Noxon's class and savvy before filming.
If any real Titanic or shipwreck fan has NOT seen this 1986 documentary in its entirety-or has not seen it since it first came out, he/she needs to do so. While some additional evidence has been unearthed since it was made, it capsualizes the events very concisely and powerfully. I enjoyed the huge four-volume set someone produced a couple of years ago. Yet it lost in bulk and repetitiveness anything it might have held in advantage over Noxon's film.
The film consists of two parallel stories taking place at once. Bob Ballard and his crew are searching for the long-lost Titanic. Meanwhile, we see the `huge mound of steel taking shape' in the Irish shipyards. We learn about the building of this behemoth and the Gilded Age in which it was designed, as we see the underwater explorers trying to do the impossible. It is tempting today to forget that the Titanic was lost for three-quarters of a century. Noxon dramatizes this to its utmost. `The Titanic: no longer lost, no longer legend,' narrator Martin Sheen reminds us, as we see the ghostly underwater images.
Everything about this film is well-done. The historic montages are excellent and in only a couple of instances have Noxon's facts been challenged by later data. To me, the human disaster is actually brought home more poignantly than in any of the Hollywood films about the disaster. Of course, Ballard was and is a class act. His reverence and respect for the wreck site is admirable. The pirating of Titanic, Lusitania and others in recent years is, to me, deplorable. The fact that Ballard was unable to talk about the Titanic for months after its initial discovery speaks volumes about the man.
In just 51 minutes, Noxon makes us really feel the tragedy and irony of the most famous naval disaster in history and the also the exultation and saddened awe of the most famous undersea discovery of all time. It is a pity it is no longer available on video and not yet available on DVD in the United States. (Fortunately I have an aging tape, recorded from an early 1990s broadcast of it.) If the opportunity presents itself to view, copy, rent or buy this outstanding film in any format, I strongly urge one to do so. For my money, this is still the best telling of the Titanic story on film.
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