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The Good, The Bad, And The Digitally Removed

by Matt Sedik
"We're going to try and do something..."

Words spoken by a somber Tom Hanks at the opening of America: A Tribute to Heroes, a two hour commercial-free broadcast carried by all four of the major television networks and scores of other channels. Hanks words were taken from a phone conversation by a passenger aboard the plane that went down in Pennsylvania. A group of people who stopped a forth plane from being turned into a bomb on the morning of September 11th.

Before Hanks' introduction we were shown the New York skyline at night, watching as a boat crossed the horizon, the building's silhouettes backlit by a pale white glow. Kicking off the event was Bruce Springsteen singing "My City of Ruins", a song that even the producers of the evening's event hadn't heard prior to airing. Surrounded by candles, Springsteen's delivery was intense, delivered in a steady, passionate outpouring.

Next up was Stevie Wonder and then George Clooney, who gave us another glimpse into the lives of people from the 11th. Clooney's piece was about a New York cop who went to police headquarters that morning to file his retirement papers. But then the face of the world changed when the first plane hit. Like many of heroes that day, the officer gave his life saving others.

U2 beamed their performance in from London. They performed "Walk On', from their latest album, filmed in black and white on a small stage adorned with dozens of light bulbs overhead.

Following some clips of Muslim children was one of the most powerful images of the night. Will Smith took the spotlight with a trembling Muhammad Ali. I wasn't ready for this. Ali has been a hero from my childhood. I wasn't prepared to see him there amid the actors & musicians (he was the only athlete that night to make an appearance). Speaking more to the camera than he probably has in years, even through the slurred speech, the champ's message was clear: "Islam is peace".

The night continued with a compliment of celebrities. Another powerful moment was Neil Young's rendition of "Imagine". Now, I'll be honest and admit I've never been a Neil Young fan. His voice really gets under my skin, a bit too whiny in my book. But seeing him there at the piano, I couldn't help but sit in silence as he moved softly through the song, his wet eyes hidden in the shadow of a cowboy hat.

Weird moment of the night has to go to the pairing of the Goo Goo Dolls' Johnny Rzeznik with Fred Durtz and Wes Morland of Limp Bizkit. They did a cover of Pink Floyd's "Wishing You Were Here".

Billy Joel, the Dixie Chicks, Dave Matthews, Mariah Carey and Bon Jovi were among the other bands that night. Another highlight was Eddie Vedder (of Pearl Jam) and a still cowboy hat clad Neil Young singing "Long Road", a mellower piece that spoke volumes in it's subdued delivery.

The show finally ended after a handful of other appearances with Clint Eastwood. He was in full Dirty Harry mode, ready to kick some ass and take some names. My only problem with the Clintster was it looked like he dressed in the dark. Is he so imposing of a figure that no one had the balls that night to say, "Hey Clint, you look like my sloppy old uncle whose favorite game is Pull My Finger...". Of course, I'd never say that out loud, since Clint is The Man, and just in case he really carries a 44 magnum under his jacket (the most powerful handgun in the world).

Overall it was an interesting event. It raised well over a $120 million to aid the families of the victims in the attack. It was somehow comforting to see that even the world's biggest stars were still shaken by the attack. That it wasn't business as usual.

But what really strikes me as odd is Hollywood's reaction to the attack. As an industry, I can understand the sensitivity to the terrorist attacks. I can understand studios shelving a film like Collateral Damage starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. It's a film about a fireman whose family is killed right in front of him by a terrorist attack. Also shelved was Big Trouble, Barry Sonnenfeld's latest comedy. The reason: the end of the film involves a pair of idiot thieves who smuggle a nuclear bomb aboard a plane.

As for movies just released, studios went in and digitally removed shots of the World Trade Centers from both Zoolander and Serendipity. Don't worry, more edits are sure to follow. I've even heard that some movies might go into the cutting room before being released on video/DVD, one of the most notables being rumored to get tweaked is Steven Spielberg's latest, A.I.

I've got some better advice for ya Steven... Rather than go in and spend buckets of money removing buildings from extraordinarily complex CG shots, how about cutting out the last 20 minutes of the film?

When I first heard about the rush to edit the reality captured on film, I was a bit confused. Here is an industry that thrives on violence. It gave us three Die Hard movies. It gave us four Lethal Weapon movies. It gave us seven Police Academy movies, as well as a Police Academy TV series (both live-action and animated).

I'm just trying to figure out why a movie like Saving Private Ryan can win awards left and right, filming some of the most goriest battle scenes every seen, yet somehow the image of a pair of buildings is too much for our fragile little minds? Movies are a means to escape. I pay my $9+ (don't get me started) to park it in a theater with my medium Sprite and box of Red Vines so I can get transported to someplace else. The studios shouldn't bend over backwards to sterilize my movie-going experience to keep me safe. I don't want that.

Removing the images of the World Trade Center buildings might, in some instances, be a valid thing to do. I just don't think we need to rush around with our finger on the mouse button readying to point, click and erase things. Last time I checked, monuments were built for that kinda of thing. Movies were made to show those acts of heroism. Movies that illustrate our fight for freedom.

Question: The 1976 remake of King Kong, starring Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange, has everyone's favorite ape climbing the World Trade Centers in the climatic ending. Should this movie be pulled off the shelves of your nearest video rental store because it might be too psychologically taxing? Hell no! It should be removed because it sucks ass.

I don't mind Hollywood manipulating my emotions for any given scene. I don't mind it manipulating the facts, location or even physics if it leads to great storytelling. But what happened on September 11th is real. More real than any of us care to imagine. Rushing to remove the image might be an injustice in it's own right.