By KIRK SWAUGER
SOMERSET — Gordon Felt was understandably apprehensive when he walked into a Universal Studios screening room in New York City for a preview of “United 93.”
Having lost his brother aboard the hijacked jet that crashed outside of Shanksville nearly five years ago, Felt knew too well the movie’s tragic ending.
Though he and his wife, Donna, were prepared for the violence, they still are refusing to allow their 14- and 9-year-old daughters to see the movie. Not now.
“I was nervous going in,” said Felt, of Ramsen, N.Y.
“I thought it was a wonderful movie, but it was a horribly violent and traumatic film to see. It was incredibly painful, but nonetheless necessary.”
Relatives of the 40 innocent passengers and crew members who were killed when the plane crashed into a reclaimed strip mine in Stonycreek Township on Sept. 11, 2001, say the film is a grim reminder of the day ordinary Americans extraordinarily fought back against terror.
Authorities believe the passengers rushed the cockpit, forcing the four hijackers to plunge the plane into the rolling Somerset County countryside. And a newly released transcript of the cockpit tape reveals a struggle aboard the jet that ends with hijackers’ chants of “Allah is the greatest.”
“It’s not the fiction of Hollywood,” Felt said. “This is the record of events.”
But not all families are ready to relive the pain.
While Larry Catuzzi says the film will help with his fund-raising efforts for the Flight 93 National Memorial during an event May 18 in his hometown of Houston, he does not plan to see it anytime soon.
“From what I’ve heard, it’s very emotional,” said Catuzzi, a member of the federal Flight 93 advisory commission and task force whose daughter, Lauren Catuzzi Grandcolas, died on the plane. “As a family, we’re just not ready to do that.”
While some moviegoers in New York recently yelled “Too soon!” after seeing trailers for the movie, Catuzzi’s son-in-law, Jack Grandcolas, counters the film is overdue despite the relative freshness of what happened.
“It offers a silver lining to a dark, gray day: The courage and actions of the passengers and crew,” said Grandcolas, of San Rafael, Calif.
“It’s a difficult film to watch for obvious reasons, but it’s also an inspiring film.”
Family members said director Paul Greengrass accurately portrayed what happened in real time on Sept. 11, recreating the doomed flight as it took off from Newark, N.J., and abruptly changed course near Cleveland. Shortly before 10 a.m., the plane was observed flying low and erratically over Route 30 before plummeting into the ground at more than 500 mph.
For Grandcolas, the most painful part of the film was watching an actress portray the telephone call Lauren Grandcolas made to him during the flight.
Passengers’ families helped with the production, providing Greengrass with detailed backgrounds of their loved ones, even the clothes they wore that day and what they might have eaten aboard the flight.
“I think Paul did as good a job as he could,” Grandcolas said.
Felt and Grandcolas said they particularly were intrigued by the scenes of the chaos among government officials and air traffic controllers that day, as three hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and as Flight 93 headed toward Washington.
“The movie actually had a lot more of what was going on with the FAA and the military and command centers, which I found fascinating,” Felt said.
Carol Huges of Middletown, N.J., whose brother, Joseph DeLuca, was killed on the plane, was getting ready to attend the movie’s premiere Tuesday night in New York. Huges already had seen the director’s cut.
“It was good. It was a lot different than all the other movies,” she said about documentaries previously done on Flight 93.
Hughes said “United 93” showed her brother talking to his father by cell phone and saying, “I love you, Dad.”
“Nobody got center stage,” she said. “It showed a little bit of everybody as a group.”
Universal Pictures has pledged to donate 10 percent of the first three days of the film’s gross to the Flight 93 National Memorial, which is expected to be open by the 10th anniversary of the crash.
As organizers of the memorial prepare to raise $30 million in private funds, Catuzzi said the movie can provide an impetus.
“I think it helps bring back the heroic act of the courage of these people,” he said.