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Bingeable: National Geographic Documentaries 

When? Ongoing

Where? Disney Plus

What's it rated? TV-G

Until recently, I had no idea film director James Cameron has been to the actual wreckage of the Titanic 33 times. When my daughter did a report earlier in February on Robert Ballard for her seventh grade English class, I got to revisit the facts surrounding the historic shipwreck. Ballard, an underwater archeologist, discovered the Titanic's wreckage in 1985, which opened the door to myriad explorers and history sleuths to speculate and piece together exactly how the ship sank. Cameron was one of those explorers, and in the National Geographic documentary, Titanic: 20 Years Later with James Cameron (2017, 46 min.), the director chats with Ballard about what they've continued to learn.

Cameron is still concerned about the accuracy of what was portrayed in his movie, and in this documentary, we see him admit some of the details he embellished in the name of storytelling. He talks with descendants of survivors and victims, handles precious artifacts, and revisits not only the prevailing theories on how the ship sank, but why so few people made it into the lifeboats.

I watched this documentary with my daughter when she was home sick, and she was thrilled to see Ballard, her academic hero, in action. Because we were going to be on the couch awhile, we opted to stay on theme with our next Nat Geo show: Drain the Titanic (2015, 46 min.). This show, part of the ongoing Drain the Oceans series, has a novel concept—simulating draining the waters surrounding famous shipwrecks to see "in broad daylight" what's there. But beyond the interesting idea, the film's overdramatic narration detracted from its presentation of actual facts, many of which contradict Ballard's and Cameron's theories and discoveries about how the Titanic sank.

Since my daughter didn't magically get better after an hour and a half, we went on to watch Ballard's latest adventure: Expedition Amelia (2019, 95 min.). This documentary rocks! Narrated by Allison Janney (Juno, Finding Nemo), it weaves together Amelia Earhart's life story with the 2019 expedition to find the remains of her airplane—and possibly her body.

Archeologists center on Nikumaroro, a tiny atoll in the Phoenix Islands in the South Pacific, hundreds of miles away from where Earhart missed her planned landing on the final leg of her 1937 flight around the world. It was a joy to watch this with my daughter—she geeked out about Ballard controlling his deep-sea robots, and I geeked out about the footage of one of my heroes. I'd done multiple grade school reports on this record-shattering pilot.

Expedition Amelia is substantive, suspenseful, well made, compelling, and emotional. I teared up several times as we watched archeologists painstakingly search for clues in the area they suspect Earhart camped after her possible crash landing on the atoll. Over the years, they've found skeletal remains, cosmetics jars, and other remnants. But the land and undersea quests had to end before any conclusive results were to be had, leaving the mystery surrounding Earhart's disappearance unsolved, for now.

In the meantime, my daughter and I will be following Ballard's adventures in the news and exploring the world with other Nat Geo offerings. Δ


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