Monday, September 25, 2006

United 93

Last Friday we rented United 93, the movie we thought we were seeing when we rented Flight 93 last month. When we went through Blockbuster the week after the Flight 93 mess-up we asked the man at the counter about U-93 and he said that as good as F-93 was, U-93 was better -- definitely worth watching.

And it was. But the interesting thing to me is that I don't think it was in any way lessened by having seen the other one first. In fact, I think it may have been good. F-93 focused more on the passengers, introducing them, showing their loved ones on the ground, and all the character and personal interactions and grief and horror that happened in connection with that day. United 93, on the other hand, focused more on the Air Traffic controller aspect, both the civil and the military. In fact, the man who was chief of air-traffic-control operations at the FAA's command center in Herndon, Va that day, Ben Sliney -- the man who made the decision to ground all flights -- was played by himself, which I thought was amazing. He was ... excellent.

It really gave you a feel for the frustration and confusion the air traffic controllers were going through. For one thing, no one believed that, even if the planes had been hijacked, any American pilot would have flown their aircraft into the World Trade Center. Instead, they would have ditched it in the Hudson. So they couldn't figure out what was happening.

The military was just as hampered but in different ways: not being able to get good information, then unable to get clearance from the FAA to get their jets off the ground. And at the same time Sliney over at the FAA was trying to get the military to get their jets off the ground -- "I don't want an update! I want action!" he told the poor military liason whose job description apparently did not match anything he was being asked to do that day. They just didn't have the communication connection they needed for the problem. Which I suppose it the occupational hazard of large organizations. And when you think of how fast it all went down, it's not surprising. Everything was just too far out of the box for most people that day.

Flight 93 told you the names of the principal passengers, whereas United 93 only named Thomas Burkette. The rest you had to guess at. Flight 93 showed a lot of phone conversations and who was on the other end. United 93 only showed snippets, so having seen the first movie you knew more of what was happening in those snippets during the second.

I think United 93 was more believable, more realistic in some ways, less overtly dramatic. For one thing the people were not as attractive. They were more regular appearing. Another thing was that the passengers, especially the men, were shown as being more afraid and really in some cases nearly falling apart. Then they had to suck it up and do what needed to be done. I think the inconsistency worked well. Cause that's how we are. Wimps one minute, and then we pull it together and become heroes.

The terrorists were more believable too. Fascinating. Relying upon God to get them through, trusting in Him, etc. Which just goes to show that just because you are trusting God and relying on Him it doesn't mean you are actually in His plan.

Another difference: United 93 shows the passengers actually breaking into the cockpit at the end.

All in all, having seen both films -- plus the ABC miniseries The Path to 9-11 in the interim -- I felt as if all of it went together into one lengthy presentation that made the incidents of the day much clearer than they'd previously been for me. The things that happened, the choices that were made on 9-11 were difficult and far from clear. One thing I hadn't known was that they were tracking some dozen or so flights suspected of being hijacked which hadn't been. Which definitely justified the reluctance to give the order to fire on the airliners. Not that it was even an option from what the movies showed. When the military finally did get the jets airborne, they were unarmed. And going in the wrong direction!

All of which, to me, shows just how much we have been protected as a nation by the Lord's mighty hand.