The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan

"TRAPPED IN AN ELEVATOR"

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Somewhere in my collection of videotapes is camcorder footage of me and my friends getting rescued from a stuck elevator in Atlantic City. That was in 1993. To this day, I think about the experience whenever I take an elevator. Getting stuck was kind of terrifying – until we realized that we were only about two feet above ground level. I can't honestly say that I was scarred by this event, since I take elevators all the time with no problem. They are, however, fascinating to me. Apparently, I'm not alone. The PBS program “Nova” dedicated a full hour to the contraptions; the program, Trapped in an Elevator is available on DVD starting November 9.

Narrated by John Lithgow, the show goes through some of the basics, such as how elevators were invented and how they currently work. We visit a testing facility where elevators are dropped to test the brakes. It turns out that the machines are actually quite safe. Despite what you see in the movies, a free-falling elevator isn't really possible due to all the safety mechanisms built in. There's also a section detailing how modern technology is changing the way elevators work. Future elevators won't rely on cables, but rather magnets, in a process similar to what's used on high-tech roller coasters.

Other parts of the documentary are devoted to the experience of riding them. We meet a man who was rescued from an elevator in the World Trade Center exactly one minute before it collapsed. Incidentally, the WTC was groundbreaking for elevators, using a “sky lobby” system that kept traffic moving while minimizing the physical amount of space needed to accommodate the machinery. Then there's an interview with the guy who was trapped in a New York City elevator for 41 hours. (Security camera video of his ordeal was a YouTube phenomenon.) Thankfully, that kind of thing doesn't happen often. In most cases – although not his – when you pick up the emergency phone, you're directed to a call center where help can be dispatched almost immediately.

The single most fascinating thing I learned from Trapped in an Elevator is that there is a button found inside every elevator that does absolutely nothing: the “close door” button. It's not hooked up to anything, and is there solely for psychological reasons – to give people a sense of control. That explains why the doors never seem to close when you push that button.

Trapped in an Elevator is incredibly entertaining to watch, taking a seemingly simple subject and finding all the unique, amazing things inside it. To order a copy, go to their website or call 1-800-PLAY-PBS.