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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Black Hawk Down - Superbit Edition
Black Hawk Down - Superbit Edition
Columbia/Tri-Star // R // June 15, 2004
List Price: $26.96 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by David Blair | posted June 11, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
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A U D I O
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The Movie

In 1993 Somalia underwent a vicious civil war led by warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid. Aidid prevented food from getting to the people of Somalia resulting in the deaths of over 300,000 innocent people. The United States, with the help of the United Nations, brought food into the country to help restore order. When order was restored the U.S. pulled out and Aidid began slaughtering all U.N. and U.S. personnel still remaining as well as stealing food meant for the starving Somalians. The situation became an epidemic and the U.S. decided Aidid and his advisors needed to be taken out.

Black Hawk Down is based on the true events of a U.S. led military mission that went horribly wrong, leaving 18 soldiers dead and 84 wounded. It's a gritty war movie that does not have a feel-good ending, nor at any time does it lift your spirits. It is raw, gruesome, and a fairly accurate interpretation of what our soldiers went through when the "stuff" hit the fan.

I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, despite the nightmares that ensued after watching it the first time. This movie hit a little too close to home as my brother was a member of the Marines Special Forces back when the movie was released. My brother endured locations such as Kosovo, Afganistan, and Iraq, and there wasn't a single time I didn't fear for his life. The horrific realism of Black Hawk Down made me realize that any situation, no matter how routine, could quickly turn into a blood bath. To this day my mother still cannot finish watching this movie.

This is the third DVD release of Black Hawk Down and in some respects it is the best. And by "best" I mean in terms of video and audio quality. Naturally, this being a Superbit title, there are no extras, no audio commentaries, and no animated menus. This formula is to make room for the increased video bit rate and the Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS audio soundtracks. Most of the time (but not always) the increased bit rate allows the picture more room to breath, (by means of less compression) and helps clean up video clarity in the process. Sometimes the improvements are drastic and other times it's minute. In the case of Black Hawk Down, it's minute. (See the Video section below for more details.)

However the big story here with this release is the inclusion of a DTS audio track. The two previous releases did not include a DTS track so I don't doubt there a lot of audiophiles licking their chops to get a hold of this release. And while the audio soundtrack may not be reference grade, such as it is in Saving Private Ryan or The Return of the King, the DTS track is a significant improvement over the Dolby Digital soundtrack of old. (See Audio section below for more details.)

So is the Superbit version worth the upgrade? That depends. If you own the original DVD release and you are a diehard fan of the movie, then yes, the slight improvement in video quality and the superior DTS audio track makes this upgrade worth the effort. However, if you already own the tremendous (yet pricier) 3-disc Deluxe Edition, then the upgrade may not be justifiable. The reason being, the Deluxe Edition comes with a dizzying array of quality extras that make it a "must have" for true fans of the film. For those people I would only suggest buying the Superbit version if you are a hardcore video and audiophile and have money to burn. If you're neither, feel confident that your current edition is still the best in terms of overall presentation.


The DVD

Video:
Black Hawk Down is presented in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is the best looking edition to be released to date, but not by much. This is because the original transfer on the two previous DVD's was truly excellent. I'd go so far as to say that unless you're watching on a large front projection video screen (90 inches or wider), it would be impossible to tell the difference. Both versions have noticeable edge enhancement but it's very slight and is only visible surrounding text, and both versions have a noticeable grainy look, although I'm certain the director intended much of this. Other than that, these are near perfect video transfers.

To me the Superbit version seemed just a tad bit clearer than the previous release. Also, colors seemed a little (and I mean "little") more rich and lively. However this is just my interpretation and it is entirely subjective. And while I do have better than 20/20 vision, others may find no noticeable differences at all. In short, if you're looking for a dramatic improvement, don't look here. The difference is so subtle that it's nearly nonexistent.

Audio:
Like all Superbit titles, Black Hawk Down comes with a Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS audio tracks. Both soundtracks are awesome, giving your eardrums a pummeling when the fighting gets hairy, but the star of the day is the first-ever inclusion of a DTS track.

Most of the time DTS tracks hold a slight advantage (if any) over the Dolby Digital track. However this time the difference was more apparent. Listening to them on their own in their entirety you'd never know there was a difference. However, toggling back and forth between the two reveals a different story. The DTS track was noticeably cleaner, offering crisper highs and more distortion free lows. Whizzing bullets sounded more realistic and less muffled, and dialogue seemed easier to understand. The difference can be described as if a subtle filter was degrading the sound of the Dolby Digital track, making it sound murky.

Again, if you listen to the Dolby Digital track in its entirety you'd think it sounded phenomenal. It's only when you toggle back and forth do you notice the difference in clarity. That is why unless you are a true audio and videophile, the upgrade to this Superbit edition is not worth the money spent, especially if you own the fantastic 3-disc Deluxe Edition.

Extras:
Superbit DVD's utilize all disc space for the sole purpose of video and audio excellence at the cost of losing space normally reserved for extra features. This ensures the highest possible quality for picture and sound currently available on the DVD format.


Final Thoughts:
Black Hawk Down is a tremendous movie that is almost too real for the sake of its audience. It's graphic, depressing, and generates anger toward the events that happened to those unfortunate soldiers in Somalia in 1993. But the star-filled cast and first-rate direction makes this simply a "must see" for war movie buffs.

If you are a hardcore video and audiophile and thirst for the very best in DVD quality, then this Superbit edition is for you. However, if subtle improvements in an already spectacular video transfer and a DTS audio soundtrack are not that important to you, the 3-disc Deluxe Edition is a better choice, leaving you much more satisfied in the end. Recommended.

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