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Paramount Home Video presents
World Trade Center (Two-Disc Commemorative Edition) HD-DVD (2006)

"Not for something like this. There's no plan. We didn't make it."
- Sgt. John McLoughlin (Nicolas Cage)

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: December 18, 2006

Stars: Nicolas Cage, Michael Peņa, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Maria Bello
Other Stars: Stephen Dorff, Jay Hernandez, Michael Shannon
Director: Oliver Stone

Manufacturer: Technicolor
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense, emotional content; disturbing images; language
Run Time: 02h:09m:00s
Release Date: December 12, 2006
UPC: 097361199849
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

The events of September 11, 2001 have made a huge impression on the American mind and changed life for the worse in many ways. But there were also positive moments among the heartbreak and carnage, particularly moments of courage, heroism, determination. It is these moments that are the centerpiece of Oliver Stone's film of the events of that day, surprising those who assumed that he would be taking a conspiracy theory approach to the disaster.

The story focuses on an actual group of Port Authority police who were summoned to the World Trade Center after the first plane hit, in order to assist with evacuation. Led by Sgt. John McLoughlin (Nicolas Cage), who had handled the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, a courageous assemblage heads in to try to help. But when the buildings collapse, only three, McLoughlin, and officers Will Jimeno (Michael Peņa) and Dominick Pezzulo (Jay Hernandez) survive. The first two are trapped in the wreckage, and Pezzulo stays to try to help them instead of saving himself. But when he is killed by falling wreckage, McLoughlin and Jimeno try to keep themselves going even though they're hopelessly pinned. Meanwhile, their wives, Allison Jimeno (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and Donna McLoughlin (Mario Bello) await news, fearing the worst and trying to keep from falling apart.

In structure, the picture has some parallels to Apollo 13, comparing the story of several men in jeopardy against stress on the families at home, with the men fairly helpless to do anything about their situation, their fates in the hands of others on the outside. Flashbacks of domestic life pass through the minds of the trapped officers, giving a stark contrast to their agony in the blackness, unable to move. The memories are emotionally wrenching, as are the home sequences, as the men and women ache with regret over things said or unsaid. It's profoundly moving and emotional, and it can be hard to take at times, the content is expressed so well.

Cage and Peņa have tough parts to play: for two-thirds of the film they're unable to move, shrouded in darkness and on the very edge of consciousness. In large part they become radio actors, conveying nearly everything with their voices since so little can be seen on the screen. Gyllenhaal and Bello get to do more of the emoting, but they're not any more effective than the trapped pair, for all the limitations placed on their performances.

Despite the desperate circumstances, there are a few moments of humor, such as the Sheboygan cops who show up at Ground Zero bearing bratwursts for the other rescue workers. These moments are very much needed, since World Trade Center is pretty overwhelming on its own. One particularly terrifying sequence comes when Pazzulo's gun starts to go off randomly due to the fires around them. Helpless among the ricocheting bullets, the horror is palpable. There are some effects involved, but the focus isn't on the wreckage—it's on the human reaction to it. Like Schindler's List, this may be hard to take in repeated viewings, but it does honor the human spirit even under the superhuman challenges of that day.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: As befits a new movie, the source print is immaculate, and the transfer is highly detailed. The textures pop off the screen on the HD version, and the shadow detail is excellent. I did note some edge enhancement in a couple sequences.

The segments in the hole merit special discussion. Shrouded in darkness, HD allows the black levels to be increased since it's able to differentiate gradations more than the SD version (compare the standard clips in the Oliver Stone interview, which are much brighter than the film appears in HD). Even though there's not a lot of detail in the darkness, there's enough to get the meaning across.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
English, French, Spanishyes

Audio Transfer Review: The 5.1 DD+ audio track sounds great, with plenty of surround information. When the buildings come down, the waves of sound rush over the viewer, and your subwoofer had better be in good shape because the bass is extreme. The contrast between the noise of the collapse and the utter silence that follows is devastating.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 22 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
5 TV Spots/Teasers
9 Deleted Scenes
4 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by 1) director Oliver Stone and 2) Will Jimeno, rescuers Scott Strauss, John Buschings and Paddy McGee
Packaging: Elite
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Gallery
Extras Review: Paramount provides a special edition so packed that it takes two HD-DVDs, due in part to much of the extra content also presented in high-definition, which is a big step up over most HD-DVD renditions thus far. The first disc incorporates commentaries by Stone and also Will Jimeno and three of the men who eventually came to his rescue. Stone's commentary is rather feeble; he makes remarks only sporadically but doesn't seem to be very interested in discussing the picture in detail. Far more interesting is the commentary from some of the participants relating the events of that day and emphasizing just how true-to-life Stone's portrayal of them is, other than the necessary time compression. It's a fascinating listen, and they provide a chatty and highly informative discussion that counterpoints the movie well. Nine deleted scenes (17m:44s) provide an additional and not always positive light on the reactions of various people. Sequences that involve thoughtlessness and less than admirable human behavior were trimmed out to make the picture more affirming and avoid cynicism. These deleted scenes are also available with a commentary by Stone, but again he's fairly laconic.

Disc 2 is just packed with material, starting with a making-of documentary (53m:29s) in three parts, which provides plenty of background on the project. Common Sacrifices (54m:28s) looks at the real-life rescue effort and the long path of recovery for McLoughlin and Jimeno. The massive set recreating the site of the buildings' collapse is recorded on Building Ground Zero (25m:01s). Oliver Stone's New York (24m:30s) is a personal look at the director's affection for the city.

A pair of shorter featurettes cover the visual and special effects (12m:07s) and a Q&A session with Oliver Stone (13m:03s). The latter is the only portion that's not in HD. A trailer and five TV spots are included as well. There is a gallery of over 50 photos, including numerous behind-the-scenes shots of Stone directing, and the real-life McLoughlin and Jimeno on the set. Note, however, that the gallery will not work properly without having updated the firmware on the standard Toshiba first-generation player to 2.0. All of the supplements are subtitled in English, French and Spanish.

Extras Grade: A-


Final Comments

Although certainly worthwhile viewing as a non-exploitative look at September 11, this may make a better rental since it's so devastating viewers may not find themselves returning to it. The transfer is generally quite good, and the audio carries the expected boom. There are a ton of extras, most of which are also in HD.


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