Black Hawk Down


Black Hawk Down

Screenplay by Ken Nolan

Directed by Ridley Scott



Theatrical: Columbia Pictures & Revolution Studios

Video: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment


Region: All

Aspect ratio: 2.40:1

Resolution: 1080p

Codec: MPEG-2

Capacity: 50 GB

Run time: 144 minutes

Chapters: 16


English PCM 5.1

English Dolby Digital  5.1

French Dolby Digital 5.1


Feature: English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Thai

Extras: English SDH, French, Spanish


• Audio commentary with Director Ridley Scott and Producer Jerry Bruckheimer

• Audio commentary with Author Mark Bowden & Screenwriter Ken Nolan

• Audio commentary with U.S. Special Forces Veterans

• Documentary: The Essence of Combat: Making Black Hawk Down (150 min.)

Locking Blu-ray Amaray case

Release Date: November 14, 2006


Given the medium and the promise of 50-GB capacity, some will be disappointed that Sony has opted for the 144 minute theatrical version of the film, not the later 153 Extended Cut.  My feeling is that the extra footage isn't of much consequence.  On the other hand, we do miss some of the extra features that were on the 3-disc SD Deluxe Edition (which did not include the Extended Cut.)


That said, despite all manner of subtle "improvements" in audio and imaging since this title came out in November of 2006, this Blu-ray DVD of Black Hawk Down remains one of the more compelling demo discs on my shelf.  And it's an absorbing film in its own right.  There will be many who will carp about its fictionalized or politicized aspects.  I am not one of them.  Black Hawk Down is not a documentary, even though Mark Bowden's book, upon which it is based, more or less is.  For those who want to know how Director Scott and Screenwriter Ken Nolan's adaptation works – or not, Sony offers us two commentaries that address the question in some depth. (see more under Extras.)


Unlike many a war movie, where we focus on just a handful of soldiers and get to know them intimately, Black Hawk Down tends to see the Americans as a band of brothers.  The group and their mission is the thing.  True, some of the faces are etched into our minds, but their backstory remains just that, reduced to an aside remark, or an image of a soldier trying to call home, and another giving what may be his final letter to a reluctant comrade.  Still less is offered about the Somalis, rebels or innocent civilians caught up in or between the firefight.  What I remember are faceless people scurrying across alleys, along rooftops, and in the shadows.


The Score Card

The Movie : 8

As we are informed in pseudo-documentary fashion before the movie proper gets under way, American special forces units were dispatched to Mogadishu in the summer of 1993 to remove Aidid and restore order.  On October 3, during what was expected to be a 30-minute operation, 140 soldiers approaching from the ground and by air, run into a perfect storm of resistance that went on for hours and resulted in 19 Americans and countless Somalis dead.  The movie follows the downing of the two helicopters and the attempts to rescue the crews that resulted in its spiraling casualties.


Image : 9/9

Despite that this title was one of Sony's earlier Blu-ray ventures on a mere single-layered disc, Black Hawk Down is one knockout DVD.  It was in its Superbit incarnation, and it is here again, only more so. After a grainy documentaryish intro, and once we tumble to Scott's high contrast, saturated color and contrast palette, we cannot but marvel at this jaw-dropping image. Bit rates tend to the upper 30s and low 40s.  A fine dust covers the image at all times which, even if not intended, helps to mitigate the digital effects that come later.  Dark areas tend to black further along the tonal scale than in a typical drama, but clearly this is the intent of Scott's production design (Pietro Scalia) and photography (Slawomir Idziak).  In case these chaps aren't exactly household names, by the way, Scalia's other credits include JFK, Stealing Beauty, Scott's Oscar winning Gladiator and, more recently, Memoirs of a Geisha (the only good reason to see this movie.)  Slawomir Idziak was the DP on several Kieslowski pieces, including La Double Vie de Véronique and Trois Couleurs: Bleu and some of the work for Dekalog; more recently, Idziak filmed Gattaca and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.  Not exactly chopped liver, n'est-ce pas!


Audio & Music : 10/9

As good as the image is, Sony’s uncompressed audio is even better.  Talk about Shock & Awe: Black Hawk Down is the ideal surround sound opportunity – even more than your average action or fantasy/adventure film because we are drawn in to its pretense to reality.  We feel with the soldiers and, in a different way, the innocent people caught between the U.S. and rebel forces.  The overpowering sound of helicopters such as the Black Hawk, and ordinance of every description are not simply cinematic effects, but stand-ins for live ammunition and the devastation it caused.  In its way, it brings home the consequences of such expeditions in a way that newsreel footage does not and cannot.  Hans Zimmer's music score is punctuation at its most primitive, and supports perfectly the mood and action, becoming absorbed into the audio mix like another piece of omnipresent artillery.


Operations : 9

Quick-loading, then Sony gets right to a menu, underscored by a driving music track.  Menu operations require no guide book to sort yourself out.

Extras : 6

Those of us that were hoping that Sony would bring over all the extras found on the 3-disc SD edition will be disappointed.  Most of all, we miss the History Channel's 100 minute documentary and Frontline's hour-long "Ambush in Mogadishu."  We do get the three commentaries: most absorbing is certainly the track by Task Force Ranger veterans – the guys that were there and knew the men depicted in the film by name, as if they were brothers, which they were.  The commentary by the author of the book, Mark Bowden, and the screenwriter, Ken Nolan, is interesting, not just to clarify how the former was adapted to the movie, but by virtue of the their team approach to the assignment.  The excellent 2.5 hour making-of documentary that is included is not to be missed, though it is not in HD.


Recommendation : 9

Black Hawk Down presents a relentless series of images of urban warfare, reminiscent of WWII documentary photography in its arbitrariness, its fear, grit and determination.  This Blu-ray edition is not to be missed for image and audio quality, heart-stopping action and strong performances by all concerned.

Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

April 12, 2008


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