I live in the Heathrow flightpath and, as I watched this film, planes would grind benignly overhead like big silvery cows. I've always thought of passenger jets as passive things despite their excessive pollution and annoying racket. Obviously, September 11th 2001 changed most people's view of air travel and films like Flight 93 - not to be confused with United 93 - do their bit to add to the vague sense of menace that now pervades this form of transport.
United 93 has been hailed a critical success in spite of it's incredibly delicate subject matter. I sincerely doubt whether this TV movie will be viewed in anything like the same way. In fact, this is one of those films best left unseen and forgotten.
How does Flight 93 get it so wrong given that it covers the exact same ground as it's cousin? Early indicators are the over-use of the "Only a twist of fate brought me here" plot-device typical of disaster films. A man runs for the plane and barely makes it - If only he knew! A stewardess swapped shifts to get on the flight - Oh woe is she! To tweak the heart-strings further, she just wants to make her son's first birthday! Naturally, we're expected to know what's about to happen and the film plays on this far too much. Yet this is not an appropriate subject for a 'disaster' movie, and should not be treated as such. The cultural and historical ramifications of 9/11 make it far more than a 'Titanic' style disaster, which is about the moment itself.
Flight 93 spends a great deal of time down on the ground, alongside desperate relatives and sweaty air traffic controllers who seem to need triple confirmation that when someone says "We have a bomb on board" they mean it. If I heard it clearly, how come the guy with the earpiece has to say "Say again Flight 93? Did you say you have a bomb on board?". Yes, that's exactly what he said you idiot. Call someone with half a brain immediately.
Worst of all, is that after being lulled into a melodramatic stupor, the initial take-over is still quite shocking and well done. The terrorists don red headbands much to the bemusement of the first-class passengers, and of course it gets worse from then on. The plane is hijacked, people are brutally killed with stanley knives (a serious phobia of mine is someone stabbing me in the heart with a stanley knife) and inevitably it all ends badly. Strangely, though, the curtain that seperates first-class from the scum in economy manages to block out all the carnage on the other side. Only when the plane descends rapidly whilst control is being assumed, and the terrorists then emerge to force everyone to the rear do people notice what's really going wrong and start coming over all E.T. and phoning home with a list of cliches.
In most of the shots with nervy relatives we are treated to close-ups of their wide-eyed cutesy children. I find it galling that I am expected to feel worse for someone just because they have kids and a mousy wife. Does it mean that I, with no kids, am less deserving of sympathy should I be caught up in such a catastrophe? Are they going to start listing casualties in rank order based on number of kids and relative cuteness, and settle ties by going to number of family pets? It really does get so bad that as the film goes on you will wonder whether you've accidentally switched over to the Mother and Baby channel. And besides, do none of these women work? The burden of the female characters in this film is to carry babies and answer phones, or shriek in terror aboard Flight 93.
I really can't stress enough that every woman in this film is carrying a baby. It's actually quite amazing but once you've noticed it, you will not be able to stop laughing as more and more female characters wander into shot carrying phones and babies. The real casualty of war is feminism. At one point they even rope a man in to hold one of the three babies in shot, so great is the load.
This was either a film made by people hoping to twist our hearts and wring some tears, or else it was made by people who really think that the true tragedy of 9/11 was simply some children playing in the background whilst havoc exploded nearby. Either that or they just liked lingering shots of kids in their pyjamas but maybe that's a bridge too far. The 'corruption of innocence' seems to be the prevailing theme, yet is that really what 9/11 was about? For many people it was a terrible inevitability that a terrorist attack of that scale would strike in the West, and despite all the wishes of decent people everywhere, it probably won't be the last of it's kind.
It's a sad truth that where there is tragedy there is money to be made. Films like this will continue to pour out now that the initial barriers of public decency have been crushed, and it remains to be seen whether they will all be as pointless and manipulative as Flight 93, or as powerful and carefully made as United 93. People cried and mourned in real life after September 11th. The last thing we need is a series of films where we are told when to weep and why, since people need no prompting to understand how the terrorist attack affected them, and how they feel about it. I sincerely hope this film fails miserably.