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'United 93:' A partial look at the future of 9/11 and films

Andrew Prince / Reporter

Do you remember how you felt on Sept. 11, 2001? I do. I felt sadness for the lives that were lost and for the buildings that were destroyed, anger at the people responsible, and, a little later, pride at how we as Americans unified no matter our personal beliefs or political preferences. Remember, after Bush's first Address to the Nation following 9/11, Democrats chose not to give a rebuttal speech.

Now, not even five years later, the country might be more divided than it was before 9/11.

On Jan. 30, 2006, A&E Network aired a made-for-TV movie about United Flight 93. It earned the network's highest ratings ever and fueled, to my knowledge, no protests.

The upcoming film "United 93" will be the first fiction film to tell a specific story of an event on 9/11 on the big screen. It tells the story of the one plane that didn't reach its target that day. I thought the film would be a welcome reminder of the heroism people showed and would help us remember how we felt, and maybe even reunify us a little. To my surprise, however, the pre-release buzz has not had this effect; in fact, it may be dividing us further.

Message boards on imdb.com look like a war zone for the written word.

Some people think it's too soon, calling it exploitive and an abomination; others are saying the movie is about heroism and that the story has to be told.

Richard Corliss reports in Time Magazine that "audiences who wouldn't flinch at slasher movies and serial killer thrillers have shouted back at the previews."

I asked two of my friends (one liberal, one conservative) for their input. My more conservative friend, Josh Mears, a student at Greensboro College who spent 13 months in Iraq in the war's early stages, disagrees with those who say it's too soon.

"It is unfortunate that we have forgotten the feeling and shock that we had on the day we were literally attacked and over 3,000 innocent people died," Mears said.

My other friend, Garrett Kachellek, Elon's student body treasurer, doesn't think the country will be very accepting of the movie.

"There were many wounds that were created on 9/11 and many do not want to relive that day," Kachellek said.

I don't think anyone wants to relive that day, but we may need to, considering how polarized we have become, for our country's sake. The fact that people are so strongly split on this film just proves the point. If 9/11 was a blessing in disguise, then the blessing was that it unified the country. Even with the mixed reception right now, I still think that once the film is released, "United 93" will help to recreate that feeling that drew us together.

As was hinted before, the film already has many detractors even though barely anyone has seen it. For those who say it's too early and that the filmmakers are exploiting the victims for profit, they need to consider other films based on tragedies such as "Pearl Harbor" and "Titanic" and compare their success to that of "Hotel Rwanda." Notice how the length of time from the tragedy to the film's release affected how successful the movie became. If the filmmakers' intentions were to make money they wouldn't have made it this soon. And with "Mission Impossible: III," "Poseidon," and "The DaVinci Code" following the three weekends after "United," the filmmakers know they're not getting much after the film's first three days (during which 10 percent of the film's profits will go to the Flight 93 National Memorial Fund), and if they do, it won't be because people were entertained.

There is another difference between films like "Titanic" and "Hotel Rwanda." "Titanic" was a big budget, broad epic intended for mass consumption, while "Rwanda" was a small-scale, low budget picture that cared more about its characters. "Rwanda" was a better film because it gave the victims their due. That is what I expect from Paul Greengrass, who directed "United 93."

His film "Bloody Sunday" is one of the most realistic looking fiction films I have ever seen. It recreates the events that happened on Jan. 30, 1972, in northern Ireland with great cinematic skill while keeping focused on the people who lost their loved ones that day.

Small scale is the way to go when making movies about 9/11. I trust Greengrass to set that standard. I'm a little more worried about Oliver Stone's upcoming film "World Trade Center," due out Aug. 11.

Although, I read the story will focus exclusively on two firefighters who survived when the towers fell.

Considering the petty arguments between the left and the right recently, it seems we have already forgotten what happened on 9/11. We need to be reminded even if we don't want to be.

Contact Andrew Prince at pendulum@elon.edu or 278-7247.

Photo courtesy of KRT Campus

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