WORLD TRADE CENTER – Blu-ray review

Oliver Stone is a director that is known for stirring up a little controversy. He has a knack for covering historical topics that have a bit of controversy surrounding them and bringing his theories to the big screen. The best example of this is “JFK” and its magic bullet theory. The events of September 11, 2001 have found many conspiracy theorists pointing a finger at the government and spinning all types of grotesque webs that try to place the United States government behind the happenings of that horrible day when terrorists invaded our soil and brought down the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. I admire Oliver Stone directed films, but with his love of conspiracy theories and my own personal feelings towards those theories surrounding 9/11, I was hesitant to travel to a Cineplex and watch “World Trade Center.” After the film was released, it was common knowledge that Stone did not dive into the ill formed conspiracy theories, but created a testament to the men and women who gave their lives to try to help that day. Unfortunately, I never did get a chance to see it on the big screen. Then, it arrived on my doorstep in both Blu-Ray and HD-DVD formats.

Nicolas Cage and Michael Pena assume the roles of real-life survivors John McLoughlin and Will Jimeno. These two men were the eighteenth and nineteenth men of twenty to be pulled from the rubble of the World Trade Center and survived crushed underneath the crumbled towers. Much of the screen time of these two actors is in very dark lighting and mostly motionless head shots. There are some moments of flashbacks and the very early moments of the film find the two preparing to climb into the towers before the collapse trapped them. A lot of credit must be given to both Cage and Pena for putting forth great performances when only their voices and facial expressions were captured by the cameras for a large majority of their performances. Both McLoughlin and Jimeno were trapped underneath heavy pieces of concrete and steel. They spent their time communicating to each other and keeping each other awake. The real heroes of 9/11 worked with the actors that portrayed them and Stone and his two actors strived to capture that horrendous affair. “World Trade Center” brings that claustrophic and fateful period of time to life and much credit goes to the two male leads.

Supporting Nicolas Cage and Michael Pena are Maria Bello as McLoughlin’s wife Donna. Maggie Gyllenhall is Allison Jimeno, the wife of trapped Port Authority officer Will. Michael Shannon takes the role of Marine Staff Sergeant David Karnes, who traveled from Connecticut and found the two men underneath the rubble. Veteran actors Stephen Dorff, Frank Whaley, Jay Hernandez and others add their talents to portray various other real-life personalities that either gave their life during the terrorist attacks on New York City or risked their lives to save those that were in grave danger under the collapsed skyscrapers. I’ve always enjoyed Frank Whaley and the actor is part of “A Midnight Clear,” one of my favorite films of all time, so I was very pleased to see him have a role in this particular picture. Whaley had worked with Stone a couple of times in the past and hopefully, Stone will continue to throw work his way.

The basic story of “World Trade Center” follows the true-life story of John McLoughlin and Will Jimeno as they attempt to enter Tower 2, but find themselves pinned under the collapsed building in states of near death. Their beloved wives are uncertain if their husbands are alive and must cope with the unknowing and the prospect of possibly telling their children that their fathers will not be coming home – ever again. McLoughlin is a twenty one year veteran of the Port Authority and his hard nature keeps him from attaining the rank of Lieutenant. He picks a crew of his officers and they gather firefighting gear and move to Tower 2, in hopes of helping evacuate citizens from the building. Unfortunately, the tower collapses and only three men survives, McLoughlin, Jimeno and Dominick “Dom” Pezzulo (Jay Hernandez). Pezzulo is spared from the first collapse and struggles to free Jimeno. When the second tower falls to the ground, he is mortally wounded and dies from his injuries, leaving only McLoughlin and Jimeno to struggle for life.

Donna McLoughlin struggles with her children, as they want to leave and find their father, but her own distance in her marriage leaves her unknowing of how to act or what to do and while John Jr. accuses her of not caring, she seems composed, but is crumbling apart on the inside. Will Jimeno’s pregnant wife Allison is nearing a nervous breakdown as she assumes her husband has died and does not know how to tell her daughter, but tries to put on a sane face. She remembers not being able to decide on a name for her unborn baby daughter and continues to think of the conversation she and Will had regarding naming the baby Alyssa or Olivia. The two find close friends and family as support as they wait to hear the fates of their husbands.

Staff Sergeant Dave Karnes is a driven man who is religious and still holds true to the honor of the Marine Corps. He discusses his intended course of action with his preacher and once again wears his Battle Dress Uniform and leaves his accounting job to return to duty to look for survivors. He eventually is the one to stumble across Will Jimeno and Michael McLouglin and helps to free them from their near certain tombs. Karns would eventually return to active duty and serve two more tours working to bring justice to those that were the evil behind the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Unfortunately, there has been much controversy to the portrayal of Karnes, who is seen as a simple and driven man in the film and it is said his true motives and character are largely ignored by Stone and company.

It is my personal feeling that Oliver Stone’s “World Trade Center” is a film that should be seen by everybody. Together with the very good “United 93,” I welcome to telling of the events of September 11, 2001. It sickens my soul to believe that people feel these mighty man-made structures could be brought down with man-made explosives and that the aircraft were staged. Pardon my language, but that is a complete crock of shit and I must bow in thanks to Oliver Stone for bringing the truth of the matter and paying a wonderful tribute to the two men that survived the affair and those that perished by keeping true to what happened on that day. It was a horrible tragedy that occurred on that day, but it is a series of events that should never be forgotten by America and the lives that were lost should always be remembered and Stone’s film serves as a beautiful reminder.

This is a powerful film with powerful performances. Nicolas Cage is at his best and the work done here easily compares to that of “Leaving Las Vegas.” Michael Pena was brilliant in “Crash” and his turn here shows that he is a up and coming talent who’s star should shine over Hollywood for many upcoming years. Before seeing this film, I wondered how much I really wanted to see a movie where much of the time is looking at Nicolas Cage’s bust while covered in dust and dirt and in very poor lighting. Well, Oliver Stone and his actors took this very difficult idea and delivered what was easily one of the best films of 2006 and presented the World Trade Center attacks in a noble manner. My hat goes off to the filmmakers and those who survived those horrible events. Please see this film.

“World Trade Center” is presented in a gorgeous 1080p 1.85:1 widescreen transfer that shows how great Blu-Ray can look. Keeping in mind that much of this film takes place in lowly lit circumstances and this introduces a small amount of digital noise, this is an incredibly clean and vibrant transfer that looks absolutely stunning. From the early scenes where New York City is presented on a beautiful and sunny September morning and the colors of the busiest place on Earth are in full display to the dark and smokey moments where rescuers sift through the smoldering remains of two majestic buildings, the Blu-Ray looks simply amazing. A few bits of stock footage are interjected into the film to provide historical value and add to the solemn and shocked moods of the world after this cowardly and despicable act, and they show that their lower resolution source materials do not necessarily stack up on a high definition format, but the rest of the film is as detailed as it gets.

I was surprised at the incredible amount of detail that was provided when Nicolas Cage and Michael Pena had their faces covered in dust and were nearly camouflaged to the rubble that entombed them. You could see an amazing amount of detail through the makeup and dirt and see many of the actors fine details in their faces and get a full understanding at how caked in dust the actors were. Every once in a while, a bright orange flame would invade the dark confines of the trapped men and this bright contrast to the darkly lit main stage was perfectly handled by the Blu-Ray transfer. Colors were stunning when the film allowed them to be seen. Shadow detail and black levels were absolutely essential for this film to be seen and never once faltered. Paramount continues to provide incredible looking transfers and this Blu-Ray is no different in that regard. A decision was made to make this a 2-disc release and that decision looked to be a good one considering how great the film looks. A direct comparison to the VC-1 encoded HD-DVD gave a slight edge to the HD-DVD release, but the difference was very minor and was present mostly during the darkest scenes, where a little more digital noise can be seen in this Blu-Ray release.

Considering that much of the film takes place in either very domestic flashbacks or with the two actors trapped underneath a collapsed skyscraper, I can honestly say I was very surprised at the performance of the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. There are ambient sounds throughout the entire film, as you can hear the creaks, wind and other noises associated with being trapped under two of the largest buildings ever built. What was especially impressive in the sound department was the complete rumbling of hearing each building on the World Trade Center complex to collapse. Bass felt like it was coming from everywhere. The rear surrounds were exhibiting some of the lowest frequencies I can every remember coming from them. The .1 LFE channel was going ballistic and the front speakers were all rumbling deep and powerfully. Somehow, those responsible for the sound design found a way to make it sound as if the buildings were collapsing from above the audience. Impressive stuff. The initial airplane strike on the first tower was also deep and booming. Dialogue was clear and a lot of deflection could be heard from the actors as they shouted to one another or talked at a near whisper as they had to cling on for dear life. This was a surprisingly good soundtrack from a film where I did not expect to be impressed.

As previously mentioned, Paramount has chosen to release “World Trade Center” as a 2-disc “Commemorative Edition” on both Blu-Ray and HD-DVD. This allows for maximum space for the film to reside for the best picture possible and also allows for the supplements contained on the second disc to be presented in glorious 1080p high definition widescreen. Paramount had previously taken this approach with their release of “Mission Impossible: III,” and it has been a great seller, so I have a strong feeling that we are going to continue to see multi-disc releases for many special editions on these high definition formats and that “Next Gen” will not necessarily mean everything can be squeezed onto one disc.

The first disc contains a few supplements, as not everything is necessarily contained on the second platter. Also, both HD-DVD and Blu-Ray are presented with the same supplements. Some HD-DVD titles have had enhanced video commentaries, but only audio commentaries are presented here. The Commentary by Director Oliver Stone was decent enough and Stone presented a good deal of information on making the film, keeping true to the real events and also his feelings on that day. I now wish Stone had provided more commentaries for his other releases. Perhaps there is hope for an eventual deluxe Blu-Ray box set.

The second track, the Commentary by real-life survivors Will Jimeno, Scott Strauss, John Busching and Paddy McGee was a track I looked forward to listening to. Jimeno is one of the principal characters in the movie and both he and John McLouglin were heavily involved with the film’s production. This is a heartfelt and important commentary to listen to, as you can hear the story from the words of Will Jimeno himself and others that were involved on that horrible day. The first disc also contains some Deleted/Extended scenes with optional commentary by Oliver Stone. These nine scenes (17:45) are presented in MPEG2 and not in high definition. They are good scenes, but their inclusion in the film was not entirely necessary. A couple previews are also included.

The supplements get even better on the second disc and nearly all of them are presented in 1080p high definition. The nine supplements on this disc are all selectable from a simple menu that ties in nicely with the film. The first and one of the two large pieces of the supplements is the documentary The Making of World Trade Center (53:29). This is broken down into three separate parts that can be played separately or as one coherent piece. It looks stunning in high definition and is one of the best promotional documentaries I have ever seen. It is certainly an EPK feeling project, but is heartfelt and features the filmmakers and the real men behind the story. This is very good and should be seen by anybody who has purchased the 2-disc set. Stone shows he is impassioned by this story and his film and it shows. Jimeno is especially personable and his involvement and that of McLouglin truly helped make this film special.

The next documentary, Common Sacrifice(54:27) is broken down into two pieces, “Rescue” and “Recovery.” It too can be played in its parts or as one complete documentary. This is a powerful and riveting look at the actual events of the film and features McLouglin and Jimeno again recounting their tales. The wives take place in this supplement, as do other survivors. There is some graphic and emotional material and I was very happy to see an inclusion of this type of material and this excellent documentary helps make the Blu-Ray release of “World Trade Center” a fine memorial to the fallen heroes and fallen towers of 9/11. This documentary and the making of documentary would have been worth purchasing as separate releases.

After the two large documentaries, a couple smaller and less significant supplements are included. Building Ground Zero (25:09) takes a look at what went into rebuilding Ground Zero with high accuracy to bring the story of McLouglin and Jimeno to life. This is a decent sized making of documentary and even though it does not pack the punch of the two longer bits, a lot of effort went into building Ground Zero and if you had not previously seen some of the destruction that was there after the buildings were toppled, this will give you a good look at the massive destructive as it is recreated. Visual and Special Effects(12:08) is a look at the digital effects and computer work that went into creating this film. As is the case with the other documentaries, it is presented in high definition, but considering there are a number of CGI shots in this film and other computer graphics, the decision to present this feature in HD pays off in dividends.

Oliver Stone’s New York (24:29) is a great little feature where Oliver Stone discusses the city he grew up in and takes the viewers for a tour of the city. He gives wonderful first hand information on the city and his own memories of growing up in New York City. DVD Producer Charles Kiselak interviews Stone and this is a nice intimate chat with the director. The second discussion with the director is the Q&A With Oliver Stone (13:06) that was taken from the David Lean Lecture Series and is hosted by Mark Kermode. Aside from Stone’s red socks, which are not shown in high definition, as this is the only significant supplement on the second disc to not be mastered in 1080p, but is presented in widescreen, this is a good talk and Stone gives his thoughts on 9/11 and his reasons for making the film. After the lengthy features, a few small and standard bits and pieces are included. A Theatrical TrailerTV Spots and a Photo Gallery finish out this incredible list of supplemental materials.

Closing Comments:
I believe this is the first time I have ever given out four tens to a review. I feel the picture is an incredibly story and beautiful account of the events of 9/11. This is a film that I feel should be watched by everybody so they can get a better feeling of what happened on that day and the sacrifices that were made. We should never forget and this film helps allow that to never happen. Some say the men that perished were not heroes. They were firefighters, police officers and other civil servants that went racing into massive buildings that were on fire and they risked and gave their lives to help save many innocent people. The fact that less than three thousand people perished is a testament to why they are heroes and had they not given their lives, this number would have been much higher. This is a beautiful and powerful film that pays tribute to not just John McLouglin and Will Jimeno, but to many others that perished or risked their lives on that fateful day.

The picture quality and sound quality of World Trade Center is incredibly good and Paramount needs commended for producing a DVD of this quality. This is not a film that you would expect to be a visual and audible powerhouse, but it is. It is amazing to hear the rumbling and the collapsing of not only the two towers, but other buildings that fell on that day. The bass is deep and the ambient sounds are haunting. Much of the film takes place in low light and it is surprising to see how great these scenes look. The supplements are some of the best supplements that I have ever seen. Counting the running time of the two great commentaries, there is roughly ten hours of bonus materials and a majority of that is worth watching more than once. It is rare that I will say something is a must own, but “World Trade Center” on Blu-Ray is a must own.