LOS ANGELES — The World Trade Center lives on in a handful of new films whose makers left intact their pre-Sept. 11 footage of the twin towers out of respect for the dead and defiance of the terrorists who destroyed the buildings.
In the weeks after Sept. 11, there was a rush to excise shots of the trade towers from such comedies as “Zoolander” and “Serendipity.” Studios and film-makers felt the images would be too wrenching so soon after the terrorist attacks.
But other movies that came out late last year such as “Vanilla Sky” and “Sidewalks of New York” included shots of the trade center. As time passes, film-makers say they sense audiences are better prepared to handle the sudden appearance of the vanished towers on screen.
“I think it’s like our memories of a loved one,” said director Sam Raimi, who left images of the trade center in his upcoming adaptation of “Spider-Man.” “Probably right after the death of someone we love, it’s sometimes hard to look at their pictures. Then later, there’s a need to look at them.”
A “Spider-Man” trailer that included images of the World Trade Center was quickly pulled last fall, and the action sequence depicted in that ad has been cut from the movie. But Raimi said it was important for him to leave the skyscrapers in other shots.
“I didn’t want to erase the image of the twin towers,” Raimi said. “They’re seen throughout the course of the movie, because we didn’t want the terrorists to win.”
Last weekend’s top box-office draw, “Changing Lanes,” included brief flashes of the trade center. “World Traveler,” a road-trip drama starring Billy Crudup and Julianne Moore that opens Friday, features a prominent skyline view of the trade center early on and a gorgeous nighttime view of the towers near the end.
A&E home video releases another reminder of the towers April 30 with “The World Trade Center: A Modern Marvel,” a History Channel documentary completed a few months before Sept. 11 on the construction of the skyscrapers.
“It references the events of Sept. 11, but it’s not about those events,” said Jason Campbell, marketing director at New Video, A&E’s distribution partner. “The program really is a love letter to the trade center.”
The original script for “Men in Black II,” due out in July, included an action scene toward the end that would have showed the trade center in the background. Director Barry Sonnenfeld said that after Sept. 11, it was shifted to a rooftop with the Statue of Liberty on the horizon.
“Men in Black II” co-star Will Smith said he thinks people are increasingly able to view trade-center pictures with wistful affection instead of pained memories.
“Just the other day, I looked at a picture from two years ago with my kids,” Smith said. “We were at the Statue of Liberty with the twin towers in the background, and it really did feel good seeing the towers standing.”
As the towers collapsed Sept. 11, audiences were watching “World Traveler” in a morning screening at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Freundlich subsequently decided the trade-center images were appropriate for the film, which recounts a man’s journey to reclaim his soul. The final shots of the towers come in a dream sequence in which the man fantasizes happy endings for the troubled people he’s encountered on a cross-country ramble.
“Him imagining everyone he met along his journey as healed, as whole again, and here’s this shot of the World Trade Center. Somehow, I felt it was paying respect to those events,” said Freundlich, who added that he’s heard only positive reaction about the images from audiences at advance screenings. “It reminds them of an innocence before Sept. 11. It is a little bit painful, but it doesn’t leave a sour taste. It’s a little bittersweet.”
“It just worked, and I wanted it there as a symbol of my belief in the city,” Freundlich said.
Jennifer Westfeldt and Heather Juergensen, writers and stars of the current romantic comedy “Kissing Jessica Stein,” went the opposite route, shooting new Manhattan overviews to replace trade-center footage.
Their film screened Sept. 10 at the Toronto festival and again Sept. 12, the second screening drawing pained gasps from the audience when the trade center appeared, they said.
“When those images came up, it really was like a kick in the solar plexus,” Juergensen said.
“It seemed more generous and progressive to go back and shoot other buildings that still stand and speak to the beauty of New York, present and future,” Westfeldt said. “Our decision had to do with moving forward and sort of honoring how strong and noble and resilient New Yorkers have been.”