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Hollywood hatches plans for third 9/11 film

Universal unveils plans for thriller focusing on flight that crashed in Pa.
/ Source: Reuters

Universal Pictures unveiled plans Tuesday for a big-screen thriller about the Sept. 11 attacks, becoming the third major studio to set its sights on a subject Hollywood initially bent over backward to avoid.

As America nears the fourth anniversary of the bloodiest attacks on its soil, filmmakers and TV producers are clamoring to dramatize events surrounding the suicide hijackings that killed nearly 3,000 people and ignited the U.S. war on terrorism.

In addition to films in the works at Universal and two rival studios, several new made-for-TV projects are expected to focus on what happened when Islamic militants crashed two jetliners into New York’s World Trade Center, a third plane into the Pentagon and a fourth in Pennsylvania.

While Hollywood’s embrace of the 9/11 story may seem exploitative to some, Paul Levinson, a media scholar at Fordham University in New York, called it a “healthy” sign that the popular culture is coming to terms with the calamity.

“Since this is one of the transcending, defining events of our age, inevitably Hollywood ... has to deal with it,” he told Reuters. “It’s part of the process by which we come to understand our own feelings about this.”

The Universal project, due to begin production Oct. 1, will chronicle the events aboard United Airlines Flight 93, the plane that officials believe hijackers were steering toward Washington but crashed in rural Pennsylvania after passengers stormed the cockpit.

Universal’s movie, titled “Flight 93,” will be directed by Paul Greengrass, the filmmaker behind last year’s thriller “The Bourne Supremacy.”

As first reported by Daily Variety, Universal said “Flight 93” would be partly improvised and shot with hand-held cameras and other techniques to give it a gritty look. The film is budgeted for a relatively modest $15 million.

No information was revealed about plans for the film’s ensemble cast, and no release date has been set. But Variety said one scenario would be to submit the film to the Cannes Film Festival in 2006 and release it shortly thereafter.

Paramount and ColumbiaThe production schedule pits the film against a different 9/11 project that director Oliver Stone plans to start shooting in mid-October for Paramount Pictures. Starring Nicolas Cage, Stone’s film centers on the true story of Port Authority police officers trapped in the Twin Towers rubble.

In addition, Columbia Pictures announced in February it has optioned the rights to “102 Minutes,” a book by two New York Times reporters on the interval between the crash of the first hijacked airliner into the World Trade Center and the collapse of the first tower.

The recent spate of 9/11-themed movies marks a turnaround from Hollywood’s restraint in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy.

Warner Bros. delayed the release of the Arnold Schwarzenegger action film “Collateral Damage,” and Columbia Pictures pulled “Spider-Man” movie trailers and posters showing the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers.

TV networks also initially avoided terror-themed content as well, but some shows, including “The West Wing,” “Third Watch” and “NYPD Blue,” later incorporated 9/11 references.

Several more expansive TV dramatizations of the Sept. 11 attacks are now on their way, including a two-part miniseries debuting later this month on cable’s National Geographic Channel and an eight-hour miniseries next season on ABC.