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Universal Studios Home Video presents
United 93 (2006)

"We have to do something. They are not going to land this plane!"
- Thomas Burnett (Christian Clemenson)

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: November 16, 2006

Stars: Christian Clemenson, Trish Gates, David Alan Basche, Cheyenne Jackson, Opal Alladin, Starla Benford, Ben Sliney, Tobin Miller, Khalid Abdalla, Lewis Alsamari, Omar Berdouni, Jamie Harding, Trieste Dunn, Shawna Fox, James Fox, Jeremy Powell, Patrick St. Esprit, Gregg Henry,
Director: Paul Greengrass

Manufacturer: Deluxe Digital Studios
MPAA Rating: R for language, some intense sequences of terror and violence
Run Time: 01h:50m:55s
Release Date: September 05, 2006
UPC: 025193227928
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A+ A+A-A A-

DVD Review

I'll be honest with you.

I've had a copy of United 93 in my dOc review pile for more than a few weeks, and every time that I came close to sitting down to watch it I would come up with an excuse of some kind why I shouldn't. They weren't always good reasons, more avoidance than legitimate time management concerns—"I'm not in the mood" or "not now" or "maybe after I watch that mindless horror movie"—but the time just never seemed right to take a fictionalized account of that dark day in September 2001, in particular United flight 93. It's not like I don't know the story, it's not like I don't know what happened, and try as I might I could never muster enough balls to take it in, even after a wave of strong reviews during its theatrical release.

I wanted to see United 93, but yet I didn't. Or, to be more accurate, couldn't.

That refusal on my part, an attempt to protect myself from having all of those fresh memories reawakened by a Hollywood movie version, turns out to have been somewhat unfounded now that I finally watched United 93, on an appropriately cold, overcast fall afternoon. And the only reason I even mention the weather is that the gloomy conditions somehow forced my hand, because if it had been a sunny, bright afternoon with birds chirping and kids playing ball in the streets I'm sure I could have dug up another of my 101 excuses why I should just do something else instead of taking in a film about a hijacked airliner that eventually crashed into a Pennsylvania field.

Because what I didn't realize until seeing it is that this is one of those rare experiences in filmmaking where I didn't feel as I were simply watching a glorified recreation, and instead I had a sense that I was somehow actually there observing. And while obviously much of the onboard actions are based on speculation, the methodology is done with alarming realism. There are no "name" stars here—there are a few vaguely familiar faces—but the bulk of the cast (some of which include actual participants) all move and act like people, not actors playing parts.

We don't meet the doomed passengers and crew with neat little expository bios disguised as dialogue, instead it's left to us to eavesdrop on their conversations to draw us in, and even after the terrorists have taken control of the plane the rush of information comes in random bursts. Director Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy) tells the story in near real-time, bouncing from the plane to control towers to military stations as the events unfold, showing how facts and information were often contradictory and incomplete, as we get a fairly fresh, raw glimpse of just how wholly chaotic that morning was for all involved, including those on the ground monitoring the situation.

I won't kid you, this is not an easy watch. Yes, it is well made, and it thankfully doesn't become a glorified action movie. No surprise, but it churns up a lot of unpleasant feelings and memories, and even as Greengrass applies the naturally occurring confusion and tension in incremental doses he does so with an honorable degree of propriety. And as things quickly devolve into those final goodbye phone calls made by passengers to their loved ones, the dam broke for me on all those emotions I was weakly holding back in order to make it through United 93.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: A smart looking 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer from Universal on United 93, matching its original theatrical aspect ratio. Maybe it's the subject matter, but the overall palette appears to be purposely muted just a bit, almost as if this were in fact trying to be a documentary of sorts, and the clean transfer here conveys that point. Image detail and edge sharpness is strong, and even with the modest color tweak, fleshtones and colors—even under some dimly lit interiors— do come across with a realistic warmth, more evident during the early airport/boarding sequences. A slight presence of some fine grain may or may not enhance the pseudo-doc feel of this one, and for me it was barely a distraction.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
English, Spanish, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix really has to walk a tightrope here, because anything too gratuitously overdone would only serve to threaten to turn into just another Hollywood movie. Instead, the presentation is dramatic and spacious, but without too much in the way of glitzy flash. There are some modest .LFE moments—the plane taking off, for example—but these typically "showy" moments are used sparingly. Speaking voices are clear, but do not sound unnaturally overprocessed, which again lend well to the whole handheld feel Greengrass went for. Simple things like the placement of voices—often with many speaking at the same time—is used effectively and really widens the spatial feel of things, enhancing the chaotic feel as events get progressively more threatening. The film's score is the exception here, and it does get spread across all channels, rising up from the rears often to boost the dramatics, as if that really needed to happen.

There is also an English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Descriptive Video Service track, with female narrator providing a spoken word explanation of what is occurring onscreen. Spanish and French Dolby Digital 5.1 surround tracks are also included.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French with remote access
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Twin Towers
1 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Paul Greengrass
Packaging: Amaray with slipcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Memorial Pages
Extras Review: Packaging for this single disc version has an Amaray case inside of a slipcase, both featuring identical artwork and backcover information.

Director Paul Greengrass provides a properly somber audio commentary, and one of the most interesting moments has him recalling an alternate opening sequence featuring Osama Bin Laden that was apparently designed to reflect the poverty of Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, and how that idea was eventually reformulated. Perhaps it would have been tacky to have deleted scenes here, but in hearing about it I began to fixate on how I would liked to have seen it. He also talks about "feeling the humility", how the actors came together in ways he hadn't necessarily imagined, and even gets in some dramatic, soft-spoken pontificating over the film's horrific final moments.

United 93: The Families and the Film (59m:51s)—presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen—centers on the families of the passengers and crew, and how the entire "make a movie out of your own personal tragedy" was handled, along with input from Greengrass and cast. Maybe it's just me, but this felt somehow strangely intrusive at times, especially when it came to seeing actors meeting the families of the person they are portraying, but the material is handled with the right amount of decorum. A tough watch, but often understandably compelling.

There are also Memorial Pages for the passengers and crew of United 93, with photos and text bios of each person. A trailer for the 2003 Academy Award-winning short documentary Twin Towers (02m:15s) is also included.

The disc is cut into 20 chapters, and includes optional subtitles in English, French or Spanish. There also is a two-disc limited edition of United 93 available, which includes everything on this single disc release, plus an additional documentary entitled Chasing Planes: Witnesses to 9/11.

Extras Grade: A-


Final Comments

File this under "films you really never, ever would want to see, but should." As I'm sure with most people, the events of that day are still painfully fresh, and while I don't particularly feel the need to see a dramatic re-enactment, director Paul Greengrass takes the difficult task of presenting the events with a simple, harsh honesty that cuts deep without seeming sensationalistic.

Maybe not something you'll ever necessarily be in the mood for, but this is a powerful, heartbreaking story that is told exceptionally well.

Highly recommended.


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