THE STRAIGHT DOPE:
As I stated in my review of Ric Burns' New York: A
Documentary Film, there are enough stories in this
great city to fill hundreds, if not thousands, of
hours of screentime without even making a dent.
Therefore, other than a sweeping overview like Burns'
film, the best way to approach it is one brick at a
If the World Trade Center wasn't the most famous
building in the world, it must be now it its absence.
The History Channel produced World Trade Center: A
Modern Marvel before the tragic events of
September 11th and the tone of the documentary shows
the kind of jaunty, happy-go-lucky attitude of many of
these cable shows. The narrator is corny, the music
awful, and the shot-on-video cinematography artless.
Yet, in its very innocence, the piece becomes even
more poignant than if it were produced as a mournful tribute.
Harry Smith's comments, which originally led into and
out of commercial breaks, were recorded after
the attacks, and they reflect the somber mood of the
nation at that time, but the film itself is thrilled
to show off innovations like the Trade Center's
groundbreaking air conditioning system, window washing
device, and express elevator design.
The joy that the film and those interviewed
display is enough to bring back all those complex
feelings we felt in the weeks after the attack. (Not
that they've ever sunk far below the surface,
especially here in New York.) Watching World Trade
Center: A Modern Marvel I started to feel my blood
boil. When Frank A. DeMartini, manager of WTC
Construction and Property Management brags about the
powerful, ingenious air conditioning system that
pumped water from the Hudson through a huge cooling
system, you become aware that not only is that feat of
engineering no more, but neither is DeMartini, who
perished in the attack. Another interviewee, Roko
Camaj, operator of the automated window washing
system, is also gone. Both men are listed as "missing"
in the film, which was what we told ourselves at the
time, but no one who was missing past September 12th
turned up alive. These men, and thousands of other men
and women, are now dead, and the tone of the film
doesn't portray that.
Still, World Trade Center: A Modern Marvel is
an important document. Had it been made years ago it
would be fine. Had it been made after September 11th,
it would have reflected the new tone. But since it
bridged the event, it exists in limbo. One moment the
film is celebrating a monument to mankind's constant
reach for the sky, the next Harry Smith is reminding us
of how men can bring us back down. It's an emotional
roller coaster, and a tough one to watch.
No section is more difficult than the one where
DeMartini explains how the building could withstand
the impact of even a large aircraft. He was right; the
impact didn't bring the buildings down. As Smith
points out, no one took into account the insanely high
temperatures from a massive jet fuel fire, a mistake
that won't be made again.
Still, DeMartini's comments, as well as those of many
others, have a real devastating effect. They talk
about the strength of the buildings and of the people
who built them in reverential tones. They even point
to the 1993 terrorist attack on the buildings as proof
that they could survive anything. This earlier attack,
represented here with panicked eyewitness news
footage, looks totally different from the carnage of
September 11th; Injured, tearful workers are rushed
into ambulances and camera crews cover the event from
right outside the buildings. Contrast that with the
nearly survivorless second attack and the devastating aftermath.
An interview with one of the historians has been appended to the piece, as it was when the program first aired. This interview, conducted after the attack, adds a bit of perspective, although remains a bit distant. The topic is about the destruction of the building, but doesn't really delve into the science of it (which is the subject of an ongoing, comple investigation) or express the scope of human loss.
The video is full frame. For some reason the Harry
Smith segments have a purple tint, leaving his skin
tone oversaturated. The bulk of the documentary
doesn't display this problem. It is shot on video and
is rather bland looking. The dense design of the
towers' vertical faces causes trouble for a standard
TV; It is just too detailed, but this is unavoidable.
Overall the video is fine, if unexciting.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 is minimal. (The packaging
incorrectly lists it as 5.1.) It sounds clear, but
this isn't exactly Saving Private Ryan. The
voices are mostly clean and the music, for what its
worth (which isn't much) is well produced.
Just a timeline, following the Trade Center from
conception to destruction. Given the 50 minute length
of the main feature, this is a disc that doesn't
utilize the storage capacity of DVD at all. The added interview could be viewed as an extra, but it is part of the main presentation.
The History Channel's production is hardly a cinematic
masterpiece. It is, however, an important document
that demands to be seen. The builders of the World
Trade Center dreamt of a structure so massive that it
could basically serve as a city stood on its side.
They never imagined that someone would be sick enough
or evil enough to want to bring it down. This film at
least celebrates the achievements that put the
building in place and, amidst the rubble of September
11th, those are still achievements that deserve
World Trade Center / 9/11 Related Reviews
The First 24 Hours
York Firefighters: The Brotherhood of 9/11
the Towers Fell
Trade Center: Anatomy of the Collapse
Trade Center - A Modern Marvel 1973-2001
Email Gil Jawetz at firstname.lastname@example.org