THE STRAIGHT DOPE:
The floodgates have opened. The releasing of 9/11 related DVDs is now in full swing. Some, like the History Channel's documentary on the World Trade Center hold genuine interest for not reducing the subject matter to the events of one day. WTC: The First 24 Hours is an unusual release because it removes what most pieces on a topic of such enormous scale struggle to add: context.
The First 24 Hours is simply footage from around the site of the World Trade Center during and immediately following the attack. There are innumerable striking images, like a room full of exercise bikes, covered with ash and a firetruck flipped completely upside-down. These, along with the more common visions, like the last standing section of the towers' steel skin, are not likely to be soon forgotten. There is a series of shots on the corner of Wall and Broad, usually one of the most heavily-trafficked spots in the world, empty like a ghost town. Ominously, a portion of jumbo jet landing gear lies unattended on a devastated street corner. The First 24 Hours is filled with harrowing images like these, filled with dread, horror, and surreal wonder. Anyone who watched helplessly as these events unfolded live on TV knows the impact of these images.
They hold special power over those who are more intimately connected with the locations. Those who worked in the buildings or who work in the immediate neighborhood. Those who lived there. As a former neighbor of the towers, watching this footage is painful. "Look, there's my old subway stop, covered in debris of lord knows what. There's where I'd make my short cut through the World Financial Center, except now every glass pane is shattered." This is footage from another dimension, hard to process as real. No matter how many times you make the pilgrimage to Ground Zero there is still some way in which it doesn't seem real.
The problem with the DVD, however, is that it provides so little other than the footage shown. There are no sustained discussions among rescuers, no explanations (as if any were really possible), no details other than the shots included. The two versions of The First 24 Hours on the disc run 10 and 28 minutes, respectively, but the only real difference is the length. To really take advantage of the DVD format's archival abilities the disc could have either included other unusual pieces on the attacks (like Monika Bravo's September 10th) or the filmmakers could have filled up the rest of the disc's available 3 1/2 hours of space with additional footage, available for the curious viewer to pore over. Ultimately the best thing about The First 24 Hours is the way it refuses to let any distracting elements get in the way of the intense, dramatic, devastating imagery.
The digital video source is crisp and clean and the compression process has been handled well. The images here are more often grab-shots (although some of the footage shot as the sun rose the morning of the 12th has more atmosphere) and have a home-video look to them.
The audio consists entirely of seemingly location sound (although the credits mention a re-recording mixer). It is Dolby Digital stereo and sounds fine. The hollow echoes of the canyons of lower Manhattan, the silence of the deserted streets, and the lonely, desperate voices of the first wave of rescue workers are all reproduced accurately and with minimal flourish.
In addition to the two cuts of the film is a gallery of stills culled from the footage. There is no additional material outside of what the filmmakers captured.
World Trade Center / 9/11 Related Reviews
It's difficult to criticize something that comes from such a personal, important, powerful place, and certainly WTC: The First 24 Hours is recommended for those who just need to try to experience the horror of that day again, but the form of the piece could have been so much more. That's not to discourage non-fiction releases from branching out into new styles. Still, the piece is not a documentary so much as it's a document; images frozen in time, forever depicting the most horrendous of days.
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