“We have some planes.”
Now this is more like it. A big step up from World Trade Center. Jesus what an emotional gut-punch those final seconds are.
A Review and Comparison to World Trade Center
In order for me to talk about this film, I’m going to have to make comparisons between this and World Trade Center, and also mention a very interesting thematic element Paul Greengrass brought up in his commentary on the film. The film opens with the hijackers in a hotel room saying their prayers. Opening in this style starts the tension up right away, because we know what these guys are about to do, and we stay with them as they leave, as they intermingle with others at the airport, to when they board the plane. But another reason why the film opens with them, something I wouldn’t have caught onto until Greengrass mentioned it, is because we are already watching a hijacking in progress. Much like how they would go on to hijack Flight 93, they are currently hijacking their own religion for their own amoral purposes. Quite a thematic revelation that made me appreciate Greengrass and this film even more.
Now, the reasons why this worked for me more than World Trade Center did. For starters, it stays more technical about things and doesn’t shove the emotion in your face. In World Trade Center, it’s all about the emotion. Men talking about and crying for their families, seeing the families crying over their husbands, walking around doing stuff trying to cope with the emotions of frustration, desperation, and sadness, etc. I’m not very big on films like that. Though I will give World Trade Center some credit, I did get choked up when Nicolas Cage’s character said to his wife, “You kept me alive.”
These films also can’t just stick with the main focus of the story the entire time. United 93 can’t stick with just the passengers of the plane anymore than World Trade Center can stick with the officers buried under the rubble throughout the entire runtime. The pacing would get too slow, and things would get too monotonous. Or at least I would like to believe so, even though films like 127 Hours tend to prove that you can have a film stay focused on just the central character(s) the entire runtime and still be good, but most of the time that just doesn’t work. World Trade Center bounced between the officers in the rubble, the families (mainly the wives) coping with the situation, and a marine. That film mainly worked for me when it stayed with the officers in the rubble, the officers outside of the rubble, and the marine. The central figures buried within the rubble provided enough of the emotion, the marine served the purpose of having soldiers doing their duty with progressing towards saving American lives, giving the viewer hope that he will find them while displaying his bravery and determination, both sides progressed the plot in their own way. In fact, World Trade Center would’ve been a better film if it left the families out of the picture for the most part and just used them in flashbacks, and kept things focused on the officers and the marines, and trimmed down the runtime a bit. But that’s just my opinion.
United 93, on the other hand, didn’t bother going in-depth with whom each of these civilian passengers are. We get glimpses into their lives through their actions, mannerisms, and remarks made during brief conversations. In other words, the film has us view them as we would any normal passengers on a plane, as if we were there with them. The film attempts immersion in that way, with its pseudo-documentary style. For me, that worked. And to keep things that way, the film didn’t need to stick with the passengers the entire time, otherwise it would have to change its style to letting us know more about them than their face-value attributes. Instead, the majority of the film focuses outside of the plane, on the flight controllers, from the airline controllers, to the military communications. This was a good decision in my opinion, even if it makes it seem like two different worlds and two different movies (directing style aside). It works mainly due to pacing. Despite the length of the film, the pacing is quick enough to where time just flies by (no pun intended).
Here’s why this decision works for the first half of the film. Focusing on the flight controllers as things are going smoothly and by daily routine, to a small oddity that grows into a problem which escalates into a catastrophe, we get a feel for the growing tension and terror of what is happening. That several planes are being hijacked. So transitioning between the flight controllers and Flight 93 while it is still grounded and experiencing delays, the viewer is just pleading at the screen for the flight to not take off, to not rush towards its fate, knowing all that is going on before the flight even makes it to the runway. But it eventually does. It’s a fantastic way to create a tense atmosphere without showing very much.
Once the flight takes off, it wouldn’t make much sense just to ignore the air traffic controllers at that point after sticking with them. We see things going from bad to worse, and show just how chaotic the entire atmosphere is. They’re desperately trying to maintain control and get a grasp on everything and send in fighter jets to assist with how they can. For a more in-depth experience with what was happening, I recommend the BBC documentary Clear the Skies. At the same time, the passengers of Flight 93 are gradually learning more and more about the predicament they are in via phone calls, and that they must attempt to regain control of the situation themselves, with the words, “Ready? Let’s roll.”
Eventually, some form of control is regained, but only after so much damage has been done. Damage that sent shockwaves throughout the nation, and to other nations, and ultimately to the viewers who watch this movie to its final moments.
United 93 is such a fitting title. Aside from that being the name of the plane, it also fits with how the passengers eventually united against a common enemy, much like how America united to help each other amidst the crisis, and for a controversial war overseas.
After all these years, it’s still emotional.
Addressing the Criticisms
Now, there are some criticisms this film faces. One of them is the portrayal of the German passenger Christian Adams. The most direct and lengthy criticism(s) can be found here:
Now, it does make sense for there to be some appeaser, some dissident from the plan to retake control of the plane. I would’ve pictured some old dude or some old lady to be that way, but that’s just me, and I haven’t exactly done research on the personality traits of the passengers of Flight 93. But I will agree that it’s questionable at best regarding the portrayal given to Christian Adams. I’ve heard all the arguments, that he’s the one non-American passenger on the plane (terrorists aside), and so it must be a non-American to protest against the American duty of fighting back; it unjustly paints Europeans/Germans as cowards; that’s not how he was in real life; blah blah blah.
In all honesty, I agree. They should’ve been more careful about which passenger would’ve taken on that roll. It’s a lose-lose situation in any case, because the family of the respective victim would cry fowl no matter who was chosen, but I agree that it should’ve been someone else. It seems too stereotypical in the wrong way. Some people make a very big deal out of this to the point where they would say it ruins the movie for them. For me, it’s a small problem, but not a fatal one. It’s not that big of a deal for me personally, but I can understand why others would take a bigger issue with it. Plus I think they go a little too far with how he panics just before they charge the terrorists, trying to stop them from taking back the plane.
The other issue this film faces is that some claim Hollywood is just capitalizing on our emotions and on the disaster of the event. People, it’s Hollywood, they will capitalize on anything if they can make money off of it. They would capitalize on your grandmother getting gangbanged and sodomized in prison if they thought they could make a profit out of it and not piss off too many viewers. That’s not the question you should be asking. You should be asking if the film-makers are sincere in their work and not just doing it for a cash-grab. I firmly believe the film-maker was sincere, as was just about everyone involved in this film.
Addressing the Conspiracy Theories
But then comes the big tamale of the issues. Conspiracy theories.
“What? Surely he’s not going to go into that territory?”
“Oh, yes he is!” I say in the third person.
The reason why I’m going to go into this is because I’ve seen reviews of the film who have their rating and enjoyment level swayed by these very things. They argue that because this film is made in a pseudo-documentary style, that it aims to be as factual as possible while taking as few liberties as possible, they can’t rate the film highly because it fictionalizes portions of, if not the entire, flight. If some reviewers are going to say the film is bad because it’s propaganda and filled with lies because the official story is BS, then I’m going to fucking address them.
Conspiracy theorists believe there is control over events such as these. They don’t believe in the word “chaos”. They have a hard time believing that shit happens, that sometimes things happen that are beyond our control. They believe just about everything is planned out. I believe most of them are fucking morons, and I say this as an ex-fucking-moron, who used to be in with them on believing the official story was just not true. I was more gullible then than I am now.
The best way to respond to a conspiracy theory is by treating it the same way conspiracy theorists treat the official story, by raising questions about supposed faults in the story.
#1: The theory that the plane didn’t crash, but landed somewhere safely, and the hold in the ground is a natural formation that was there before the crash, or that it was dug out that way prior to the crash, or some horseshit like that. Plus the hole in the ground is too small for a plane of that size.
Response: First of all, that’s a complex plan that relies on a lot of hopes that there wouldn’t be any witnesses catching on to it. Assuming the flight didn’t crash but landed at some other airport, where are the airport witnesses? Why wouldn’t the passengers say anything after all these years? Or were they killed at the airport? If the plane landed only for the government (or whatever NWO thingamabob organization is behind it) to just decide, “Ah fuck it, no witnesses,” why even both not having the plane crash in the first place? What about the wreckage that was found at and around the crash site?
“We need to go to war in the Middle East! Let’s get some planes to fly into buildings! But we need a bravery story amidst all this, so let’s put some plane parts we have lying around and put it around this big fucking hole we’re going to dig up in the middle of Shanksville.”
“But sir, wouldn’t the message get across with the other 3 plane incidents, much less just 1 of them?”
“Fuck no! We need 4, not 3!”
“Then why not just have a plane actually crash?”
“What are you a monster? We can’t have actual people on the planes dying.”
“But won’t people see us digging a big fucking hole in a field?”
“Hell no. We’ve got camouflage technology! And if that fails, we can gas the motherfuckers.”
“But won’t car traffic notice us bringing this big frikkin’ engine part along the road, along with the other parts? Won’t we leave tire tracks or something?”
“We’ve got sweepers, and no one is ever awake during those time to see us. And we’ve got ninja vehicles, so they won’t hear us either!”
“But what about the people at the airport where we’re landing the plane?”
“We’ll have it evacuated by then, only people working for us will be there.”
“Do we have that many employees? Aren’t you afraid there would be a whistleblower or something?”
“I trust everyone!”
Am I the only one who sees how fucking far-fetched and implausible this is!? Not to mention all the fucking witnesses who saw the plane fly and heard/felt the crash (see #3). As for the size of the hole in the ground being too small, have you even taken a look at the video of the Twin Towers? How big the hole/gash was in the building? About the same size with the same story, the velocity of the impact combined with the burning fuel practically vaporized much of the plane.
#2: Phone calls from airplanes were impossible in 2001. The technology wasn’t advanced enough.
Response: Excluding the calls made from the phones built into the seats of the plane, this argument basically states that cell phone calls were impossible up until late 2004 due to the high altitude and travelling speed, and lack of strong/numerous cell towers. This is true, at least to an extent. The thing is, all calls from Flight 93 were made from those seat phones until 9:58am when 2 cell calls were made. At 9:58am, the plane was flying at an altitude of around 5,000 feet, which makes it likely for cell calls to be made, though the signals weren’t great.
#3: It didn’t crash, it was shot down.
Response: Now this one, is actually not as far-fetched. In fact, this conspiracy theory is worth considering. Surprise.
They come up with a few reasons as to the how and why, but I’ll just stick with the version that I find the most believable. So here’s the thing, the official story, according to the 9/11 Commision Report, states that the flight crashed at about 10:03am. Prior to the Commission Report (released in 2004), the time of the crash was estimated to be at 10:06am, the evidence for this being due to seismic readings at seismographic stations, at least one of which pinpointed the crash time of United Flight 93 to be at 10:06am. The 9/11 Commission Report states in a footnote:
“But the seismic data on which they based this estimate are far too weak in signal-to-noise ratio and far too speculative in terms of signal source to be used as a means of contradicting the impact time established by the very accurate combination of FDR, CVR, ATC, radar, and impact site data sets.”
A reasonable explanation, but there’s also the issue of the black box flight recorder recovered from the plane which hasn’t been fully released yet. Plus there’s a potential “slip of the tongue” from a speech given by Donald Rumsfeld:
“And I think all of us have a sense if we imagine the kind of world we would face if the people who bombed the mess hall in Mosul, or the people who did the bombing in Spain, or the people who attacked the United States in New York, shot down the plane over Pennsylvania and attacked the Pentagon”
So the reason they would state that the plane crashed at 10:03am as opposed to 10:06am is to hide that they did shoot down the plane, which would make them look very bad after reports came out of the passengers attempting to take back control of the plane during its final minutes.
There’s also some supposed Reuters Report floating around somewhere which states that a prosecutor at a Gitmo trial for one of Bin Laden’s taxi drivers mentions that the plane was shot down, but I can’t find that report anywhere.
That being said, this theory also has its share of problems. For one thing, none of the eyewitnesses on the ground in Shanksville who saw the plane ever saw a missile, either from a jet or from elsewhere, flying towards the airliner prior to its crash (by prior I mean within seconds). All testimony claiming sounds of an explosion or missile didn’t actually see the plane, which makes their claims questionable at best. Plus, it is possible that the seismic readings weren’t completely accurate, not to mention it would go against all those other radar/non-radar sources mentioned above. And if a missile did hit the plane, where could it have hit it that would still cause it to crash in the way it did and have the fuel cause the explosion that it did? It’s easier to conclude that the seismic measuring building was too far away to accurately pick up on that measurement within that time frame.
Hope I didn’t open up a can of worms with this portion of the review.