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Not Like the Movies: Hollywood & Tragedy

No special effect can make us feel the way it felt to see the World Trade Center collapse on live TV.

1. Determine the Motivation for Writing   Identify what comments from the media prompted the author to write this article. Do you agree with Fred Topel that such comments were “silly and insensitive”? Why or why not?

2. Consider Style   Choose one word to describe Fred Topel’s writing style. Note at least three instances where he addresses his readers directly in this article. Explain how he does so, and describe the effect this technique has upon the reader. 

3. Justify a Point of View   The author thinks that Hollywood moviemakers overreacted by digitally altering images to remove the World Trade Center. As a movie executive, write a press release that explains why your company has decided to digitally edit images following the terrorist attacks.

Not Like the Movies: Hollywood and Tragedy

Fred Topel

Before you read, recall what you know about the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.

Fred Topel is an entertainment writer, writing online for the Daily Radar and for newspapers such as The Palisadian Post and Entertainment Today. He has a special interest in action/adventure movies, his favourite genre.

I was asked to think of an article to address Tuesday’s [the September 11, 2001] tragedy, and I thought the most silly and insensitive thing I’ve heard in all of this tragedy is newscasters suggesting it is like something out of a movie. The attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon are not like something out of a movie. I’ve seen plenty of movies about terrorists, and even the best, most realistic ones are nothing like what I’ve seen on the news.

The Siege may be one of the most realistic films about terrorism. A scene where a bus loaded with passengers explodes is sudden and shocking, like it must really be. However, the film also shows Denzel Washington storming into a hostage situation to take out the bad guys. Though the film deals with the effects of terrorism on race relations, it ends with a Hollywood convenience, letting the hero find and defeat the villains. Things do not resolve so simply in real life.

Arlington Road dealt with terrorism on a personal level, with Jeff Bridges suspecting his neighbour, Tim Robbins, of terrorist plans. The bombing at the end is realistic, and the terrorists have the upper hand in the finale. Perhaps that is close to what happened, but in the film it was used to resolve the character relationships. It’s unsettling and effective, but everything related back to Jeff Bridges, not the people who were hurt.

Perhaps the most famous movie about terrorists is Die Hard. Those terrorists turn out to be thieves with no political agenda. Die Hard 2 and Die Hard With a Vengeance have real terrorists, but again these are Hollywood action movies. We don’t get attached to the people who get hurt (except one scene with a plane in Die Hard 2, but otherwise we don’t know the bombing victims) and everything wraps up neatly in the end.

The Tom Clancy movies deal with terrorists and realistic government operations, but Patriot Games has the terrorists go on a private revenge mission, Clear and Present Danger sends Harrison Ford into action mode to rescue our boys, and Hunt for Red October has the Russian turn into a good guy.

Toy Soldiers had teenagers fighting the terrorists who took over their school. It had some interesting insights about the negotiation process and was a great movie about youth empowerment, but a fantasy.

The Rock, one of my favourite movies of all time, had terrorists [who are] considerate of children and harm none of their hostages. They only kill the Navy SEALS because of a chaotic, uncontrollable situation. Surely the real terrorists were not as considerate as Ed Harris in The Rock.

There is nothing wrong with these movies. These are great movies. But what happened in New York is not like a movie. Real people were hurt. No special effect can make us feel the way it felt to see the World Trade Center collapse on live TV.

Maybe I’m reading too much into the comments. Perhaps the people at CNN just meant that the explosion looked like a movie effect. Except with a movie, you’d see the shot from three different angles and hear Dolby Digital effects all around you. In real life, you see a ball of fire and people die. As a movie connoisseur, maybe I’m oversensitive, or maybe it’s the stress of experiencing the worst part of history I’ve ever lived through, but it seems some media entities are trying too hard to relate events to Hollywood.

In other news, some movies are being delayed in their release, notably Big Trouble (which involves a spoof of airport terrorism) and Collateral Damage (Arnold going after terrorists who killed his family). The ending of Men in Black 2 will be changed because it originally took place at the World Trade Center.

Other films that take place in New York are actually going to be digitally altered to remove the World Trade Center. I personally think that is overreacting. We’d all understand that those movies were shot in New York before the tragedy, and going to the trouble of digitally altering the skyline seems like they’re trying too hard to seem sensitive. But maybe they’re just as unsure of how to handle things as I am.

My best wishes to anyone who has lost someone in the attacks or flights.