United 93 (film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Paul Greengrass|
|Produced by||Paul Greengrass
|Written by||Paul Greengrass|
David Alan Basche
|Music by||John Powell|
|Editing by||Clare Douglas
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures (US)
United International Pictures (UK)
Buena Vista International (France)
|Running time||110 minutes|
United 93 is a 2006 drama film written, co-produced, and directed by Paul Greengrass that chronicles events aboard United Airlines Flight 93, which was hijacked during the September 11 attacks. The film attempts to recount with as much veracity as possible (there is a disclaimer that some imagination had to be used) and in real time (from the flight's takeoff) what has come to be known in the United States as an iconic moment. According to the filmmakers, the film was made with the cooperation of all of the passengers' families.
United 93 premiered on April 26, 2006 at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City, a festival founded to celebrate New York City as a major filmmaking center and to contribute towards the long-term recovery of Lower Manhattan. Several family members of the passengers aboard the flight attended the premiere to show their support.
The film opened nationwide in North America on April 28, 2006. Ten percent of the gross from the three-day opening weekend was promised toward a donation to create a memorial for the victims of Flight 93. United 93 grossed $31.4 million in the United States, and $76.3 million worldwide.
The film opens in a hotel room in Newark, New Jersey at dawn where Ziad Jarrah is seen reading and praying with a Quran. His roommate, Ahmed al-Haznawi tells him the time has come to begin their attack. al-Haznawi is later seen shaving. In another hotel in Newark Saeed al-Ghamdi and Ahmed al-Nami are seen shaving also before praying. The four men then leave their respective hotels and meet each other at Newark Liberty International Airport. They all successfully get past security and wait at a gate with other passengers to board Flight 93, bound for San Francisco. al-Nami and al-Ghamdi enter the plane first, followed by al-Haznawi and finally Jarrah, who makes a final phone call to his girlfriend. The plane is delayed for 40 minutes due to heavy traffic but eventually takes off with all four hijackers on board. At this time Flight 11 has been hijacked by Mohamed Atta and his fellow hijackers. Atta accidentally informs the air traffic controllers about this.
Air traffic controllers monitoring all current flights determine that American Airlines Flight 11, a Boeing 767 from Boston's Logan International Airport has taken a turn toward New York City. Shortly after, Flight 11 crashes into the North Tower of the World Trade Center, although the air traffic controllers do not immediately realize what has happened. About 20 minutes earlier, a tape recording was made of Mohamed Atta's line "We have some planes, just stay quiet and you'll be okay. We are returning to the airport."
Meanwhile, United Airlines Flight 175, another Boeing 767, also from Boston, is also hijacked, and begins to descend and turn toward New York City as well. Air traffic controllers then realize they are dealing with multiple hijackings. American Airlines Flight 77, a Boeing 757 is also hijacked. The air traffic controllers and Air Force watch as Flight 175 crashes into the South Tower of the World Trade Center on live television, as reported by CNN.
Meanwhile, at about the same time Flight 175 had crashed, Flight 93 is at 35,000 feet and is flying away from New York. As the passengers are served their breakfast an impatient Ahmed al-Nami demands to know from Jarrah why they are not yet hijacking. Jarrah insists the time is not right and orders him to go back to his seat. Soon after, al-Haznawi enters a toilet, where he prepares an artificial bomb. After he returns to his seat, al-Ghamdi makes the first move by grabbing head flight attendant Debbie Welsh before al-Haznawi stabs a passenger then shows the "bomb", causing mass panic among the passengers before he and al-Nami force the passengers to retreat to the back of the plane. Jarrah then orders Debbie to let them into the cockpit. At this point co-pilot Lee Homer is attacked and killed by al-Ghamdi and Jarrah takes over the controls while captain Jason Dahl is attacked and soon killed by al-Ghamdi.
Flight 93 turns towards D.C. while FAA National Operations Manager Ben Sliney decides to shut down all airspace in the United States and ground every flight. By this time, Flight 77 has crashed into the Pentagon.
The passengers and crew make calls to their families and tell them their plane is hijacked. After learning both the World Trade Center and Pentagon were destroyed by three other planes, as well as seeing the bodies of Debbie Welsh and the pilots, the passengers believe that their plane will also crash, and decide to retake the plane, with a passenger claiming he has had experience flying planes.
The passengers and crew make weapons of anything they come across, and wait for the perfect moment to save the plane. They soon overpower and kill al-Haznawi and despite his efforts to keep them at bay using the food cart, pepper spray and the fire extinguisher al-Nami is soon also killed by having his neck snapped by Jeremy Glick. Using the food cart, the male passengers break down the cockpit door. While also fighting al-Ghamdi and Jarrah the passengers frantically try to gain control of the aircraft but the plane is turned upside down, creating strong G-forces, and as the passengers try to reach the yoke, the aircraft crashes, killing all those on board.
The film was the first Hollywood feature to draw its narrative directly from the September 11, 2001 attacks. Passengers were portrayed in the film mostly by professional, but relatively unknown, actors (Tom Burnett, for instance, is played by Christian Clemenson, who has since appeared on Boston Legal and CSI: Miami). The roles of one of the flight attendants, the two pilots, and many other airline personnel were filled by actual airline employees. Some participants in the real-life events play themselves, notably FAA operations manager Ben Sliney.
The dialogue, which was mostly improvised during rehearsals Greengrass held with the cast, was based on face-to-face interviews between actors and families of those they portray. Almost none of the passengers in the film are referred to by their names. Their identities remain anonymous, emphasizing the group effort over any individual heroics (and also portraying the fact that strangers on an airplane would not know one another's names). Much of the dialogue uses technical authenticity rather than theatrical embellishments, such as talk about if a plane has "Squawked 7500." During production, the actors playing the crew and the passengers of the flight were put in separate hotels from the actors portraying the hijackers, even eating their meals separately, ostensibly to create an air of antagonism in the film between the two groups.
Filming took place on a 20-year-old reclaimed Boeing 757, formerly operated by MyTravel Airways, at Pinewood Studios near London from October until December 2005. The cockpit was built by Flightdeck solutions. The location was chosen both for its financial incentives and to shield actors from unwanted public scrutiny they might have received in the U.S. Action was filmed with handheld cameras, chosen for their versatility on the close-quarter sets and to create a sense of immediacy. Exterior airport sequences were shot on location at Newark Liberty International Airport, while interiors were shot back in England at London Stansted Airport. A few scenes were also shot in Washington, D.C. and Boston. In addition, an opening sequence set in Afghanistan was shot in Morocco, but it was cut from the film before release.
The title was changed from Flight 93 to United 93 in March 2006, to differentiate it from the A&E TV film. Shortly thereafter, the film was given an R rating by the Motion Picture Association of America for "language, and some intense sequences of terror and violence." Universal Pictures appealed this rating, but it was rejected. The film was released in U.S. cinemas on April 28, 2006. It opened second in the weekend box office behind RV, but it netted a slightly higher per-screen average.
Initial screenings ended with the closing credits line "America's War on Terror had begun." This was replaced in the release version with '"Dedicated to the memory of all those who lost their lives on September 11, 2001."
After trailers for the film began circulating in cinemas, there were calls for Universal Studios to pull them, due to the upset and surprise caused to some audience members. One theatre in Manhattan pulled the trailer after audience complaints.
The Iraqi-born, London-based actor Sarmed al-Samarrai, who plays a hijacker in the film, was reportedly denied a visa by United States immigration authorities when he applied to visit New York City to attend the premiere, despite having already been granted asylum in the United Kingdom since the 1990s. The reason reported to have been given was that he had once been a conscripted member of the Iraqi Army — although this was also the grounds for his refugee status after his desertion in 1993. Other sources say that he applied late for his visa and that it was not denied.
The real United Airlines Flight 93 was a Boeing 757-222 flight that regularly flew from Newark International Airport (now known as Newark Liberty International Airport) in Newark, New Jersey, to San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco, California. On September 11, 2001, the aircraft on the flight was one of the four planes hijacked as part of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, possibly intended to crash into and destroy the United States Capitol building in Washington, D.C. It was the only plane out of all four hijacked that did not reach its intended target, instead crashing in Stonycreek Township, Pennsylvania, near Shanksville, about 150 miles (ca 240 km) northwest of Washington.
The cockpit voice recorder tape from United Flight 93 has never been made public; however the transcript was made public after the film was completed, shedding more light on what actually happened in the final 30 minutes before the plane crashed. In some parts, it may contradict the choices made by the filmmaker in terms of some dialogue and specific aspects of the event. For example, the pilots, Jason Dahl and LeRoy Homer, are shown in the film to be killed by the terrorists immediately as they are hijacking the plane. Some statements made by the terrorists in the transcript of the cockpit voice recorder tape, as well as moans heard in the background inside the cockpit, raised doubts that both pilots were indeed dead before the plane crashed; however, other documentary evidence from the 9/11 Commission Report indicated that at least one passenger reported in a cell phone call seeing two bodies, possibly the pilots, lying dead on the floor outside the cockpit after the hijacking.
The film has been criticized for its portrayal of German passenger Christian Adams, who is the only passenger portrayed as counseling appeasement, despite a lack of evidence that he did so. It was also reported that Adams's widow did not cooperate with the filmmakers because it was too painful. Erich Redman, who portrayed Adams in the film, said he did not intend to portray Adams as cowardly but as a man who "never made rash decisions and everything he did was always well-considered."
United 93 was one of the most critically acclaimed films of 2006. Roger Ebert, Michael Medved, Peter Travers, and James Berardinelli all awarded it four stars. It was termed "one of the most moving films of the year" by Peter Travers in Rolling Stone. It holds an average 91% "Fresh" rating from the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, as well as a 90% rating on Metacritic, where the film appears on 39 US top ten lists, more than any other 2006 film on the site, (although the 2006 film with the highest average score on the site is the 1969 Army of Shadows). The film was ranked #1 on 47 lists (the most of any 2006 film).
US top ten lists
United 93 received numerous awards and nominations from film critics and guilds. Ultimately, the film received two Academy Award nominations, including Best Director, at the 79th Academy Awards and 6 BAFTA nominations, including Best British Film, at the 60th British Academy Film Awards winning two for Best Director and Best Film Editing.
|List of awards and nominations|
United 93 was released to DVD on September 5, 2006, in both widescreen and fullscreen. Also released was a 2-disc Special Limited Edition in widescreen. A Blu-ray Disc version was released on September 6, 2011.
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- Investigating 'United 93': Researching and Honoring a Catastrophe: Part II by Uri Lessing