Inside 9/11

August 21, 2005
A thought by James Berardinelli

Tonight and tomorrow night, at 9 pm, The National Geographic Channel is presenting the two-part, four-hour documentary, Inside 9/11. Sticking to the facts and using available private & public footage, this is said to be the most comprehensive look at the tragedy to-date. I welcome documenatries about 9/11, since there are many angles that have yet to be explored, and documentaries represent an excellent way to record any event - even one this shattering - for posterity. Imagine what a treasure trove it would be to have an in-depth, four-hour documentary about Pearl Harbor or Gettysburg using a wealth of on-the-spot camera and news footage.

Documentaries are rarely for-profit ventures. The best their makers usually hope for is not to end up deep in debt. They are typically made because the filmmakers have a passion for the subject and a thirst to shine the spotlight on it. The purpose of Inside 9/11 is to educate and elucidate, not titillate.

And that brings me to the three major Hollywood feature films in the works about 9/11. It's tough to make value judgements about something sight-unseen, but that's not going to stop me in this case. The sole purpose of nearly every Hollywood motion picture (even those with "serious" pedigrees) is to make money. Movie studios are commercial enterprises; they don't greenlight something unless they believe there to be a financial upside. Thus, this trio of 9/11 features is by definition capitalizing on a tragedy. And I find that to be disgusting. The vultures have gathered, and we're not even five years beyond the date.

I suppose it all comes down to what events are portrayed and how they are depicted. But I can't see how the issue of insenstivity can be avoided unless (a) no real people are involved, and (b) the actual events are not shown either via real footage or a re-creation. Paramount's intentions are stomach-churning - re-create in real time the events on board Flight 93. I don't need to see that. Heroic or not, these people are all dead, but most members of their families are still alive. It's too soon. Maybe in 50 years, when the wound has scabbed over.

Perhaps I'm the only one who feels this way, but Hollywood's tendency to trivialize events worries me. Producers, actors, and writers will make statements about "honoring the memory of the victims," "doing things tastefully," etc. But, when all is said and done, the goal is to make money. Grave robbers by any other name are still plundering the dead. I'll withhold futher comment until I see the fruit that falls from this thorny tree. Hopefully, it will be more appetizing than it appears to be from this distance. Until then, let's leave the events of 9/11 in the province of documentarians, where they belong.