Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 18, 2012)
When the 2012 documentary Titanic At 100 showed up on my door, I figured it’d be another basic retrospective look at the disaster. It came with an unusual subtitle, though: the DVD touts the program as “Mystery Solved!” “Mystery”? What mystery? Were there suspicions that Titanic sank for some reason other than the iceberg – like a second shooter on the grassy knoll?
Curiosity mildly piqued, I dug into 100 to learn about this alleged mystery. The program follows the standard documentary template, as it mixes computer simulations, footage from the site of the sinking, and interviews. We hear from forensic investigator Parks Stephenson, RMS Titanic, Inc. president Chris Davino, NOAA Director of Maritime Heritage Dr. James Delgado, WHOI expedition leader Dr. David Gallo, artist/visual historian Ken Marschall, disaster investigator James R. Chiles, RMS Titanic, Inc, Director of Research Bill Sauder, WHOI principal investigator William Lange, ROV pilot Mark Heinrich, WHOI imaging director Evan Kovacs, Waitt Institute Director of Operations Michael Dessner, WHOI AUV technician Mark Dennett, WHOI AUV Operations Group Leader Gregory Packard, and RMST Inc. curator Alexandra Klingelhofer.
The show delivers some basic Titanic history and posits the intentions of the expedition we follow: an attempt to visit unseen aspects of the wreckage and give us a complete map of the area. From this the participants hope to create a full reconstruction of the ship’s bits and pieces and solve a mystery.
Yes, that “mystery” involved in the program’s title. It turns out the question here comes from the Titanic’s alleged “unsinkable” nature; the members of the expedition hope that their efforts will reveal whether or not some flaw in the boat’s construction led to its demise.
I’m not sure if I should reveal the answer or not, as one could consider it a “spoiler” of sorts. However, as I think it’s an important part of this program’s success or failure, I’m going to get into it, so if you don’t want to know, just skip to the technical specs for the disc right now.
Assuming I interpreted the documentary correctly, the solution to the “mystery” is essentially “wrong place at the wrong time”. Titanic didn’t sink because of a construction flaw or a bad rivet or excessive speed – it was a sturdy, well-constructed boat that entered into a battle with an iceberg that it couldn’t win.
That’s it? That’s the big reveal? Granted, I wouldn’t want the documentary to fib and make the cause of the disaster to be something more dramatic just for show, but when I watched 86 minutes that lead me to believe there’d be a big reveal of some amazing revelation, this comes as a letdown. For 100 years, we’ve believed that a big iceberg fatally damaged the boat… and that’s what happened. Nothing new in terms of that issue arises here and it kind of leaves me with an “Al Capone’s vault” impression.
Leaving aside the lack of revelation at the end, does Titanic At 100 satisfy? Yeah, I guess. It’s more technical than most documentaries of this sort; while it does throw in some of the basics about people/events, it spends most of its time with computer simulations and glimpses/discussions of the wreckage.
Which is fine, though I admit it doesn’t do a lot to engage me. I find myself interested in the human side of Titanic and not so fascinated by the details of the boat’s construction or the like. I take some value from these moments but find myself a bit bored with so much material of that sort.
Especially since so much of Titanic At 100 feels like it exists just to pull us toward that big reveal at the end – the big reveal that simply tells us “the iceberg did it”. Is this a bad program? No – it offers a decent look at Titanic and throws into new data about the wreckage. I suspect it’s of most value for the diehard Titanic buffs, though; it’s too technical for the average person, I think.