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August 25, 2006
TV Review: Inside The Twin Towers

As we approach the fifth anniversary of 9/11, television broadcasters have started airing documentaries on the attacks, focused primarily at the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. A&E and The History Channel have aired several of these shows over the last two weeks, recounting the heroism and the tragedy of the day. Most of these use footage that has not been aired for some time, as well as re-enactments of known narratives from inside the towers and computer graphics showing the structural issues that led to the collapse of both buildings. Without exception, these retrospectives have been moving and faithful to the men and women who lived and died in the attack.

Not long ago, The Discovery Channel contacted me to ask if I would preview their upcoming two-hour special on 9/11, Inside The Twin Towers. They sent me a DVD of the special, one that had no credits or introductions. That struck me as unusual, as if they had not quite put the finishing touches on the production. However, after watching the documentary, the stark and no-frills nature of the DVD seems fitting, given the uncompromising look TDC gives to the collapse of the towers.

Inside focuses on the human stories where some of the other documentaries spent more time on the physics of the collapse. (In fact, I would highly recommend The History Channel's The World Trade Center: Rise And Fall Of An American Icon for those who want the best exporation of that topic.) In the two hours of the documentary, it seems that very little time is spent on graphical representations of the attack and its effects. It serves as it should -- as an explanation of why the attack doomed so many people, and how some people managed to survive it.

Inside doesn't fall into the trap of telling just the happy endings or the heroics alone, but focuses on the ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances. One very sad tale involves a man who could not bring himself to keep moving and the two men who encountered him in the stairwell. One man stuck with him to the end and died because of it; the other left when it became apparent that time had run out. The widow of the man who gave up credits the latter with making the right decision, but the survivor tells TDC that his actions were 'cowardly' -- a heartbreaking moment when you realize the pain this man will have for the rest of his life.

It also tells the story of the people who never had the chance to get out, those trapped above the impact zone in the North Tower. Phone records and the testimony of those contacted by people from the Windows on the World restaurant paint a portrait of victims who slowly realize that help will never come. Other survivors wonder why they didn't try to find more people.

To be sure, some of the more miraculous stories are retold here. The "miracle of Stairwell B" gets re-enacted again, as well as the rescue of Stanley Pramnaith by Brian Davis. The heroism of the NYFD and Port Authority PD comes through clearly, as it should. Unlike the other presentations we have seen, however, Inside allows the tragedy to overcome the fleeting moments of victory, as it should in considering the horrific losses of 9/11.

TDC also does a good job in presenting real footage taken on 9/11. They show all of the tragedy, including a brief shot of the jumpers -- images that the broadcast networks have embargoed since shortly after the attacks. The scenes of devastation and of devastated first responders when they experience the full scope of the loss will bring the day back as if it were yesterday, and the immediacy of the video amplifies that effect.

Inside is well worth the time, if viewers want to revisit that dark day. It's powerful and honest, even with re-enactments, which I normally do not like. In this case, it really is the only way to tell as many of the stories that TDC manages to give us in that short time frame. Be sure to set your DVRs for The Discovery Channel on September 3rd at 9 pm ET.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at August 25, 2006 7:12 AM

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Tracked on August 31, 2006 8:23 PM


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