'Titanica' is an IMAX treasure to behold for its stunning views of a watery grave

May 28, 1994|By Victor Paul Alvarez | Victor Paul Alvarez,Contributing Writer

Ralph White has spent more hours with the Titanic than the ship's captain.

"This is the most known shipwreck since the Ark," says the

Emmy-winning cinematographer, reflecting on the popularity of

the Titanic. "The name 'Titanic' is synonymous with ocean disaster all over the world."

Standing outside the Maryland Science Center, where the new IMAX movie "Titanica" is being shown, Mr. White is quick to answer the inevitable question.

"It is impossible to raise the Titanic," he says. "It's in two pieces and could never support itself."

Mr. White was among the French/American team that discovered the ship's remains on the floor of the Atlantic in 1985. Once there, he found a black leather bag with $62,000 worth of bank notes, and later sipped wine retrieved from the ship's wreckage with a meal eaten on recovered Titanic china.

All the history and mystery surrounding the Titanic pales in comparison to the power of "Titanica."

The movie opens with a sky-view of the exploration ship Academik Keldysh crashing through the waters of the Atlantic. The audience holds its breath; if you didn't know better, you'd think you were about to get soaked.

"Titanica" takes viewers down 2 1/2 miles into the North Atlantic, where the ship has sat for 80 years. The 40-minute movie balances deep-sea footage with archive photos and interviews.

Explorers climb into two submersibles, three men each into a cabin 6 feet wide. Three hours later, when they hit the ocean floor, they pick up the trail of coal spilled from the sinking Titanic. Soon, the sandy surface is littered with wreckage: engine pieces, fine china, shoes, luggage and wine bottles.

The ship has held up well, Mr. White says, but bacteria is slowly tearing it apart. The body of the ship is covered in what he calls "rust-cicles," which look like stalagmites of rust.

The Titanic's "treasure" is a jewel-encrusted copy of Omar Khayyam's "The Rubyat," which is still missing. But Mr. White considers the captain's log to be the true prize; it's something he's going to look for when he goes down to the site again in 1995.

The Titanic was a turn-of-the-century space shuttle -- full of fascinating and mysterious technology. The movie depicts its construction with archive photographs from 1912, and continually juxtaposes the pieces of the Titanic from the dry-dock to the site of the wreck.

One newspaper at the time described it as being built on a "nightmarish scale." The ship was completed in three years. It sailed a total of 128 hours before a 10-second collision with an iceberg sunk the unsinkable, killing 1,500 people.

"My mother had a very firm premonition of danger," says Eva Hart, a survivor whose story is told throughout the movie. She was 7 years old when her father booked the family on the Titanic. Her mother thought the ship was doomed when heralded as unsinkable. "She felt it was like flying in the face of the Almighty."

Ms. Hart and her mother were rescued, but her father went down with the ship.

The movie does an excellent job balancing the excitement of discovery with the respectful memory of those who died in the world's worst shipwreck.

One of the crew members aboard the Academik Keldysh even expresses doubt about the mission.

He's a painter, with a tiny studio in the engine room. The camera looks over his shoulder while he paints the familiar image of the Titanic's sinking into black waters. Near the bottom of the canvas he has painted an image of Christ looking upon the dead and dying.

He says: "It is not necessary to reach into the mud to understand tragedy."

'TITANICA'

Where: Maryland Science Center

When: Noon, and on the hour through 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday; noon and on the hour from 2 p.m. through 7 p.m. Fridays; on the hour from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays; through Nov. 10

Cost: Admission to the center is $8.50 for adults, $6.50 for children 4-17, seniors and military personnel; includes IMAX film.

Call: (410) 685-5225

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