What transpired on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001 irrevocably altered the face of our nation – a fact that's most certainly not news. Nor is it news that thousands upon thousands of words, from both sides of the rhetorical aisle, have been expended upon the spate of highly visible feature film projects tackling that sprawling, bloody day. For good or ill, 2006 is fast becoming the year that America faces its fear. Between the pair of movies concerning the doomed United Airlines flight that crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania (Paul Greengrass' wrenching, masterful "United 93" bowed in late April) and Oliver Stone's controversial "World Trade Center," the country is going to have some unsettling, sadly familiar images put in front of it.
Five years later, amid the hue and cry of "Are we ready?" comes a larger question: will we ever be ready? In truth, probably not – thankfully, one of the oft-forgotten roles of art is catharsis; whether one or any of these projects will help foster a sense of closure is endlessly debatable. Are these films necessary? In the grand scheme of things, no, not particularly – fictionalizing or docu-dramatizing events that have been the subject of countless documentaries, books, TV specials and talk shows doesn't blunt the impact of 9/11, but rather keeps it near the forefront of the collective national consciousness.
Unfortunately, while director Peter Markle's dramatization of the events that transpired aboard the ill-fated United Flight 93 beat Greengrass' version to the punch (it aired on cable's A&E in January 2006, and even Flight 93 marks the third TV incarnation), it pales in comparison to the unsparing feature film. Despite being somewhat hampered by standards and practices, Flight 93 is still brutal, poignant and a cut above most TV movie fare, somehow avoiding the whiff of exploitation that invariably dogs projects such as these.
There are obvious, inescapable similiarities between the films – and not merely the timeline of events; both Flight 93 and United 93 employ jittery, handheld cinematography and a cast of unknown actors, but Flight 93 is slicker and less gritty and as a result, loses some of its immediacy – not to mention the absence of logos, which drains even more of the veracity from the film. That said, there's an undeniable power to Markle's handling of the material, capturing some truly heartbreaking moments aboard the embattled United Airlines flight. While much of what occurs on United Airlines Flight 93 is dramatic conjecture, it feels grounded in reality, as though exacting transcripts of the flight's final minutes exist somewhere.
The cumulative emotional effect of Flight 93 is a curious one – a simultaneous feeling of overwhelming sadness and rootless anger; a familiar dichotomy that permeated America's mindset in the days and weeks following that shocking September morning. The sense of mounting dread is felt from the opening scenes of Flight 93 – while not the overwhelming achievement that United 93 is rightly being hailed as, it's a competent, well-intentioned work that joins the ever-growing catalog of films exploring the events and after effects of a day the world will never forget.
As originally broadcast, Flight 93 arrives on DVD with a crisp, clean 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that doesn't suffer from any hint of damage, befitting a film less than six months old. Mark Irwin's you-are-there cinematography looks very sharp and well lit.
Dolby 2.0 stereo is all that's offered here, which is perfectly serviceable – dialogue is always heard clearly and free of distortion, while Velton Ray Bunch's spare score fills in appropriately. Spanish subtitles are also on board.
There isn't too much in the way of bonus material here, with only a writer/director commentary featuring dispassionate, somewhat dry conversation with Markle and screenwriter Nevin Schreiner. A 12 minute, 32 second featurette that includes interviews with Markle, producer David Gerber and Schreiner is here as are trailers for Flight 93 and 12 Days of Terror.
Flight 93 unfortunately suffers by the inevitable comparisons to Paul Greengrass' superior United 93 but it doesn't completely diminish what director Peter Markle and his cast have accomplished here: a tasteful, if somewhat slick, recounting of a morning that changed the world forever. Recommended.