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review added: 7/24/01



Black Hawk Down
2001 (2002) - Columbia TriStar

review by Adam Jones of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Black Hawk Down

Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/A+/C

Specs and Features

144 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.40:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at ???), Amaray keep case packaging, Black Hawk Down: On the Set featurette, theatrical trailers, filmographies, film themed menu screens with music, scene access (28 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1) and French (DD 2.0), subtitles: English, French, Chinese and Thai, Closed Captioned

It's nice to see Ridley Scott kicking cinematic ass again after falling off to the wayside for nearly a decade. It's almost as if his younger brother Tony was getting all the gigs and Sir Scott was sitting back, charging up the batteries and reading up to come flying out of the gate when the new century hit. In two years, Scott has made three films. You have Gladiator, a more than worthy successor to Braveheart. Then he turned Hannibal into an operatic vomitorium and pulled it off, for the most part (think what would have happened if someone else got a hold of the script, like say, Oliver Stone). And finally, you have Black Hawk Down, a relentless and flawlessly executed cinematic thunderball of a war movie.

In October 1993, the country of Somalia was engaged in brutal civil war. Ironically, the people suffering the most were actually civilians, not the soldiers or the greedy warlords who commanded them. Over 300,000 people fell victim to starvation and famine. The United States and the U.N. responded by shipping food and medical aid into Somalia in an attempt to alleviate the suffering. Somali warlords promptly seized these shipments to feed their soldiers instead of the civilians. So an elite joint force of American Rangers and Delta Force soldiers were sent into the extremely hostile capital city of Mogadishu, in hopes of capturing the two top lieutenants of renegade warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid. They had everything going for them: the element of surprise, manpower and the superior military strength to pull off the initiative. That is until two Black Hawk helicopters providing air support were shot down by Somali guerillas. The mission was estimated to take roughly an hour. But the U.S. Special Forces found themselves surrounded, outnumbered and engaged in a savage showdown that lasted until the next morning.

This film plays more like a documentary, based on the novel by Mark Bowden, and the characters we meet are fleshed out just enough before the mission goes awry. In a wise casting decision, nearly all the actors are recognizable, but no so much that they're distracting from the film. The principle cast includes Josh Hartnett (Pearl Harbor), Tom Sizemore (Heat and Saving Private Ryan), Eric Bana (Chopper and soon to be Bruce Banner in The Incredible Hulk), William Fichtner (Contact, Armageddon, The Perfect Storm) and young Obi-Wan Kenobi himself, Ewan McGregor. When these guys are finally down in the dirt, fighting for their lives, it's then that Scott unleashes visual and sonic fury. His camera is seemingly everywhere, capturing the action with an unflinching eye. RPG's (rocket-propelled grenades) are shot off like fireworks, some of them even impaling soldiers without detonating. A convoy of Humvees is pummeled endlessly by bullets and explosives as the soldiers try frantically to find a safe route out of the city. Ranger teams become separated. Meeting points are obscured. Delta Force teams are pinned down under constant gunfire. Somali guerillas are everywhere, from the rooftops and windows above to the streets below. If you thought the opening 25 minutes of Saving Private Ryan were rough, here you have firefights running almost thirty to forty minutes. Even more impressive is that they hold their intensity throughout, never becoming redundant or losing your interest. I have never seen a film maintain a degree of intensity for such a prolonged length of time.

Scott handles with ease the extremely complicated task of keeping up with who is where, what exactly is going on and what needs to be accomplished. Scott and editor Pietro Scalia have remarkably tied everything together, considering how many things are going on at once. Never does the viewer feel disoriented about what's happening. Instead of going for big dramatic moments that could easily taint a film like this, Scott lets the war scenes do the talking and his actors mostly react to what's going on around them. This makes the film all the more realistic. Be warned the violence in this movie is pretty harsh, progressively becoming more bloody and terrible as the fights grind on - especially during a grisly scene where a medic must operate on a soldier who has wounded his leg. But the realism of the documentary-style approach makes it tolerable to a certain point and Scott knows when to draw the line.

The anamorphic widescreen digital transfer on this DVD is excellent. The smoldering ruins of Mogadishu, colored with the sepia tones and chromatic grays of cinematographer Slawomir Idziak's compositions, virtually glow off the screen. Scott expertly uses the 2.40:1 aspect ratio to full advantage, utilizing every conceivable space of the frame. And if you don't have a surround sound system, you're doing this soundtrack a terrible disservice. With the Dolby Digital 51. track on this disc, you can still hear the battles long after the film is over. There's a reason why this film won the Oscar for Best Sound. In addition, Hans Zimmer has delivered a haunting eclectic score that ranks alongside his work for Gladiator and The Thin Red Line.

For a film with such high-priced talent, you would expect more than just an hour-long documentary as the only supplemental feature on this disc. Most of you should be aware, however, that Columbia TriStar is currently working on a much more fully-loaded, multi-disc special edition of this film, for DVD release later this year or early next year. Word is it will include audio commentary not only by the director, but also many of the REAL soldiers who participated in the actual events depicted on screen. As for this essentially movie-only edition, aside from the documentary all you get are some filmographies and two trailers. Good enough, I suppose, to whet your appetite for the bounty to come.

Black Hawk Down's goal is simple. You want deep, thought-provoking drama? Look elsewhere. You want a gritty, uncompromising war film that rattles your teeth, rakes your nerves and makes you feel like you're right there next to one of the guys fighting desperately for his life? Then give this disc a spin. It's quite an experience.

Adam Jones
adamjones@thedigitalbits.com




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