I anxiously went to see “United 93” when the movie came to theaters in Little Rock last week. It’s the story about a commercial airplane loaded with passengers that was hijacked by four young Muslims who crashed the plane. I think it’s a great movie, one that Americans ought to see. In the theater I sat next to a former editor of the Atlantic Monthly who agreed with me.
If honest, most of us have to admit that what we have seen in the movies has always actuated our minds. So we need to know the dangers our country faces from these religious fanatics under the leadership of people like Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida organization.
The United 93 airplane headed for the White House in Washington was one of the four hijacked planes that killed 3,233 innocent Americans Sept. 11, 2001 —3,000 people in the World Trade Center in New York City, 189 in the Pentagon in Washington and 44 in a field in Shanksville, Pa., not far from Washington. That was more than were killed in Pearl Harbor at World War II, and it was the most devastating assault on the U.S. mainland since the British army burned down Washington in the War of 1812.
To me, it’s surprising that many movie critics all over the country are saying that the horror of the film is so tough and scary that Americans couldn’t tolerate this kind of a movie. I have too much respect for Americans like me who have stood in line many times to see horror movies.
Philip Martin, the well-known film critic of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, wrote that he probably won’t ever go to see “United 93.” In his article, he quoted the Village Voice critic who after seeing it called it “the movie nobody wants to see.”
The Democrat-Gazette did print a review of the movie. It was written by a Kansas City Star critic who apparently also had read the Village Voice review because his second sentence in his review was that the movie was “the best film nobody wants to see.” The Knight Ridder newspaper critic also said “ ‘United 93’ is likely to be the best film nobody wants to see.”
All these fellows were wrong. “United 93” drew the second-largest crowds in theaters throughout the nation last week.
Not all the critics have these wrong ideas. The NBC critic said: “This movie is a must-see. ... The feeling is so real and so intense that you actually think you are there.”
While I’m certainly not a movie critic, I know a lot about newspaper people, and I have to believe that some of these thumb-down criticisms might have come because the movie’s producers gave Time magazine critics a secret showing of the movie so that his magazine was able to tell about it a full week before any other journalist had seen it. We journalists get angry at things like that.
Time magazine’s critic, Richard Corliss, praised the work of the experienced Paul Greengrass, who wrote and directed “United 93.” For months Greengrass talked to the flight controllers who listened to what was happening in the airplane, the relatives who talked on cell phones to their loved ones as the hijackers killed the pilots and took over the airplane trying to crash into the White House in Washington.
The passengers’ families told their relatives on United 93 that two planes had already crashed into the Trade Center and one had hit the Pentagon, and so the passengers realized that they probably were going to be killed.
So the male passengers bravely left their seats and began fighting the hijackers, hoping an American pilot among them might get to the cockpit and operate the plane if they could kill the hijackers. Without any weapons, they attacked the four men who had knives and bombs that somehow were taken aboard when the plane left the Newark airport. But it was too late. The Muslim pilot aimed the plane to the ground after saying a prayer to Muhammad. Everyone on the plane died.
But between the government’s investigation, the flight controllers on duty that day and the words of the relatives who talked to the people in the plane, they were able to tell the terrific story for the making of the picture. Universal, the studio producing the film, is donating 10 percent of the first weekend’s box-office gross to the Flight 93 National Memorial Fund.
Time critic Corliss said: “ ‘United 93’ is a good movie — taut and implacable — that honors the deeds of the passengers while being fair to the hijackers’ jihad bravado. If this is a horror movie, it is an edifying one, a history lesson with the pulse of a world-on-the-line suspense film.”
Hamilton Peterson’s father and stepmother died on the flight, and here’s what he told Time’s writer: “We’re proud of what these Americans did. These are ordinary citizens who in a matter of minutes overcame what very evil and capable people had planned for years. It is an example that future world citizens can learn from.”