World Trade Center

World Trade Center (2006)
Paramount Home Video
Cast: Nicholas Cage, Michael Pena, Maria Bello, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jay Hernandez,
Extras: Commentary Tracks, Featurettes, Deleted Scenes, Director Q&A, and more

"We prepared for everything. Not for this. Not for something this size."

I'll skip the political commentary and sum up my initial thoughts with this: everyone remembers where they were on September 11th. Most of you probably remember where you were for the next few days, exactly what channel you watched for news, and exactly what you felt. It was nothing short of culture-altering… making the residents of our country reevaluate, for better or worse, our priorities and actions for the rest of our lives. This past year, people found themselves divided into two camps: those who were ready for film to tackle this national tragedy and those who weren't. I suspect that those who aren't ready for this subject matter will enjoy "World Trade Center" quite a bit. And I also suspect that those who are ready for this subject matter will find that "World Trade Center" surprisingly lacks a certain resonance, especially compared to a vastly superior film, like "United 93".

You could easily call this one of Oliver Stone's most subdued films… and you could also call it one of his most common. Unfortunately, without his edge and desire to seek out the underbelly of humanity, Oliver Stone doesn't bring anything interesting to the table aside from a laughable hallucinogenic glance at Jesus holding a bottle of Aquafina. Don't get me wrong, I didn't want controversy mixed into "World Trade Center". But I definitely didn't want something so middle-of-the-road and feel-good that it runs the risk of belittling the vastness of the sacrifice of that day. To be fair, this is not a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination. Nicolas Cage, Michael Pena, Jay Hernandez, Maria Bello, and particularly Maggie Gyllenhaal, turn in wonderfully layered and heart wrenching performances. The dialogue is quick and authentic and showcases Oliver Stone's elaborate attention to detail. Most impressive of all, the first act fills you with a deep dread and tension. Watching a multitude of rescue workers arrive and respond to the escalating destruction at the towers is brilliantly executed and a sad moment to reflect on the lives lost that day. When we're focused on the firemen, it's as if there are no actors in this film… each one is played as genuinely as you could imagine.

Beyond the first act though, the movie loses everything that makes the first half hour so powerful. We're pulled away from the events and buried alive with Cage and Pena, only moving away from them a few minutes at a time to experience the personal hell their families are experiencing at home. This wouldn't be so bad if not for the sudden appearance of straight-to-video quality writing for many of the supporting characters. A heroic marine who travels from afar and other local heroes are left to awkward dialogue and underdeveloped one-note quirks that quickly leaves the whole production feeling like a college play during key moments. The firemen and their families are so well written, that every other character rings false in comparison. It's unfortunate to feel the movie slipping into mediocrity when the subject matter itself is so striking and emotional. Again, to be fair, it would be a lot of ground to cover to flesh out everyone, but a character shouldn't appear in a script if they're not used to help the movie to their fullest. With "United 93", each character felt like a real person and every event rang true, whether they were in the background or a major participant. I'm sure that all of the events portrayed in "World Trade Center" occurred as depicted, but some are handled so loosely that they seem like fictional interjections into an otherwise true story. All in all, I found this occasionally Hallmark portrayal of the events of September 11th to be too candy-coated to make me examine my own thoughts and feelings about those strange and frightening days. But I fear that this movie gets a free pass because how do you criticize something that immortalizes its real-life subjects with such honor and reverence?

With that being said, let's talk about the extras. "World Trade Center" is worth buying solely for the well-rounded, fascinating, and inspiring extras spread across both of the discs in this deluxe package. There's a gripping commentary with several key survivors that are portrayed in the film and it is so raw and revealing at times, that it transports you into the emotions of their experiences far better than this, or any movie, ever could. I realized listening to this track, that I would have preferred to hear this story in a documentary involving interviews and first hand accounts, rather than a dramatization of the events. The second commentary is also a good listen and anyone that is familiar with an Oliver Stone commentary knows that they're insightful and very interesting to listen to. He rarely bogs down the proceedings with talk of technicalities, lighting, or things of that nature. He's much more interested in discussing his thoughts and choices as they applied to the material at hand. The documentary pieces on the second disc are top notch as well and cover every aspect of the research and filming of the movie. If you don't watch any of the others, be sure to take a look at "Common Sacrifices". It's graphic and tough to watch, but it really brings your attention to the heroism and the hope intertwined within such a terrible period of time. The second disc also includes several features that are not available on the standard DVD edition but none that are of particular note. But hey, more stuff for your hard earned cash… who's going to complain?

The video on this Blu-Ray release is presented in the MPEG-2 codec and the result establishes this release as a showcase piece for your home theatre. It's strange to find such horrible images so beautiful on your television, but you can see every fragment and bit of paper that falls from the sky. Every spark and swirl of smoke feels all too real and really helps to elevate the horror of what is happening on screen. Fire is so vibrant that it flickers across the screen with dangerous realism. As a movie that takes place largely underground, the blacks and details within the shadows are spot on and so clean that your rarely catch any hint of the data source. Faces come alive with warmth and depth and the movie's palette feels textured and authentic. Compared to the HD-DVD and its VC-1 codec transfer, the Blu-Ray disc presents a minutely sharper image, but has a few more instances of noise and source discrepancies. However, even in a side by side comparison, the two versions must be paused to notice this tiny difference and it is so slight that both transfers can easily be called identical.

The audio is a treat as well. While the sound on this Blu-Ray release is encoded at a lower rate than the HD-DVD Dolby Digital-Plus track, it's only noticeable if you're listening for a difference and, even then, could just be a product of my imagination since I was trying so hard to find a difference. I can say for sure that neither track was superior to the other and each one gives you exactly what it should. For a movie that is so reliant on deep booms, creaking metal, and threatening noises from every direction, the sound and its design are some of the best I've heard. You'll even notice a slight drop in the pitch with large explosions or cave-ins as if the sound is suddenly softening. I may be looking into things too much, but I could swear this is a perfectly simulated attempt at replicating the reaction your eardrums have to an overpowering sound when it occurs. My only problem is the slightly simplistic soundtrack that relies a bit too much on strings and thematic recognition. Like some of the movie… it's not bad, it just doesn't add much to the proceedings.

All in all, as much as I found the film itself to be a hit or miss affair, this is a wonderful set to pick up. It looks and sounds great, has a wealth of information about one of the most life-changing events of our time, and has some heart wrenching performances from the leading cast members. Just be prepared to dig into all of this release's supplemental features for quite a few days to get to the real goods.