Paramount // 2006 // 60 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Brendan Babish (Retired) // February 22nd, 2006
September 6, 1970: The blackest day in aviation history
In case anyone might think PBS has lost all sense of perspective, I should note that, though Hijacked's cover art designates September 6, 1970 as the blackest day in aviation history, the summary on the back of the box correctly prefaces this statement with, "For more than thirty years it would be known as..." Indeed, the specter of 9/11, which is never directly mentioned in Hijacked, looms large over this documentary.
The parallels between what happened in 1970 and four and a half years ago on September 11th are striking. And as the documentary effectively shows, the hijacking of four commercial airliners back on that fall day in 1970 may have signaled as much of a sea change in Middle East politics as 9/11 would nearly 30 years later. Most notably, as several experts point out, these hijackings were the first major terrorist acts launched by a Palestinian liberation group. This is evidenced by the guerrillas' lack of planning and preparation (one of many problems was their lack of food or water for their hostages). The terrorist's amateurism is also borne out, strangely enough, by the low body count. "The terrorists did not then have the ruthlessness to kill people," an English journalist covering the event points out, before gravely adding, "They would learn that later on, though."
Indeed, after 1970 hijacking commercial airliners became the modus operandi of most any Middle Eastern liberation group. These aviation hijackings would soon become so commonplace, and relatively nonviolent compared to contemporary terrorist activity, that I have heard them described as mere "nuisances." I do not know exactly where or when terrorism began employing the savagery that is now so pervasive (perhaps in 1976 in Munich), but it seems clear that these hijackings were the impetus that helped set in motion the events that have led to America's current War on Terror.
Though I consider myself knowledgeable of world events, and like many have been following Middle Eastern politics these past few years, I don't recall hearing about these hijackings. I think most Americans are well aware of the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1976 Munich Olympics (even before Spielberg's Munch was released), but I would guess that most of us born after 1970 know nothing of these hijackings. Considering the effect 9/11 has had on the American consciousness, that's simply astonishing.
This widespread ignorance (my own included) makes Hijacked required viewing for anyone concerned about the current Middle East situation. While the documentary has been well researched and expertly produced, it is also commendably balanced. That is not to say that the film acts as an apologist in any way for the hijackers, or for terrorism as a political tool. Ilan Ziv, who wrote, directed, and produced the documentary, wisely steps back and allows those who were directly involved in the event discuss it from their perspective. This works exceptionally well because Ziv has done an outstanding job culling interviews with those involved in nearly every aspect of the hijackings: terrorists, hostages, journalists, negotiators, and government officials from Israel, America (where most of the hostages were from), and Jordan (where the planes eventually landed). For a 60-minute documentary, Hijacked is incredibly dense and informative. And yet Ziv also manages to include moments of irreverence that, while not essential, make Hijacked worthy entertainment. John Feruggio, a flight director, describes an argument he had with the terrorist who was rigging his plane's cabin with dynamite. "What do you care about this imperialist plane?" the man asks. "Well what about my imperialistic ass and my passengers?" Feruggio replies.
With the bulk of Hijacked is made up of grainy footage from 1970 interspersed with talking heads, the picture and sound quality are hardly essential components of this DVD. That said, Paramount has a strong record of transferring PBS's American Experience series to disc, and they do a competent job here again. The only quibble I have with this DVD is the complete lack of extras. This is especially galling because PBS's website includes extended interviews and information for every episode of American Experience documentaries, but inexplicably leaves them off the DVD. Go figure.
Still, that alone cannot dissuade me from enthusiastically recommending this great documentary. For those unaware of American Experience, Hijacked is a great introduction to this fine series. Additionally, for those who have been reading about PBS's financial troubles, it is worthwhile to know that purchases of American Experience DVDs help support PBS programming. Admittedly, the channel seems to be on the perpetual brink of insolvency, but who knows, maybe this time they really are.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 60 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* American Experience