World Trade Center appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Across the board, the movie looked quite good.
I noticed no issues with sharpness. No instances of softness interfered with the presentation, as it consistently appeared crisp and well-defined. I saw no jagged edges or shimmering, and edge enhancement didn’t present any distractions. In addition, I detected no source defects. This was a clean transfer.
Much of the film went with a restrained palette. Colors warmed up a little when we saw the families of McLoughlin and Jimeno, but even then, the tones stayed fairly subdued. I thought the slightly pale tints fit the project and seemed satisfying. Blacks appeared deep and firm, while shadows were a little dense. Some of this seemed to be intentional, as the filmmakers didn’t want to make the wreckage bright and peppy. However, I thought low-light shots tended to be just a bit too tough to discern, especially since this affected a few scenes that didn’t take place underground. Despite those minor distractions, this remained a quality image.
Even better material came from the solid Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of World Trade Center. The scenes from the Manhattan site offered the best audio of the bunch and really opened up matters well. The audio didn’t act to provide simple slam-bang punch. Instead, the mix used all five channels to put us in the terrifying circumstances and accentuated the scariness of the situations. The collapses and other disasters filled the speakers and kicked us in the gut. The soundfield also brought out good ambience during the quieter scenes.
Audio quality was very good. Speech was consistently natural and concise, and music showed nice range and delineation. Effects worked best. They were accurate and distinctive without distortion or other flaws. When appropriate, bass response added deep, resolute punch to the track. This added up to a fine soundtrack.
A slew of extras shows up on this two-DVD set. Disc One opens with two separate audio commentaries. For the first, we get a running, screen-specific track with director Oliver Stone. He discusses sets locations, effects and recreating 9/11, controversies and cooperation from various parties, cast and performances, story, realism and other issues.
Stone usually offers very interesting commentaries, but this one only sporadically engages. The director offers some reasonably good notes and allows us a decent glimpse of events. However, we get a moderate amount of dead air, and at times, Stone essentially just narrates the film. Though there’s enough content to keep us involved, this doesn’t go down as a great commentary.
Happily, matters improve considerably for the next discussion. The second commentary provides notes from survivor Will Jimeno and rescuers Scott Strauss, John Busching and Paddy McGee. All four sit together for this running, screen-specific track. As expected, they mostly chat about their experiences on 9/11. They also give us some info about their involvement in the film, but the track usually sticks with personal history.
That factor makes this a genuinely great commentary. The remarks bring a “you are there” feel to the flick and deliver a terrific feel for matters. We learn what parts of the film are real and what elements show liberties, and we hear what it was like to be there. This is a consistently fascinating commentary that’s considerably more moving and involving than the movie itself.
Nine Deleted/Extended Scenes fill a total of 17 minutes, 37 seconds. These include “Extended Locker Room” (1:40), “Extended Roll Call” (2:05), “Concerned Business Woman” (0:49), “Fireman Johnny” (0:55), “Original Hole 2 Through Allison Making Lunch” (5:27), “Judy Gets Word Jay Is Okay” (2:20), “John’s Ghost” (1:31), “Barbecue Flashback” (1:02), and “Paramedic Tends to John” (1:46).
Most are fairly inconsequential, but a few interesting pieces emerge. “Hole 2” shows a real-life incident in which someone discovers John and Will but leaves them, while “Judy” fills in a bit of a plot gap. Actually, I guess the fact we never hear anything about Jay in the theatrical cut isn’t really a “gap”, but it feels sloppy.
We can watch these with or without commentary from Stone. He doesn’t offer a ton of notes, but he gives us some basics about the segments and usually lets us know why he cut them. Most of the time it’s for pacing, so don’t expect to learn a ton from the director.
Disc One opens with some ads. We find promos for Dreamgirls, Babel, Reds, An Inconvenient Truth and The Last Kiss. We can also find these in the DVD’s Previews area.
Over on DVD Two, the most substantial component comes from a documentary called The Making of World Trade Center. This three-part piece lasts a total of 53 minutes and 30 seconds. It mixes movie shots with images from the set and interviews. We hear from Stone, Jimeno, Strauss, John McLoughlin, wives Allison Jimeno and Donna McLoughlin, producers Stacey Sher, Moritz Borman and Michael Shamberg, writer Andrea Berloff, executive producer Donald Lee Jr., Port Authority PD’s Charlie Gargano, Arnold Grant, John Kassimatis, Kevin Feeley, John Rice, Jim Moran and Thomas McHale, FDNY’s Scott Fox and Joseph Esposito, DP Seamus McGarvey, costume designer Michael Dennison, rescuer Sgt. Jason Thomas, composer Craig Armstrong, supervising sound editor Wylie Stateman, WTC survivor Thomas Canavan, and actors Nicolas Cage, Michael Pena, Jay Hernandez, Maria Bello, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Stephen Dorff, and Michael Shannon.
“Making” traces the tale’s path to the screen and various story elements, how Stone came on board, research and realism, casting, performances and character choices. From there we inspect locations and sets, learn of cooperation with various parties, rewrites and the emphasis on accuracy, cinematography and color design, the dramatic focus, score and sound design.
“Making” launches DVD Two well with a solid examination of the production. It touches on many of the major issues related to the film’s creation and does so with candor and clarity. The involvement of so many real-life participants adds a nice sense of factual background to the proceedings and fleshes out matters well. This turns into a very good program.
Another documentary follows. Common Sacrifice goes for 54 minutes, 30 seconds as it features John and Donna McLoughlin, Will and Allison Jimeno, Strauss, Fox, Busching, John’s brother and fellow PAPD officer Pat McLoughlin, Will’s sister Karen Chaffee, McLoughlin family friends Francis Winski, Jeffrey Albanese, Jeff Descharnis and Mary Lepore, Will’s brother-in-law Jerome Guardiano, doctors J. David Roccaforte, Nirmal Tejwani, Jamie Levine, and Lee Tessler, nurses Sophia Jordan and Felicisimo Caagbay, unit clerk Maria Berrios, and physical therapists Jodi Brangaccio, Elaine DeFrancesco and Scott Zuckerman.
“Sacrifice” examines the story behind the story. We get details of what happened to John and Will on 9/11 as well as their rescue. However, unlike the movie, “Sacrifice” doesn’t stop there. It goes through the officers’ recovery and digs deeply into the effects on their lives. These elements give us a great picture of what really happened to Will and John. “Sacrifice” provides an excellent documentary.
A few featurettes follow. Building Ground Zero lasts 25 minutes, nine seconds and include remarks from Will Jimeno, Strauss, John McLoughlin, production designer Jan Roelfs, art director Richard L. Johnson, previsualization supervisor Ron Frankel, and construction coordinator Mike Villarino. As implied by the title, “Zero” looks at all the work that went into creating the WTC sets. We go through planning and then watch the actual construction. The show gives us a good picture of the various considerations and issues related to this significant aspect of the production. We even get fascinating tidbits such as Stone’s request to have Jimeno sit in the rubble to see if it felt right!
For the 12-minute and eight-second Visual and Special Effects, we hear from Frankel, visual effects supervisor John Scheele, special effects director Gary D’Amico, and special effects foreman Elia P. Popov. The show looks at a mix of computer and practical effects used to recreate the 9/11 setting. This includes a good mix of subjects including unexpected elements like motion capture. We also get nice shots from the set in this tight and informative piece.
Oliver Stone’s New York goes for 24 minutes, 30 seconds, and features the director as he tours NYC with DVD producer Charles Kiselyak. We also hear a little from Stone’s mother Jacqueline and screenwriter Stanley Weiser. “New York” acts more as a biographical sketch of Stone’s formative years than anything directly related to World Trade Center. It digs into the director’s life in an unflinching way, though, as we learn of his earlier years and events that shaped him.
Next comes a Q&A With Oliver Stone. Part of BAFTA’s “David Lean Lecture Series”, Stone did the session in September 2006 in London. This 13-minute and six-second excerpt looks at the film’s themes, its lack of political content, Jimeno’s vision of Jesus, what he hopes audiences will get from the film, the current state of Hollywood and its impact on his flick. Frankly, this is one of the DVD’s less interesting components. It doesn’t give us much compelling information.
A few minor components fill out the package. We get the film’s theatrical trailer plus five TV Spots. A Photo Gallery presents 54 shots. Some are quite good, especially since we get many glimpses of the real Jimeno and McLoughlin along with the actors.
World Trade Center tells a powerful story but diffuses its focus too much. That results in a film that mutes the tale’s impact and renders it less emotional than one might expect. The DVD offers very good picture and audio along with a simply superb roster of extras. Despite my misgivings about the film itself, I really like this DVD. The supplements alone make it worth your time.
Note that two versions of World Trade Center appear on the market. In addition to this two-disc “Commemorative Edition”, there’s a single-platter release. I presume it includes the elements found on this set’s DVD One but drops everything from DVD Two. That makes the CE the one to get, as the supplements on the second platter are too good to miss. It’ll cost you an extra $5 or so, but I think it’s worth it.