Tuesday, September 12, 2006

World Trade Center; United 93: Is Hollywood really ready for 9/11 films?

I've heard instructors say in screenwriting classes that 9/11 is a no-no as a script topic, and that Hollywood won't go near it. That was in 2004. In 2005, the attitude seemed to change, as there were at least two major studio releases of films about 9/11 in 2006. Both were considered riveting by critics.

United 93 (Universal, dir. Paul Greengrass) was financed in France, with some indoor scenes shot in Paris, even though the even is the most traumatic in modern American history. It is in full anamorphic 2:3 to 1 CinemaScope, and about half of the movie deals with the response of air traffic control and law enforcement, with the rest being the buildup of a plan among the United 93 passengers to storm the hijackers in the cockpit. Of course, we all know that the passengers found out about the plan from loved ones through cell phones. Thomas Burnett (Christian Clemenson), Todd Beemer (David Allen Basche) and Mark Bingham (Cheyenne Jackson) were particularly important. At the end of the film, the audience would sit stunned, in silence. I saw this at the Regal Cinemas in Ballston, Arlington VA, in April 2006.

There have been at least two cable movies about this flight that would crash in Shanksville, PA, near the Allegheny Mountain tunnel. There was Flight 93 from Fox (dir. Peter Markle, aired 1/2006) and The Flight that Fought Back (Discovery Channel, dir. Bruce Goodison, aired 9/2005). Both of these films showed brief shots of the ritual body preparation by the radicals in their motel rooms in Portland ME.

World Trade Center (Paramount) is much more minamalist and true to fact that popular myth expects from director Oliver Stone. The film is presented flat, in 1.85 to 1, without the fullest wide screen, in order to focus upon the closeups of the firefighters trapped in the rubble. As such, it seems claustrophobic and a bit like a stage play. The story particularly focuses upon two Port Authority Police officers John McLoughlin (Nicholas Cage) and Will Jimeno (Michael Pena), who would finally be rescued with the very determined effort of an off-duty Marine (Michael Shannon). I would see this film on its opening day at a National Amusements theater complex in Merrifield, VA.

But ABC Entertainment's The Path to 9/11 (Touchstone Pictures, dir. David L. Cunningham) would present a 5 hour detailed dramatization of the events, starting with the 1993 WTC incident on 2/26/2006. It would attract controversy over the way it portrayed various actions within the Clinton Administration (to the point that Bill Clinton would ask that it be pulled). The film gathers steam in the second half and the last forty minutes are riveting. Although shot in regular aspect ratio for TV, this ought to be experienced in a theater screening, with at least one intermission. It was aired on Sunday and Monday 9/10 and 9/11 2006. Reportedly, it did not do as well as ABC hoped in the Nielsen ratings, losing out to NFL football. Yet, the coming of HDTV and widescreen TV and home entertainment centers could make the market (and profit or earnings potential) for longer, historical films like this stronger in the future.

At the same time on 9/10, CBS would rebroadcast its 2002 video documentary (Paramount Home Video) 9/11, the only film with actual footage inside Tower 1 during the rescue attempts. Tower 1 stood about 98 minutes after it was struck. Documentary filmmakers Jules and Gedeon Naudet filmed inside NYCFD Engine 7, Ladder 1. Robert De Niro was involved in the original film that started in 2001 and was to depict the life of a rookie fireman, with his forced socialization into the tribal, quasi-military culture of firefighters.

On 9/11/2006 MSNBC rebroadcast a "Living History Event," the exact Today Show broadcast starting at 9:46 AM on 9/11/2001. Matt Lauer would actually interrupt his regular normal Today Show broadcast at 9:51 when he got his feed, but there was no video of Tower 1 on Today until 9:53.

CNN has offered a similar replay on its "Pipeline" service.

Also on 9/11 Ted Koppel on Discovery presented a three hour show "One Day in September: The Price of Security" about balancing civil liberties with security. There was a town meeting. There were some shocking proposals, and yet a call to go back to our core principles.


Reel Fanatic said...

I couldn't bring myself to watch ABC's "docudrama" because it just looked like it would badder than I could possibly comprehend .. I did, however, see United 93 and WTC ... I admired Greengrass's meticulous, real-time re-creation of that horrid event in Pa., but I have to admit, knowing well how it would all end, I had to turn away from the screen at several points in the final act .. I thoroughly enjoyed Stone's WTC, though .. I was impressed with how he checked his politics and just focused tightly on the the story of those two PA cops and their families

Bill Boushka said...

For me, WTC was much more anguishing, with the two men trapped. The sense of confinement and smallness was remarkable for an Oliver Stone film.