THE STRAIGHT DOPE:
Following an enormous trauma the first question on everyone's mind is "why?" The search for answers is an
important and haunting one. It's what has led me to watch every 9/11-related documentary I can get my hands
on. The question is immediately present in the title of Why the Towers Fell, a NOVA production that
seeks to understand through science why what started merely as a huge tragedy, with two planes slamming into
each of the World Trade Center's twin towers, so quickly turned into one of unimaginable proportions. The
video follows an investigation by a panel of architects and scientists as they try to determine why the
towers didn't simply stand still awaiting repair. By necessity Why the Towers Fell repeatedly shows
the footage of the planes striking the towers (including the sole known shot of the first collision). The
piece examines each impact, as well as the collapses, from every available angle as well as in computer
animation, in an effort to pinpoint where exactly the structures failed. Watching this mind-bogglingly
violent footage over and over again is a pretty unhealthy pastime and the 11 months that have passed since
the attacks haven't robbed the images of any of their horrible power. Even the men in the video who have to
try to view the footage for its scientific value are visibly rattled.
There are a number of conclusions to the study that are almost shocking. The most surprising conclusion is
that, while conventional wisdom has praised the sturdiness of the buildings for allowing so many to escape, a
number of design flaws may have actually prevented more potential survivors from getting out alive. NOVA
doesn't place blame on the building's designers, but the video does hope future structures can correct these
Of those interviewed, including members of the FDNY and survivors from the building, the most
gut-wrenching interview comes from Leslie Robertson, the engineer of the Trade Center. He appears to be truly
haunted by the ghosts of those that died in his building. He's almost paralyzed with grief over the notion
that decisions he made nearly four decades ago could have prevented anyone from escaping. It's hard to watch
a man blame himself for such tremendous suffering, especially with the knowledge that it's really not his
fault. Still, as he stands in his office staring into the pit of Ground Zero, it's hard to imagine what
anyone could say to make him feel any better.
Why the Towers Fell sets out to tell a story of science and it never enters politics, but it also
turns out to be quite an emotional experience.
The program was shot on widescreen video and has the crisp, clean look of broadcast news. There is some minor
The Dolby Digital 2.0 audio is straight-forward and to-the-point. Voices are clear and the location sound is
used to maximum dramatic effect.
There are a number of text screens, including a FEMA report on the attack, a letter from the producer, as
well as some web links.
At about an hour, NOVA's Why the Towers Fell isn't a comprehensive look at what happened on 9/11.
Coupled with the bald emotion of Telling Nicholas, the you-are-there urgency of 9/11, the eerie
stillness of WTC: The First 24 Hours, and the historical perspective of World Trade Center - A
Modern Marvel 1973-2001, a round picture begins to emerge. Each program offers a different perspective
and the one in Why the Towers Fell is valuable. Ultimately, there are no real hard answers. We can try
to understand why the metal gave way or why a group of demonic cretins staged the attack in the first place,
but the more ethereal question of simply "why?" will always linger in the air, like dust and smoke.
World Trade Center / 9/11 Related Reviews
Email Gil Jawetz at [email protected]
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