Peace through victory - the American way.

Friday, April 28, 2006

United 93: On First Impression, A Disappointment.

United 93 is the third film adaptation of the events of United's Flight 93 on September 11, 2001, and it is the lesser of the three. The first two films showed on television: The Flight That Fought Back on the Discovery Channel and Flight 93 on A&E.

First, let's give United 93 its due. The movie is a tense portrayal of the events of Flight 93. The film also captures very well the chaos that was September 11th. For most of the movie nobody, from the flight controllers, to the passengers, to the military, seems to know what is happening or what to do.

Where United 93 falls short is in its portrayal of heroism without heroes. At no time in the movie are the passengers identified as individuals. We go through the movie without getting to know who they are. We see none of their interactions with family members before their flight and very little during the flight on their phone calls. Indeed, we never see entire phone conversations during the movie. All we see are snippets of the conversations from the perspective of somebody in the plane listening to what the passenger is saying. We never see family members talking on the phone or hear what they are saying.

The television dramas, on the other hand, identified the passengers by name. They also showed just a bit of the lives of the passengers before boarding the plane. The television films also took pains to show both sides of the many phone calls the passengers made to family and friends after the hijacking. This approach resulted in a much stronger portrayal of the passengers of Flight 93.

Showing who the passengers are gave them depth as characters. The television dramas' decision to spend as much time as they did on the phone calls also accentuated the bravery of the passengers. The focus of the two TV shows was on how the passengers, as individuals and as a group, came to their decision to take action. The result of that focus was to elevate the passengers into personal heroes in a way that United 93 fails to do. By keeping the passengers anonymous, and by spending so little time showing how the passengers decided to take action, the makers of United 93 make the heroism of the passengers collective rather than individual.

And make no mistake, the passengers of Flight 93 are heroes. To appreciate the passengers as individual heroes, you'll have to rent or buy The Flight That Fought Back or Flight 93. (Here and here.)

Nevertheless, United 93 is worth seeing because it graphically shows the violent brutality of the hijackers. It's a reminder we need of the nature of the enemy we fight. It is also worth seeing because it shows a group of American civilians who refused to be cowed and who fiercely fought back giving as much as they got. A reminder we need of the debt we owe the passengers of Flight 93 and why we need to win what they started.



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Blogger Reel Fanatic said...

Interesting stuff ... I had no idea there were two other movies about these heroes .. I'll have to rent them after I see "United 93" later today

3:00 AM


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