United 93
R1 - America - Universal Pictures
Review written by and copyright: Graeme Tuckett & Noor Razzak (1st January 2001).
The Film

Paul Greengrass was the perfect choice to direct "United 93". The director of the very good, very worthy "Bloody Sunday" (2002) and "The Bourne Supermacy" (2004) is a sober minded enough documentarian to tell a "true" story credibly, but an accomplished enough practitioner of the whip-pan and the crash-edit to keep your average multiplex dweller engaged and impressed.
Like that great showman Michael Moore ("Roll Up Roll Up, take a shot at the side of a barn...") Greengrass knows that a great story is wasted unless you can present it with enough visual nouse to actually get it in front the pop-corn munchers, and with "United 93" he has struck the perfect balance.
I don't believe that the "true story" of what really occurred on September 11th 2001 will ever really be known. I can be pretty tedious of a Friday night, urging anyone within earshot to at least read about the collapse of World Trade Center 7, six hours after the twin towers, and tell me it's not the "smoking gun" of a blatant U.S. Government plot.
Five years after that day, we've all but forgotten what it was like to live in a world without "Terror Alerts", "The War on Terror", or the "Coalition of the Willing" (to do anything for the sniff of a free trade agreement...).
Arguments about whether 'we" are now fighting "an enemy" created by the events of the past five years, or which has been waiting for us all along will endure as long as there are pints in the keg and bums on the bar stool.
And yet, somehow, in the middle of all this heat, in the absence of all this light, Greengrass has managed to write and direct a film that (rightly) ignores the contradictions and the conspiracies, and keeps the focus on what really mattered; The People.
By basing his script on what is actually known to have occurred-largely from phone transcripts from the plane, the cockpit voice recorder, and the tapes and logs of the military and the FAA, Greengrass keeps his narrative welded to an exact and verifiable time line.
On the ground chaos unfolds as the flight controllers and Air Defence chiefs (many of them portraying themselves in the film) watch in horror as four among hundreds of planes go rogue and then vanish from their screens. Trying frantically to reach Bush or Cheney to establish the "Rules of Engagement", the various 'crats are hog-tied by red tape and the fear of being held responsible for the loss of "innocent" lives.
Meanwhile, in the air, the equally terrified hijackers and their hostages face off for long tense minutes, before a quick orgy of panicked violence aboard the spiraling plane brings the film to an abrupt and disquieting close.
"United 93" is superb movie making in the service of one of this era's defining stories. The film is a masterpiece.

Video

Presented in the film's original theatrical ratio of 2.35:1, this widescreen anamorphic image is near perfect. The image is sharp and crystal clear, colors are muted, however this is look the filmmakers were after and it is presented on this DVD accurately. Blacks are deep and bold and shadow detail remains consistent throughout. I could not spot any flaws with this transfer, no compression artefacts, no edge-enhancement, or dirt on the print and for such a recent release you'd expect just that. Universal has given us a splendid transfer for this powerful film.

Audio

Four audio tracks are included on this release all of which are in Dolby Digital 5.1, we have one in English, one in French, one in Spanish plus an English audio descriptive track for the visually impaired. For the purposes of this review I chose to view the film with its original English soundtrack. I'm happy to report that the sound is stellar. The dialogue is clear and distortion free, and the track exhibited a range and depth far beyond my expectations. The immersiveness of this track is reference quality. The surround were subtle when required and aggressive as the film nears its end. The enviormental surrounds place inside the plane, or inside air traffic control and all feel natural and make excellent use of the entire 5.1 space. Additionally the score, is embedded into the mix with precision timing. Universal have matched a great image with an equally great sound track.
The film also has some Arabic dialogue spoken in it, during those scenes burned in English subtitles appear as part of the print.
Optional subtitles are also included in English for the hearing impaired, French and Spanish.

Extras

Universal have released two versions of this film on DVD in Region 1. The first is a 2-disc Special Edition and a single disc edition which consists of the first disc from the Collector's Edition. This release is the single disc version and features an audio commentary, a feature-length documentary, a series of memorial pages plus a bonus trailer. Below is a closer look at these supplements.

First up we have a feature-length audio commentary by the film's writer/director Paul Greengrass. Greengrass begins this track screen-specific but then as the film progresses moves outside of that. The trivia begins from the film's opening as the filmmaker comments on how he originally intended to open the film with a scene taking place in Afghanistan as Sheik Mohammad is about to meet with Bin Laden. The scene was filmed but dropped as it was deemed redundant. The filmmaker also pays attention to the realistic portrayal of the people on this flight as he comments on how he went about setting the scenes as well as provides background detail on his shot choices. Other interesting aspects of this film include the use of both actors and non-actors which lent the film a natural documentary feel to it. He also expresses his wish to show show information travels through levels during a tragedy. Additionally the photography is taken into account, most especially the frantic handheld style of the shots which allowed for long takes. Greengrass had the sets completely wired for sound so that he can record at length and allows the actors freedom to move around the space. Technically this was a challenging film and Greengrass' commentary takes us through the various challenges faced and although his comments are largely focused on the production he does occasionally veer into political discussion, considering the film's topic this is unavoidable. Overall this is an excellent track that is certainly worth listening to.

Next up is the "United 93: The Families and the Film" which is a documentary that runs for 59 minutes 50 seconds. In this extensive feature the family members comment on the impact that day had on them, and how the filmmakers approached the production by working with the families to honor those that had died on the flight and in no way glamorize the people and the event that took place. We get a candid look at the actors visiting the families of the people they portrayed on screen and learn about the people who lost their lives as well as their reactions to the final film. Although this is not a straight making-of clip it's still a worthwhile feature that instead focuses on the real people.

Following that are a series of memorial pages. These are biographies of each of the 40 passengers and crew of United 93, each biography has been written by a loved one and includes:

- Alan Anthony Beaven (4 pages of notes)
- Andrew Garcia (2 pages of notes)
- CeeCee Lyles (2 pages of notes)
- Christian Adams (1 page of notes)
- Christine Snyder (2 pages of notes)
- Colleen Fraser (2 pages of notes)
- Deborah Welsh (4 pages of notes)
- Deora Frances Bodley (2 pages of notes)
- Donald & Jean Patterson (4 pages of notes)
- Donald Freeman Green (3 pages of notes)
- Edward P. Felt (2 pages of notes)
- Georgine Rose Carrigan (2 pages of notes)
- Hilda Marcin (3 pages of notes)
- Honor Elizabeth Wainio (8 pages of notes)
- Jane Folger (8 pages of notes)
- Captain Jason M. Dahl (5 pages of notes)
- Jeremy Glick (3 pages of notes)
- John Talignani (2 pages of notes)
- Joseph DeLuca (2 pages of notes)
- Kristin White Gould (2 pages of notes)
- Lauren Catuzzi Grandiolas (2 pages of notes)
- First Officer LeRoy Homer (3 pages of notes)
- Linda Gronlund (3 pages of notes)
- Lorraine G. Bay (2 pages of notes)
- Louis J. Nacke II (2 pages of notes)
- Mark Bingham (4 pages of notes)
- Marion R Britton (3 pages of notes)
- Mark Rothenberg (2 pages of notes)
- Nicole Carol Miller (3 pages of notes)
- Patricia Cushing (2 pages of notes)
- Patrick Joseph Driscoll (2 pages of notes)
- Richard Guadagno (4 pages of notes)
- Sandra Bradshaw (2 pages of notes)
- Thomas E. Burnett Jr. (5 pages of notes)
- Todd Beamer (3 pages of notes)
- Toshiya Kuge (2 pages of notes)
- Waleska Martinez (2 pages of notes)
- Wanda Anita Green (4 pages of notes)
- William Joseph Cashman (3 pages of notes)

Rounding out the extras on this disc is a bonus trailer to the Oscar winning short subject documentary "Twin Towers" which runs for 2 minutes 14 seconds.

Packaging

This single disc DVD release is packaged in an amaray case with a cardboard slip-cover.

Overall

Despite the fact that this is only a single disc edition the presence of the commentary and the excellent documentary are enough to warrant a purchase. If you require more then there is a more elaborate 2-disc edition.

The Film: A+ Video: A+ Audio: A+ Extras: A Overall: A

 


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