Historical Documentaries about the Titanic - dummies

Historical Documentaries about the Titanic

By Stephen J. Spignesi

Many of these historical documentaries about the Titanic are available from public libraries. YouTube also has an extensive selection of Titanic documentaries (enter “Titanic” as a search term at YouTube to see what you can find). Most of the documentaries are available on DVD for purchase or rental, as well.

Secrets of the Titanic (1986)

“Her name is a synonym for tragedy,” says narrator Martin Sheen in Secrets of the Titanic, an excellent overview of the discovery of the Titanic wreck in 1985 by Dr. Robert Ballard and IFREMER (the French Research Institute for Exploration of the Sea).

Also notable in this documentary are scenes from a Titanic Historical Society convention of several survivors still alive at the time. The survivors signed autographs, posed for pictures, and were treated like celebrities by the convention-goers.

Titanic: Anatomy of a Disaster (1997)

This excellent Discovery Channel documentary uses computer animation to investigate what caused the great ship to sink. This documentary also spends a great deal of time highlighting the recovered artifacts and was the public’s first in-depth look at many salvaged items.

This documentary features scientists and researchers who combine underwater archaeology, forensic science, metallurgy, microbiology, and sonar imaging to present a complete investigation of the sinking. It also includes interviews with survivors.

Titanic Tech (2003)

Titanic Tech is a one-hour documentary that focuses on the technical aspects of the biggest ship in the world, rather than on the human drama of the sinking or the ship’s luxurious accommodations. Titanic Tech uses a wonderful analogy that truly serves to explain the ship’s design:

  • The keel is the spinal cord.

  • The support rods, 3 feet apart, are the ribs (and are commonly referred to as such).

  • The metal hull plates are the skin of the body of the ship.

The documentary features Ken Marschall, an artist known for his portraits of ocean liners, Edward Kamuda of the Titanic Historical Society, Navy engineers, and Titanic historians. These experts talk about how the propellers were made, how the Titanic created her own electricity, how the ship was the first to carry the Marconi wireless system, and how steam was continually recycled in a closed system to serve a multitude of purposes.

Last Mysteries of the Titanic (2005)

To illustrate different aspects of the ship, the documentary Last Mysteries of the Titanic uses dissolves from photos alongside pictures of the wreck today and clips from Cameron’s 1997 Titanic movie.

In the documentary, camera bots go deep into the wreckage of the Titanic to show the Strauss first-class suite (Cameron said it was the model for Rose’s cabin in his movie), the Marconi Room, Captain Edward J. Smith’s cabin, and other specific locations on the ship. And as the bots tour the wreck, you see visuals of the ship before sinking.

Titanic’s Achilles Heel (2007)

Titanic’s Achilles Heel, a History Channel documentary, explores the expansion joint theory, one of the newer theories as to why the Titanic sank. The idea behind this theory is that the expansion joint in the middle of the ship, which was designed to allow the hull to flex in the waves, failed, and because it failed, the angle of elevation out of the water was far less than experts and historians first believed. The argument that the ship experienced a low-angle break hinges on the crushed condition of the stern half and the clean break of the bow half.

Titanic’s Achilles Heel explains why the expansion-joint theory is important. However, it ultimately doesn’t provide proof that the expansion joint failed and that if it did fail, its failure had anything to do with the angle at which the ship lifted out of the water.