United 93
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United 93

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There are certain days, certain events that are indelibly etched in our minds. For those in the current generation it has to be the events of September 11. 2001 will forever stay with us as fresh as when we first watched in horror. Unlike previous generations we did not hear the news over the radio or see some hazy film footage, we watched second by second on live news. While most of us where focused on what happened that day in New York City there was another plane in the process of being hijacked over the skies of Pennsylvania. A forth group of terrorists took control of United flight 93 with the intention to use it as a guided missile targeted in Washington D.C. the forty people on board the flight must have realized that their chances of survival where almost nonexistent so they may a faithful decision, fight back and cause the plane to crash before reaching its destination. While there are controversies and conspiracy theories abounding around the events depicted in this film one thing should be remembered, only three planes hit targets in our country, one did not. The reason is a small group of people decided to end their lives preventing the tragedy of that day from being even larger. Many have questioned the timing of this film coming not even five years after the tragedy. What needs to be considered here is whether it even to some to remember on film events that we could never forget. It is always the right time to remember regular people who set themselves above the mundane to take heroic actions. This film is not so much about the events of 9-11 as the heights that the human spirit can soar.

As the film opens we see four men engaged in Muslim prayers in a nondescript hotel room. The FBI has identified these men as Ziad Jarrah (Khalid Abdalla), Saeed al-Ghamdi (Lewis Alsamari), Ahmed al-Haznawi (Omar Berdouni) and Ahmed al-Nami (Jamie Harding). There is nothing special about these men, they could just as well be praying as part of their religion before starting their work days. Instead they where preparing to take over a commercial jet, kill themselves and all on board while crashing into a United States government building. As they make their way to the airport others are arriving for what they think will be just another flight. Little did the American crew and passengers know their lives where counting down. While Capt. Jason M. Dahl (JJ Johnson) was piloting his air craft back in New York City the second plane had just crashing into the World Trade Center south tower. Air traffic control had issued a warning about ‘cockpit intrusion’ but for Captain Dahl the warning was too late. The hijackers were about to take control of the plane and barge into the cockpit. Many of the passengers where frozen by fear, the flight attendants struggled to remain calm, not only for the sake of their charges but for themselves. There are some transcripts of the cell phone conversations especially between the flight attendants and the ground but what matters here is not the dialogue but the actions that ensued. For ex-athletes; Todd Beamer (David Alan Basche), Mark Bingham (Cheyenne Jackson), Tom Burnett (Christian Clemenson) and Jeremy Glick (Peter Hermann) make calls to their families for last goodbyes before they take matters into their own hands. They decide to go down fighting. That if they were going to die that morning it will not be while killing other Americans. Beamer makes a simple statement that will go down in history with such words as ‘give me liberty or give me death’; he utters the phrase "Let’s roll." It is not a phrase uttered with bravado, just some words from an ordinary man that is about to die for his convictions.

There are no real central characters here. No one person or small group of people that are made into heroes by the film. Instead the focus is on the collective actions of all on board. Everyone was afraid, everyone was scared but they rose above it determined to not be used as a weapon against their country. No one person had to take the lead. The passengers organized almost organically, moved by some internal mandate to do what needed to be done. While one man on the plane possibly could have piloted the craft if they regained control the general consensus was they where about to die and they had to make their last moments count for something. There is no Hollywood devices used here, no Die Hard style hero in a ripped tee-shirt that saves the day while flinging cleaver quips. That is not a view of a real hero, what is shown here is.

The film was directed by Paul Greengrass, best known here in America for the last and next Bourne flicks. Here the British director took a far more straight forward approach to the work. The style used here is almost that of a documentary. Instead of film or even a professional grade digital video camera the movie was made on a much less expensive camera. This gave a very intimate, first person feel to the work. The camera is always on the move, darting from one area of the plane to the next. The film was also done basically in real time. There was some necessary time compression in the beginning but once the events begin to unfold Greengrass makes every attempt to remain true to what is believed to be the actual timeline. The focus moves between the tension on board the air craft and what was happening with the air traffic controllers. Air Force jets where scrambled but they would not arrive until it was too late. The controllers where also in state of disarray, nothing in their training could have prepared them for the reality that the country was under attack. Greengrass captures these feelings well conveying to the audience what it must have been like in that plane or in the busy control tower.

Universal has released this important work on DVD with three variations. There is a pan & scan version, a one disc widescreen and a two disc limited edition. We can naturally discount the full screen version so it would be best to get the limited edition. The retail price is only a couple of dollars more and you get a lot for that extra price. All three versions have Dolby 5.1 audio. The soundstage is excellent giving a cramped feel to the listening area. The two versions with the true aspect ratio are presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer. With the limited edition there is a fantastic extra, the 48 minute documentary ‘Chasing Planes: Witness to 9-11’. This work details the events surrounding all four of the doomed aircraft. This is not an easy film to watch. No matter no much time elapsed nothing can make this an easier view. Still, it is a dramatic and realistic view of what happened. We will never know exactly what occurred on Flight 93 but this film captures the spirit and drive that regular citizens are able to achieve.

Posted 8/30/06

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