With James Cameron's "Titanic" and the director's IMAX follow-up ("Ghosts of the Abyss"), I think that many audiences feel as if they know the basic story of how the ship hit the iceberg and sank. "Titanic's Final Moments: Missing Pieces" is a new History Channel production that claims to have additional tibits to the add to the puzzle of what happened to "Titanic".
The documentary opens discussing the previously known facts about the tragic disaster - that the ship (thought "unsinkable" when it launched) sustained damage to its side when it hit the iceberg. From there, the documentary heads out on a research trip with a team of ace divers headed up by explorers John Chatterton and Richie Kohler. In-between the present day segments, archive footage and narration give an enjoyable overview of the development and construction of the Titanic. We also learn more about the different travel lines and how they operated. In the case of White Star, the dining menus also served as a postcard - a promotional tool to get more riders.
Although it takes the expedition a while to start finding the wreck, they finally come across the boilers and other elements of the ship. Operating under the theory that Titanic broke-up not only because of damage to the sides but, even worse, damage to the double-layered bottom of the ship, the group sets out to find more clues about what happened the night the ship sank. However, they have a lot of searching to do, as the wreckage is scattered across an area that stretches one square mile. Dive after dive, they find incredible artifacts and see remarkable sights, but don't find the clues they're looking for to reach their conclusion about how the "unsinkable" ship was damaged to the point of breaking into two and sinking. Worse yet, they are running out of dive time and eventually, a hurricane is said to be approaching.
While "Missing Pieces" does offer some new information on "Titanic"'s sinking, I think that its main success is that it's a more compelling and informative exploration of the ship's sinking than Cameron's "Ghosts of the Abyss". While Cameron's picture stalled whenever it held too long on Bill Paxton's reactions or its recreations, "Missing Pieces" smoothly weaves historical information in with the dive at the center of the show. The recreations of scenes are brief and thankfully, the historical aspect of the piece is a great mixture of interviews with historians and survivors, archive pictures and a CGI "map" of the ship's compartments and other areas (in an example of the latter, we are shown the staggering amounts of empty seats on the lifeboats) to highlight where the documentary is focusing at that moment.
Overall, I found this to be an engaging and superbly edited documentary that presented a very good overview of what happened to the ship. I think that those who are "Titanic" experts probably aren't going to learn a massive amount during the first half of this documentary, but there are definitely some very interesting new pieces to the puzzle that are revealed in the second half and overall, as "Titanic" documentaries go, this is an in-depth and enjoyable one.
VIDEO: "Missing Pieces" is presented in 1.78:1 non-anamorphic widescreen by A & E. The presentation is generally of solid quality, with the image remaining consistently crisp and clear throughout much of the show. Some minor instances of shimmering were present on a couple of occasions, but the picture was free of edge enhancement, pixelation and other concerns. Colors remained bright and natural, with no smearing or other issues.
SOUND: The show's stereo soundtrack remained crisp, with clear dialogue and narration (narration provided by Edward Herrmann.)
EXTRAS: Also included on the DVD is the 42-minute "History's Mysteries: Doomed Sisters of the Titanic", which takes a look at two other sister ships of the "Titanic" that also encountered tragic ends. We also get a brief (but fairly informative) 5-minute "behind-the-scenes" look at the creation of "Missing Pieces".
Final Thoughts: "Missing Pieces" provides a clear and detailed account of the Titanic's development and it's tragic end, while also bringing new information to light about what caused the ship to sink. The DVD offers very good audio/video quality, as well as a couple of nice bonus features. A definite recommendation for those interested in the subject matter.