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New York City, September 11, 2001. The morning everything changed. Ten years after the World Trade Center attacks, History presents the September 11th: Memorial Edition, a collection of specials that document a day none of us will ever forget. The collection includes: the Emmy-Award winning 102 Minutes That Changed America, an intensely personal perspective of the tragedy as it was experienced by people around New York ... Hotel Ground Zero, the incredible tale of the 940 tourists, visitors and staff in the Marriott WTC Hotel, located beneath and between the Twin Towers ... The Miracle of Stairway B, the story of 12 firefighters, three office workers, and a Port Authority police officer who survived the collapse of the North Tower ... The Day the Towers Fell, a riveting special that reveals the never-before-told stories of eyewitnesses, including amateur and professional photographers, caught in the horror of the World Trade Center tragedy.

Rated NR

Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 (“102 Minutes That Changed America”, “Hotel Ground Zero” and “The Miracle of Stairway B”)
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 (“The Day The Towers Fell”)
English Dolby Stereo 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 232 min.
Price: $24.95
Release Date: 8/16/2011

• “I-Witness to 9/11” Featurette


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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September 11th: Memorial Edition (2011)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 26, 2011)

With the 10th anniversary of the 9/11/01 attacks on us, many attempts to re-examine the events will come upon us. The History Channel creates a DVD package with a mix of these all in one place.

September 11th Memorial Edition delivers four separate documentaries. Here’s what we find:


102 Minutes That Changed America (2008 - 1:38:23): This program offers total first-person perspective. It comes from a variety of video sources; we get some professional footage but mostly we see consumer shots from ordinary people. The show includes no narration and relies largely on the audio recorded by the cameras.

The absence of interviews and reflective comments makes Minutes unusual and especially effective. It starts at 8:48 AM and goes until past 10:30 AM, so it launches immediately after the first plane crash and finishes a little after the collapse of the second tower. In between, we see a lot of shots of the towers themselves as well as reactions to the events and actions taken by those on the scene.

For the most part, Minutes avoids images of the major damage. We don’t see either plane hit the buildings; as noted, the show starts after the first hit, and we view the second crash from an angle that simply shows a ball of fire from the side. The first tower collapse also occurs off-camera, but we see a clear, full view of the second collapse.

This surprised me; at that point, I’d assumed that the program wouldn’t offer any of that footage. However, I think the choice gives the collapse more impact. Because we don’t expect it, the shot takes us by surprise and creates a more intense effect.

Not that Minutes needs it, as the preceding 90 minutes or so provide a walk down a horrible memory lane for those of us who remember 9/11 well. I must admit that I sometimes wonder why we watch these shows. 10 years later, the wounds remain open, and I don’t know what those of us who lived through 9/11 get from them; maybe programs such as this offer greater benefit for folks to young to have been direct witnesses to the time and events.

Minutes acts as an excellent way to give those people a look at what happened and might be the place to start. No, it doesn’t have the historical perspective that other documentaries could offer, but few of its counterparts depict the morning’s events in such a stark first-person manner. We know virtually nothing that the man on the street doesn’t hear, and that includes various rumors such as the guy who claims the terrorists will send another plane into the towers every 30 minutes.

The program really does put us into the action, and it’s a harrowing journey. I’d almost forgotten how awful some of the 9/11 sights really were, and the quick view of the jumpers nearly brought me to tears. This is a visceral journey that will often be unpleasant to take.

But it’s a very valuable way to see what happened. Other shows provide better historical perspective and a fuller take on the day. As noted, we get most of our info from the “man on the street”. We hear brief mention of the attack on the Pentagon and there’s an understanding that a terrorist group enacted the assaults, but nothing beyond that. Even references to President Bush come from the background; we hear a little of his initial speech and that’s it.

If someone wants to get the full picture of what occurred on 9/11, they won’t get it from 102 Minutes. However, they will find an excellent entry point, one that delivers an emotional and terrifying view of what it was like to be in Manhattan on that day. It’s a simply terrific documentary that shook me to the core.


Hotel Ground Zero (2009 - 44:33): This documentary looks at the Marriott that stood at the base of the World Trade Center and provides the stories of some of those who stayed or worked there 9/11. We hear from guests Dennis Wooldridge, Leigh Gilmore and mother Faye, Ronald Clifford and Frank Razzano, Marriott receptionist Amy Ting, and firefighter Jeff Johnson.

After the gut punch of 102 Minutes, it seems inevitable that Hotel will provide a less harrowing experience. That shouldn’t be viewed as criticism, though; it’d be hard for most 9/11 documentaries to match up to what we saw in the other show.

Hotel offers a more conventional documentary, as it combines the usual mix of archival footage and “talking head” interviews. This format works fine for the subject, especially since we’re unlikely to find a lot of footage to depict the experiences of those at the Marriott. Unlike the larger events of 9/11, this one requires details and specifics.

Which it does well. I didn’t even know there was a hotel right next to the WTC, much less one with so many dramatic tales to tell. Hotel covers the events they experienced in a clear, compelling manner that makes this an engrossing documentary.

The Miracle of Stairway B (2006 - 45:12): 14 people caught in the North Tower when it fell managed to survive. Miracle tells their experiences and how they made it out alive. We find notes from firefighters Mickey Kross, Jim McGlynn, Jay Jonas, Chief Peter Hayden, Bill Butler, James Efthimiades, Sal D’Agostino, Matt Komorowski, Mike Meldrum, Glenn Rohan, office worker Josephine Harris, Kross’s girlfriend Christine Monda, McGlynn’s girlfriend Kathleen Walter, and Jonas’s wife Judy.

Like Hotel, Miracle gives us another compelling story of survival. It’s another story that probably won’t be known to most, so it’s fascinating to learn of the improbable way that the firefighters and Harris made it out of the collapsed tower. Given how much we know about the broader events of 9/11, I really like these documentaries that concentrate on smaller human stories.

The Day the Towers Fell (2002 - 43:21): we see still photographs (mostly) from 9/11 and the aftermath accompanied by comments from the people who shot them. It involves statements from freelance photographer Peter Foley, FEMA photographers Andrea Booher and Michael Rieger, amateur photographer Jane Barrer, NY Daily News photographer David Handschuh, consultant/AP freelancer John Labriola, eyewitnesses/photographers Jeff Erber and Mamie Ogawa, filmmaker Star Reese, AP freelancer Ernesto Mora, AP staff Gulnara Samilova, fireman/photographer George Farrinaci, boat captains Greg Freitas and Huntley Gill, The Record photographer Thomas Franklin, Marine Safety Service Captain Scott Shields, and New York Times photographer Angel Franco.

Fell ends the set on a fine note. While it lacks the specificity of the last two shows, it still delivers an excellent first-person take on events. We see a strong collection of photos that work just as powerfully as the video footage. I must admit I wish I could unsee the shots of the jumpers; of all the day’s horrors, the sight of people leaping to their death remains the most troubling to me. That personal issue aside, Fell delivers another powerful examination of the day’s events.

The DVD Grades: Picture C/ Audio C/ Bonus NA

September 11th Memorial Edition appears in a variety of aspect ratios. Three of the documentaries come with 1.33:1 dimensions, while The Day the Towers Fell opts for 1.78:1; it lacks 16X9 enhancement, though.

Since the shows often consisted of footage shot on 9/11 – much of which came from amateur sources – the image quality varied quite a lot. To my surprise, though, 102 Minutes looked pretty good. Even accounting for the focus issues inherent in that sort of material, the images tended to be reasonably concise and clear.

The other shows were more erratic. On one hand, they benefited from a lot of studio footage, as we got “talking heads” elements. However, they tended to come with mild instances of jaggies and shimmering. The other three programs weren’t ugly, but they seemed less stable than 102 Minutes.

Still, all offered acceptable reproduction of the source material. Again, I thought 102 Minutes held up the best, with generally good clarity and vivacity. The other three showed somewhat duller colors and less dynamic elements. Fell was probably the weakest link just because it was a windowboxed 1.78:1 presentation; that reduced its picture size and resolution. All four shows were perfectly watchable, though, and I didn’t think the visuals quality detracted from my appreciation of the programs.

I felt the same about the ordinary Dolby Stereo 2.0 audio of Memorial Edition. As one would expect, the soundscape remained pretty limited. All the shows offered decent stereo music and effects that demonstrated a general sense of place. Nothing particularly involving emerged, but that was fine; the material wouldn’t seem suited to a slam-bang soundscape.

For the most part, audio quality was fine. Fell suffered from some rough dialogue, but its lines were intelligible, and the speech heard in Hotel and Miracle seemed more satisfying. Music was low-key but clear, and effects represented the source in an adequate manner. While the tracks never impressed, they did what they needed to do.

Technically, Memorial includes only one extra: a featurette called I-Witness to History. However, because the set came with four full documentaries, I didn’t think it was right to give the package a poor supplements grade; if the History Channel had sold this as 102 Minutes and made the other three programs “bonus materials”, I’d praise its added content.

So I went with a non-grade for extras. As for “I-Witness”, the 18-minute, 35-second piece provides notes from a variety of ordinary folks who videotaped the footage that appears in 102 Minutes. They discuss their experiences and give their work good perspective. We learn nothing about the video sources during Minutes itself, so I’m happy to find this additional information.

10 years after the events depicted, the four programs of September 11th Memorial Edition clearly represent different facets of the day. We get four varying takes on the subject, all of which prove to be informative and often emotional. The DVD delivers acceptable picture and audio along with a good bonus featurette. The subject matter makes Memorial Edition tough to take at times, but it’s a high-quality collection of important documentaries.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.5 Stars Number of Votes: 2
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