a pro script reader ponders movies, reading, writing and the occasional personal flashback

Thursday, April 27, 2006

United 93

I have to say I have very mixed feelings about whether or not I really want to see this film.

When I first heard about it, I had no interest. Not that I'm one of those kind of people who need their movies to be escapist, but this must be one of the least-escapist movies ever.

The history it is presenting is recent, and raw, and the biggest problem might be that everyone knows going in pretty much everything that is going to happen.

Still, it's supposed to be great. Apparently Paul Greengrass made a lot of strong choices, including not casting any recognizable faces -- some key roles (like the head of the air traffic controllers) are even played by the actual people.

It's not just about the people on the plane, it's about the air traffic controllers, and the military trying to mobilize and stop whatever is going to happen.

But it's going to be a tough two hours, just to see a sad sad story that I'm already familiar with.

There are some cases in which I'm not sure that "It's a great movie" is quite enough. I guess it comes down to what we want in a movie experience -- maybe even what we want in a movie experience on a particular day.



At 8:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm inclined to agree with you. Every word is that it is a powerful movie. But, I'm so close to Shanksville and I still haven't made it to the monument. It's a subject matter that (depending on your beliefs) has nothing more to offer us in new information. BUt what more did we glean from Titanic? Not the same, I guess. That was a fictional story on a historical event. I'll have to look at this from an intent perspective. Is the intent to imortalize this story? To clear up the facts? To question the facts? To entertain. Anything but the first will most likely plant me firmly in the seats at BENCHWARMERS.

Dunno Scott, it's a great question I've yet to answer for myself. I wonder how many see go see this film because there was so much visually in connection with the other three flights, and all we had was an air traffic line haul marker for this tragedy. Dunno.


At 8:54 AM, Anonymous Ron said...

Have you seen "Bloody Sunday?"

A similar style, a similar idea (a tragedy which everyone knows how it ends) - and one of the best, move powerful movies I've ever seen.

I'm going camping this weekend, but expect to catch United 93 next week when I'm back.

At 9:02 AM, Blogger Joe Unidos said...

I'll probably be glad it exists for future generation (if it's as good as I've heard), but I don't imagine I'll see it anytime soon.

At 9:11 AM, Blogger Webs said...

They should have called it "Stakes on a Plane".

At 9:39 AM, Blogger Chris said...

I think it gets back to the question of what shoud constitute "entertainment" and whether tragedies like 9/11 or the Holocaust should even be turned into commodities in the first place. For every person who finds "Schindler's List" powerful and moving, there are those who find even Spielberg's attempt to impose the traditional Hollywood form on that event appalling. I probably fall on the side who sees United 93 more as a glorified snuff film than tribute.

At 9:53 AM, Blogger Brett said...

As usual, I'm somewhere in the middle.

On the one hand, I have to respect the hell out of anyone able to take such a nasty open wound of a tale and turn it into anything like a watchable engrossing movie, but on the other hand there comes a point where you might do SUCH a good job of showing the story and the emotions and the humanity involved that it becomes near-pornographic in terms of its raw brutal punch to the gut impact.

The opening to SAVING PRIVATE RYAN? Brilliant technical filmmaking. As real a war experience as I ever care to endure, thank you very much. Did I *enjoy* it? Not so much. It felt more like something I needed to experience, kinda like watching opne of those educational films on sex back in 5th or 6th grade. "I don't really WANT to know the truth here, but I understand that i NEED to."

In a few years UNITED 93 might be useful to help my kids (when they've grown) better understand the events of this weird time, but for now... it doesn't sound like the most entertaining way for me to spend 8 bucks on a babysitter Saturday night.

I'll pass.

At 10:02 AM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

I was thinking of other examples, like Titanic, and Saving Private Ryan, and the Perfect Storm, and Black Hawk Down, and a lot of the appeal there was the visual side of the story -- the real sense that I was going to be immersed in something that had some visual scope and that benefitted from being on a big screen.

But United 93 doesn't seem like it has this. It's going to be scenes in a plane, or scenes in rooms... it's purely, unrelentingly going to be about the story, without the added sense that it is a big, visual tale.

Though the movie apparently isn't exploitative at all. And as a "commodity", there are a lot more sure things than this film, which might be lucky to make its money back.

At 10:35 AM, Blogger Shawn said...

A lot of people question why this film was made. I think the answer is that people want to know what happened aboard that plane -- or at least a close approximation. Of course, the filmmakers wanted to pay tribute to those who gave up their lives to save others, but being human we can't help indulging in curiosity. People want to see with their own eyes.

As for seeing the film, I think I will. It was inevitable that Hollywood would make films about what happened that day (I'm looking forward to Oliver Stone's take). And since the families of those who died on flight 93 endorse the film, I don't see why anyone can complain.

At 11:50 AM, Blogger Chris said...

(repost with full link)

Whether or not the movie itself is exploitative in its execution, it still begs the question of exploitation of 9/11 for entertainment product in the first instance.

Village Voice had a pretty good hashing out of this in the Holocaust context when Schindler's List came out:

Food for thought anyway.

At 12:20 PM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

I don't think it's right to say that you shouldn't be able to make movies about certain historical events. There are important Holocaust stories that deserve to be told to a wide audience.

At the same time, United 93's decision to eschew things like name actors seems a lot more honest to the subject matter than Oliver Stone's casting Nic Cage in his 9/11 tale. But then again, if a name actor can held get a budget to tell an important story, then maybe that's important too.

The film industry will always be driven by the need to make money, but I think at the same time there is an element to these films that the backers were trying to tell an important story. After all, they could have chosen to make another bad TV series movie instead.

At 3:04 PM, Blogger Bill Cunningham said...

Every tragedy has been covered in films in some way, shape or form. Examples include movies that were made right after Pearl Harbor - the most notable being REMEMBER PEARL HARBOR! (Exclamamtion point being part of the title).

There have been movies about the Chicago fire, the San Francisco earthquake, Aids in Africa(and the US), Apartheid, the Oklahoma City bombings, the kidnapping and murder of Adam Walsh, Waco, etc...


There are movies + TV right now about soldiers in Iraq (JARHEAD, OVER THERE), and yet I see no outrage or protest over that. It's so soon that the "war" is still going on.

United 93 (In my opinion) is a respectful, truth-telling film made by an acclaimed filmmaker who had a need to tell this group's story. If you or anyone else doesn't want to go see it - fine. Don't see it.

But to say it's "too early" or that it's "exploiting emotion" or that "it shouldn't have been made" --- well, guess what?

That's a decision I'm going to make for myself.

At 4:06 PM, Blogger oneslackmartian said...

My feelings are not mixed. I only had peripheral connections to any of the 9/11 events. Nevertheless, when I saw the previews, I thought my heart was going to pound itself right out of my chest. And I was nearly in tears. All in 45 seconds. I will definitely have to see this, just to torture myself with questions of my own capabilities in such moments. I imagine I would find myself completely and utterly lacking. Incapable of making a decision to “roll.” I completely marvel at this group of people who seized their last moment on this “mortal coil.”

And all of this is brought to me by film. Something I want to be part of. You betcha, I’ll see it.

At 7:36 PM, Blogger Naila J. said...

I want to address your issue about it being about a story people already know... especially because it's a recent one.

I think most of those who will watch it will think of it as a tribute to the victims/events of 9/11. Which would only make sense if part of the profits of the film went to a 9/11 related charity.

And the other bunch of people who will see this movie will be doing it just because they feel they have to. Like a Michael Moore film.

At 9:31 PM, Blogger Aaron said...

This reminds me more of Elephant than Saving Private Ryan or The Perfect Storm or any other film to date. The opening of Private Ryan didn't seem to phase me and I think it was because Tom Hanks was up there, saving the day. With Elephant it was so much different and I feel like United 93 is set-up to be that way as well.

I'm going to try and see it this weekend mainly to support this type of telling of this story. You don't need stars to tell this story. And that includes you, Oliver Stone.

At 9:43 PM, Blogger Patrick J. Rodio said...

I had mixed feelings at first, then I thought about it. Is hollywood gonna make $ off of it? Sure, so what?

But if it's a smart, well-made film about a powerful event, perhaps a glimpse into the last moment of the lives of this Flight, then I think that's ok and if you wanna see it, go ahead.

There's no difference between this and the DOZENS of books released after 9/11 (or Flight 93, the A&E TV movie) about that day or related to that day. And if you don't like it, as always, don't see it. Just don't piss in the face of people who'd like to see it.

Will it remind us of that horrible day? YES - IT SHOULD. Too many people have forgotten.

At 10:02 AM, Blogger Tom said...

I'm thinking this will have a sustained presence at the box office, not just a first-weekend performance. Whether it will hit #1 doesn't seem to be of importance. I'm interested to know how it played at Tribeca. I worked for the festival for its first three years and the attacks always seemed to be the elephant in the room no one mentioned. Now the elephant is onscreen.

At 12:37 PM, Blogger Twixter Scripter said...

I have three issues with this film and the buzz surrounding it.

The first is that, despite all the hype, “United 93” is an airplane disaster movie. IMHO, the best movies in this subgenre are:

“Airplane” (obviously)
“Air Force One” (essentially Jack Ryan as president)
“Airport ‘77” which is so bad it’s good.

If that’s the best of the genre, than kill the genre.

Second, it makes me gag when people say that any film was made as a tribute to those that [fill in the blank]. How can anyone say that with a straight face, especially if you’re in the movie business? There are just too many interests involved for the “tribute” statement to ever, EVER, be anywhere close to reality. I still shutter when I think of the $8.00 I spent to see Nicholas Cage slay 500 Japanese single-handedly in “Windtalkers.” We should all just accept the reasons that Hollywood said “let’s roll” on this film: it will get made and, more importantly, make money.

Finally, the most worrisome issue is that audiences are going to accept the events of the movie as fact. For those of you who want to get an idea of what happened on that flight, do yourself a favor and buy a newspaper. That’s as close as you’re ever going to get.

Conspiracy theories aside (and there are enough in this story to attract Oliver Stone to the project) the reasons for the plane’s crash is unknown. And despite all the available evidence much of what will be depicted in the film is fiction. For instance, congressional investigations have determined that the passengers never entered the cockpit. That means the film has NO climax. Better yet, it means a writer’s going to have to do his job, and write a climax.

As it turns out, the United 93 saga may actually be a screenwriter’s dream. The last recording from the plane’s black box happened a full three minutes before the plane crashed. Imagine that, three full script pages of empty historical space right where you need it most. Who cares if it’s true? I hope the writer puts in a final knife fight. That would be cool!

Personally, I think they should have given Oliver Stone a crack at this one. I rather watch a film that raises questions than watch a questionable film.

At 6:17 PM, Blogger Milehimama said...

I also had *zero* interest in this film. I've heard it's really, really good, though, and I'll probably watch it at some point.
When "The Passion of the Christ" came out, I really wanted to see that, too. I'm a fan of Mel Gibson, and we're a part of the same religious organization.
But there was NO WAY I was going to see it in a theater full of strangers, next to some guy chewing popcorn with his mouth open and cringing when I heard a cell phone. For me, the story was WAY too personal. I waited for video and watched it alone (didn't even watch it with hubby). I think this movie is going to be the same way. I'll watch it alone, and make sure I have time afterward to digest it.

At 9:42 PM, Blogger MaryAn Batchellor said...

I don't object to the film but my thought --(which is pretty much my answer to your comment on my blog, Brett)-- is about the terrorists who will be "inspired" by a film that chronicles this "glorious" blow to the U.S.

This DVD could become to terrorists the equivalent of a mascot at a pep ralley or trophy panties to a serial killer.

We see monsters in their heroes.
They see heroes in our monsters.


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