A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this is not the theatrical United 93 motion picture but a less-hyped cable-TV movie telling the same story of the ill-fated but heroic passengers of a September 11 plane commandeered by terrorists. Unlike the other film, this does not drop F-bombs of mass destruction, but there is still considerable intensity and tragedy, especially in the passengers and their families realizing that death is inevitable. There is some violence, as the terrorists take over the aircraft with knives and threats of a bomb.
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What's the story?
FLIGHT 93: THE MOVIE follows events in the air and on the ground during 9/11 with an emphasis (initially) on the mundane chores of passengers and flight crew getting ready for the transcontinental flight, while their families begin the day at home. Also on board Flight 93 are the Islamic suicide terrorists, more or less led by Ziad Jarrah (Amin Nazemzadeh). By the time the terrorists take control of the plane and cockpit by force and sharply altered its course, the passengers have already gotten word via their own cellular phones of three other airliners made to go kamikaze. Some of them tearfully say goodbye to their families, some pray. The soon-to-be famous Todd Beamer (Brennan Elliott) stays on his hookup with a shocked Verizon Wireless operator (Monnae Michaell), giving her updates right up until the end -- when several of the hostages vote to rush the terrorist-occupied cabin. The plane crashes (offscreen, but a farmer watches it wheeling overhead) in a Pennsylvania field rather than hitting an intended target, almost certainly one in Washington D.C.
Is it any good?
Viewers who didn't think Hollywood had much business making money retelling this raw-wound story probably won't be convinced by this film, or its counterpart. No, this is NOT the United 93 theatrical movie about the hijacked Sept. 11 passenger airline that gave the USA Todd Beamer's alleged words "Let's roll" as an anti-terrorist rallying cry. It's actually a made-for-TV drama on exactly the same subject, released to home video at the same time United 93 was in wide release. The two features are mirror-images of each other, both laudable and honorably non-sensationalized attempts to dramatize the incomprehensible horror of the day. Flight 93 (produced for the A&E cable network) is, arguably, a little more family-friendly because it eschews profanity.
Viewers with the benefit of the DVD commentary track can hear the filmmakers discuss how much of what you are seeing is speculation based on the cellular phone calls and control-tower transmissions, and how much is true -- like the order going out to US military fighter-interceptors to blow the hostage flight out of the air if it gets near victims on the ground. Tweens and younger kids could be inclined to concoct fanciful solutions in which the flight might have been brought down safely. You can use that as a springboard for many serious concepts, about heroism, hopelessness, and sacrifice.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the way that the passengers, even in the dawning realization that there was no escape, rallied and thwarted the terrorists' goal of dropping Flight 93 on Washington D.C. This is a complex and loaded topic, dealing with self-sacrifice and mortality; expect kids to have a lot of questions. Ask teens with memories of September 11 and the wall-to-wall news coverage whether they thought this story needed to be told, and whether it satisfied anything they did not know or feel before. With older and more movie-savvy kids, you can talk about how the movie compared with other, vintage movies about real-life military attacks on the innocent, from flag-waving propaganda movies after Pearl Harbor to a spate of celebratory TV movies in the '70s after Israeli troops successfully freed terrorist hostages at Entebbe Airport. On another level, this movie and its theatrical twin are not like those at all. Does that make them more successful as tributes, or just another form of propaganda?