Black Hawk Down
Columbia/Tri-Star // R // $27.98 // June 11, 2002
Review by Aaron Beierle | posted June 6, 2002
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"Black Hawk Down", the latest film from director Ridley Scott, is adapted from journalist Mark Bowden's riveting and meticulously researched non-fiction bestseller of the same name. The book focused on the 1993 mission by U.S. troops to take two of warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid's key lieutenants. US forces were attempting to stop the warlords, who were stealing food meant for the starving people of the country. The military forces thought that the mission should take around an hour and that the troops would be back to base by dark.

They did not count on the fact that a nightmare would await them on the ground. When the the troopers enter the area, the mission quickly becomes a complete disaster. Somali militia are awaiting the forces and are armed - the troops quickly find themselves surrounded on all sides and being fired upon by an increasingly large army. The situation becomes worse with each and every passing second - soon, two helicopters have been shot down. What was originally going to take an hour eventually stretches into the night. By the end of the battle a day later, 18 soldiers and 1,000 Somali were killed.

The film's opening 35 minutes is devoted first to offering a very brief introduction to the situation currently going on within the country before begining to offer slight introductions to the characters. At 40 minutes in, the troops are dropped into battle and all hell breaks loose. The film, from that point on, is essentially the intensity of the opening of "Saving Private Ryan" extended for nearly two hours; there is no break and the film's scenes of battle are extremely intense, shocking, horrific and terrifying.

The film does not develop the characters intensely, but the actors do provide satisfactory enough performances to make many of the characters at least distinct. I can't say that I've ever liked a performance from Josh Hartnett, but his portrayal of idealistic Sgt. Matt Eversmann is effective and emotional - far better than anything he's done in past films. Ewan McGregor, as a typist sent into battle, is also superb - with the exception of an American accent that's not great (although not distracting, either). Australian actor Eric Bana, Tom Sizemore, William Fichtner, Ron Eldard and others are also very good in their roles.

The film doesn't look at the politics and background of the situation with the kind of detail that the book went into. The film, as is, does not really have the time or place to insert discussion of the background, but adding some additional facts and other information into the opening scenes might have helped. I continue to think about the opening, which could have been handled better and provided a more effective and detailed mix of character development and background before the battle started. I wouldn't have minded another 15 or 20 minutes added to the opening to add more facts, background and character moments.

Technically, the film is an impressive effort by all involved, from excellent (Oscar-winning, in fact) editing by Scott's "Gladiator" editor Pietro Scalia, beautiful and haunting cinematography by Slavomir Idziak (I still think it's ridiculous that the cinematographer wasn't at least nominated for an Oscar for his work in 1997's "Gattaca") and remarkable production design. Hans Zimmer's exotic and intense score is highly effective - tense, uneasy, fierce and sorrowful. The film is obviously a big-budget effort from producer Jerry Bruckheimer; this certainly doesn't seem like one of the producer's efforts and it's certainly far better than the last picture he was involved with, "Pearl Harbor".

"Black Hawk Down" is a ferocious and powerful portrayal of the nightmarish battle that occured on this October afternoon in 1993. The film is effective, intense and frightening. While it would have been even stronger had it provided more background and character depth, it's still a haunting and emotional portrayal of men who fought to leave none of their fellow soldiers behind.


VIDEO: "Black Hawk Down" is presented by Columbia/Tristar in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture quality, while not quite flawless, is often simply amazing. What tiny flaws there are don't keep this presentation from being, in my opinion, reference quality. Sharpness and detail are beyond exceptional; I've seen presentations with excellent depth and detail before, but this picture often boasts a very remarable three-dimensional feel to the image.

The print used is nothing short of pristine, looking dazzlingly clear and crisp. The film grain present is intentional and doesn't take away from the experience, only adding to the visuals. The only problem that I noticed was that very slight edge enhancement appeared during a couple of occasions. No pixelation or other faults were noticed.

The film's desaturated color palette remained well-rendered throughout, looking flawless. Overall, this is a really outstanding transfer from the studio that's just short of perfection.

SOUND: "Black Hawk Down" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. While it's rather strange that a DTS 5.1 edition is not included, the Dolby Digital presentation is still quite excellent. To compare the film's Oscar-winning sound design is somewhat difficult. As enveloping and detailed as this film's soundtrack is, I still find the soundtracks of such films as "U-571" or sound designer Gary Rydstrom's work on "Saving Private Ryan" more immersive and remarkable.

Still, the sound for "Black Hawk Down" is highly agressive and very dynamic. Surrounds contributed a great deal during much of the movie, whether for sound effects during the battle scenes or for Zimmer's score. Strong bass is both heard and felt during the film's many intense battle sequences. Sound effects, Zimmer's score and the film's dialogue are all crisp and clear throughout.

MENUS: The studio has provided basic main and sub-menus that still use film-themed images well, while Zimmer's score plays in the background.

EXTRAS: A very good 25-minute behind the scenes documentary is included, along with trailers for "Spider Man" and "The One". The studio has already noted that a Special Edition is in the works for the near future.

Final Thoughts: "Black Hawk Down" is a ferocious and powerful film that puts the viewer into the middle of the events that occured in Somalia during a nearly 24-hour period in October of 1993. Columbia/Tristar's DVD edition provides exceptional audio and video quality, although nothing much in the way of supplements. Those who enjoyed the film should purchase this DVD edition in the meantime, as the Special Edition still has no confirmed dates and is still in the works. Those who haven't seen in the film should check the DVD out as a rental. I'd recommend author Bowden's remarkably detailed and riveting book to everyone, as well.

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