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Showtime presents

DC 9/11: Time of Crisis (2003)

Representative Robin Hayes: We understand how much you want to re-vamp the Department of Defense, you made that very clear. I guess we're not communicating our problem: lack of available funds. Both political parties are committed to a social security lock box.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld: Social security is a wonderful thing, Congressman, but without national security it won't be much use.- Dom Fiore, John Cunningham

Stars: Timothy Bottoms
Other Stars: Mary Gordon Murray, John Cunningham, David Fonteno, Gregory Itzin, Penny Johnson Jerald, Stephen Macht, Lawrence Pressman, Scott Alan Smith, George Takei, Allan Royal, Carolyn Scott
Director: Brian Trenchard-Smith

Manufacturer: REVI
MPAA Rating: R for brief strong language
Run Time: 02h:07m:30s
Release Date: 2004-09-07
Genre: television

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Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B- B+B+B+ C+

 

DVD Review

The idea of making the definitive film about September 11, 2001 is unrealistic at this time. For one, the travesty happened only three years ago and it will take perhaps decades before all of the information leading up to, and the consequences of, the attack will be available and comprehensible. Despite these obvious setbacks, many have already written books and made documentaries. Some of this has resulted in seeming propaganda and some of it is a sincere attempt to help future historians and citizens understand, in some small part, what happened on that day and in the weeks that followed.

DC 9/11: Time of Crisis, a made-for-cable movie that aired on Showtime only two years after the attack, is an attempt to show the hard work and thought processes of the Bush Administration in responding to Al-Qaeda's attack. Obviously, the filmmakers did not have unfettered access to secret meetings and are relying heavily on news reports and the information provided to them by members of the government, which means that this film will be a more favorable portrayal of President George W. Bush than some will like. Frankly, if you plan on voting for Bush this November, then see this movie because it will show your president as a determined, principled leader. If you plan on voting for Senator John Kerry, then wait a month and purchase Fahrenheit 9/11, in which you will see President Bush as a man who botched the response to 9/11 and lied to America.

The film opens with Bush (played by Timothy Bottoms) in that Florida classroom where he supposedly read My Pet Goat, and in a surreal experience director Trenchard-Smith takes us into the mind of Bush, using point-of-view shots and highly stylized sound to show a man that has, in essence, gone into shock and needs to take command. Others have written that DC 9/11: Time of Crisis is a "love letter" to President Bush, but I believe an objective eye will see it as a positive portrayal that does not sidestep his flaws.

At first, Bush is shown as being, more or less, controlled by the Secret Service's commands and not as aware of the potential suspects of the attack as National Security Advisor Condolleezza Rice (Penny Johnson Jerald) and Vice President Dick Cheney (Lawrence Pressman). It even shows that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (played perfectly by John Cunningham) and his close associate, Paul Wolfowitz (Stephen Macht), were eager to get to war with Saddam Hussein right off the bat. However, it also shows Bush as a man who listens to his advisors and, as a response to 9/11, decides to pursue a course of action against Afghanistan, in a manner similar to what Secretary of State Colin Powell (David Fonteno) suggests.

There is little point in explaining all of the meetings that take place in this movie—and there are many scenes that show the cast sitting around a table—because many will already know what decisions were reached. The most interesting elements here are the ones that involve Bush as a man. The love between Bush and his wife, Laura (Mary Gordon Smith), is well captured, thanks to sensitive direction and even more perceptive performances by the actors. This is Timothy Bottoms' third time portraying Bush; he first created his portrayal with Comedy Central's That's My Bush!, and though he does not sound like the man, he gets all of the characteristics of him down cold. Subtly is the key to playing Bush, and Bottoms very slyly portrays his transformation from a laissez-faire president into a tough, forceful commander-in-chief that doesn't rush into war, but is willing to defend his country after it has been attacked.

As good a job as the film achieves in presenting the president's efforts after 9/11 and portraying him in a positive light, it also does have downfalls. It is obvious that the filmmakers wanted this to be a major film, almost like a textbook of what may have happened, which means that the narrative suffers at times. George Takei's performance as Secretary of Transportation Norm Mineta will cause viewers to say, "Hey, isn't that the dude from Star Trek?" The fact that the script incorporates many of the people involved in the decision-making process shows that the writers care about accrediting certain people with their respective accomplishments, but it also means that many of the supporting characters are undeveloped. Numerous senators, including Tom Daschle and John McCain, are seen briefly and never surface again. The fact that many of the supporting actors aren't effective in their role—with the noted exceptions of John Cunningham as Rumsfeld, David Fonteno as Powell, and Mary Gordon Smith as Laura Bush—also makes each of the other figures in the film appear almost as cardboard cutouts.

There are also some issues that arise from the limited budget available to director Trenchard-Smith. The CGI used when Bush visits "Ground Zero" is distractingly bad, even though the CGI jet fighters and Air Force One look surprisingly good. There also is an incorporation of news video footage with the staged drama that is jolting because of the quality difference between the two different formats employed. Obviously, since this isn't a major production, it would be unrealistic to expect that Trenchard-Smith could re-create these cataclysmic events, so these flaws are somewhat forgivable.

The filmmaking is about as good as one can expect from a cable movie, which means that at times it is cheesy and at others it is a fine drama. As mentioned above, one has to take into account the biases of the filmmakers and their sources of information when considering the accuracy of the film.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: Presented in an RSDL, nonanamorphic transfer that preserves the original 1.78:1 aspect ratio, DC 9/11: Time of Crisis looks good. The video footage from news organizations is lifeless and grainy, but that is the result of the source material. Interiors look strong, with solid blacks and lots of detail that give the staged scenes a film-like look.

Image Transfer Grade: B+
 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoSpanishyes
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: A Spanish mono track and English Dolby Stereo track are available on this DVD, but English speakers will prefer the Dolby Digital 5.1 track. Dialogue is crisp and easily understood as it emanates from the center speaker. Crowd scenes and those involving airplanes have a tremendous amount of separation and directionality, using the surround speakers quite effectively. This is not an extremely robust mix, since a lot of it involves people speaking in underground boardrooms, but it never fails to do its job.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+ 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 13 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring The L Word, Spinning Boris
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Timothy Bottoms, Lionel Chetwynd, Brian Trenchard-Smith
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:06m:36s

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo Gallery—a slideshow of behind-the-scenes and publicity photos from the set.
Extras Review: Showtime has provided a few extras on this DVD, starting with a photo gallery slideshow (3m:40s) that has pictures of the cast and crew making the film. Many of the pictures are publicity shots of the actors, which means that this is not an extremely interesting feature. Next, there are filmographies of stars Timothy Bottoms, Lawrence Pressman, John Cunningham, Mary Gordon Murray, and Penny Johnson Jerald. Following that are previews for the Showtime TV show The L Word and movie Spinning Boris. Each is presented in nonanamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen and Dolby Stereo.

Features that could potentially interest fans of the movie are the featurette DC 9/11: Handling the Crisis (3m:02s), but it is so short that it is practically no different than a theatrical trailer. It features interviews with stars Bottoms and Johnson Jerald, as well as director Brian Trenchard-Smith and writer Lionel Chetwynd. A few bits of information are presented, such as Chetwynd meeting with Bush before writing the script, but it is very bland. The final feature is an audio commentary by Bottoms, Trenchard-Smith, and Chetwynd. Most of what is discussed is the opinions of the participants, especially Chetwynd's analysis of how "America should handle terrorism", but a few comments are interspersed about the making of the film. Primarily, however, it is just a lecture that most will not likely care to listen to.

Extras Grade: C+
 

Final Comments

It is impossible to view DC 9/11: Time of Crisis without taking your own political views into consideration, which means that you'll probably know ahead of time if you want to believe what this film portrays. Timothy Bottoms is strong in his role as President Bush, but the supporting cast and filmmaking provide mixed results. The image and Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mix are good, but not extraordinary. The extras are fairly superfluous, but anybody who cares to listen to a lecture from Lionel Chetwynd will have a tremendous opportunity with this audio commentary.

Nate Meyers 2004-09-09