World Trade Center

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Release date: Dec. 12, 2006

Oliver Stone's excellent direction of "World Trade Center," a Paramount Widescreen release (retail $29.99), based upon the actual experiences of two policemen caught beneath the rubble of 9/11, keeps the story moving effectively and churns out the tears in the final act in a dependably cathartic manner. The 2006 film basically plays like one of those really good TV movies about rescuing trapped miners, except that its historical context has a feature film validity. Nicolas Cage and Michael Pena star. The film runs 128 minutes, with its first half hour depicting the events leading up to their entrapment, and then cutting between their desperation, the desperation of their families, and the efforts by rescue workers to find them and bring them out. Stone proves his mettle with the steady precision of his approach to the material. There is nothing flamboyant in his technique, just a solid competence in the execution of the drama and the effects, and the touches of patriotism he slips in at the end feel earned He even elicits a fine performance from Nicolas Cage, which is not always an easy thing to do.

The letterboxing has an aspect ratio of about 1.85:1 and an accommodation for enhanced 16:9 playback. The color transfer is solid, and details are never distorted during the minimal light sequences. The 5.1-channel Dolby Digital sound has plenty of good separation effects but, like the rest of the film, is not overdone in its execution. There is an alternate French audio track in 5.1 Dolby, optional English and Spanish subtitles, and 18 minutes of well-acted but sensibly deleted scenes.

Stone supplies a commentary track and also speaks over the deleted scenes. His discourse is thorough and informative, as he analyzes the reality he is depicting and talks about both the individuals whose story is being told and the actors portraying them. He describes the challenges of shooting the film, some of which was accomplished in a very confined and rather dark space, and shares many other worthwhile insights about making the film and what the film represents. He also notes with the barest hint of disdain that at first, kibitzers declared that the film was going to be too political, and then, once it came out, they complained it wasn't political enough.

A second audio track, which is equally rewarding, features four of the individuals whose experiences are dramatized in the film, including Will Jimeno, who was played by Pena. They provide a running comparison between what really happened and the dramatic license taken by the film, go into more detail about what occurred at specific moments, and, most importantly, impart the sense and wisdom of experience that made Stone want to tell their story in the first place.

Paramount has also issued a 2-Disc Commemorative Edition release (retail $40). The first platter is identical to the standard release. The second platter contains a number of documentaries, the most notable of which is essentially a 54-minute sequel to the film, directed by Charles Kiselyak, that retells the story of the rescue through interviews with the rescue workers and the families of the trapped men, and then extends into the story of the men's recoveries and what happened to them afterwards. If you have any tears left from watching the film, they will be completely exhausted by the time the piece concludes.

Also featured are 80 minutes of decent production documentaries (including an excellent topographical explanation of why the men survived) that supplements Stone's commentary effectively (actually, to be on top of Stone's occasionally obscure references to production details in his commentary track, it is best to watch the documentaries first), an interesting 25-minute interview with Stone about growing up in Manhattan, a 13-minute interview with Stone about the film, a trailer, five TV commercials, and a nice collection of production photos.

The complete database of Doug Pratt's DVD-video reviews is available at dvdlaser.com. A sample copy of the DVD-Laser Disc Newsletter can be obtained by calling (516) 594-9304.

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