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Black Hawk Down

Sony Pictures // R // November 14, 2006
List Price: $28.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Brendan Surpless | posted November 22, 2006 | E-mail the Author

Let me come straight out here and say that I'm a huge fan of the work of Ridley Scott. His legendary films include Alien, Matchstick Men, Gladiator, and Blade Runner to name a few. His 2001 affair Black Hawk Down was a film that took me forever to see despite his directing. Simply put, the subject matter didn't really interest me. After receiving this Blu-Ray title, I figured this was finally my chance to see the film. What a mistake it was for me to miss this amazing film.

The story of the film, for those of you who are unfamiliar, tells the true story of a mission that took place in Somalia on October 3rd, 1993 where nearly 100 U.S.. Army Rangers, commanded by Captain Mike Steele (Jason Issac), were dropped by a helicopter in the city of Mogadishu to capture two lieutenants of a Somali warlord. This eventually leads to a huge fight between the 100 Rangers and hundreds of Somali gunmen featuring 2 downed Black Hawk choppers. In the end, 18 Americans lost their lives, 70 were wounded, and President Clinton pulled out troops within days (if only this would happen in Iraq). Scott was determined in making a film as humanly realistic possible. As we learned in one of the included commentary tracks with Mark Bowden, Scott worked closely to preserve as many details as he could get away with.

As the audience of culture, we are rarely given the true aspects of what war is like. After watching Black Hawk Down, one may easily have a concrete idea of what war was like for this soldiers. We follow the soldiers in a consistent manner that lets us know how they felt during the time period. It helped that Scott enlisted the facts about the war from real-life Task Force veterans (who provide an excellent talk during the third commentary track) giving a higher sense of reality from soldiers who have been there and can tell us exactly what war was like.

The cast is massive here. We have everyone from Josh Hartnett (Sgt. Matt Eversmann), Ewan McGregor (Specialist. John Grimes), Tom Sizemore (Lt. Col. Danny McKnight), William Fichtner (Sfc. Jeff Sanderson), and Eric Bana (Sfc. Norm Hooten) to name a few. All these big actors (possibly with the exception of Wiliam Fichtner at this time who is currently on Fox's Prison Break) helped tell a story that audiences could connect to in an easier manner. While this huge cast was convincing for the most part, I tend to find myself agreeing that the film would have worked on a more convincing level if Scott had chosen more unknown stars. Sure the film wouldn't have made as much money as it did, but the telling of the story would have been a bit more convincing.

Cinematography Slawomir Idziak used a sense of realism avoided the usual negatives that cinematographers use in most war films (colors that are way too bright for example). I loved how he gave each sequence a cold, grimy feel that, again, helped to add in the overall realism of the war. I love forward to his work on the upcoming 2007 Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Still despite the included massive list of famous stars, Black Hawk Down works on nearly all levels as it provides enough detail and truth (as the Task Force vets tell us) to give a sense of what it was like during this tumultuous time for these soldiers. Not the best war film ever that some declare, but easily going on the list of some of Scott's best work.


Arriving in a 1080p, MPEG-2 Encoded, 2:40:1 BD-50 dual layer disc, Black Hawk Down presents an image that looks pretty damn good.

All the varying trailers I've seen showcased a bright, desert filled image that signaled immediately a picture full of grain and over-saturated colors. Such isn't the case here as the image contains a visual one-two punch that Blu-Ray needed. Colors were, during the first 20-30 minutes, deep and dark making me fear that the whole film would be like this. Shortly after this, with a little appropriate grain mixed in, Black Hawk Down starts giving us that full 3-D image that we expect from an high-definition picture. Colors, from this point on, were bright, clear and crisp with vibrant oranges, deep blues, and dark blacks.

Vivid detail is also quite fantastic here. The little beads of sweat, dirt and blood on the soldier's faces can easily be made out giving us that real high-def picture. Backgrounds were impressive as well with many sequences containing great, pause-worthy sense of detail (check out the crash sequence and pause frame by frame. Great stuff).

The only slight problem I had that stops the video from being as utterly impressive as the included audio is that some of the video felt inconsistent in some areas. We had sequences were we had great, vibrant full colors that were followed by an immediate sequence of darker, hard to make out colors. While a majority of these sequences did occur during the troubled 20-30 minute beginning, I still felt this was a disappointment. Besides this, Sony has delivered a great transfer here.


The including uncompressed PCM 5.1 Audio Track is nothing short of demo worthy giving us a constant explosive audio that is sure to rock your socks off.

Clearly benefiting that Black Hawk Down won the Academy Award in 2003, this PCM 5.1 track is easily one of the best audio tracks I've heard on Blu-Ray out of the dozen or so titles I've taken a look at. Dynamic Range was magnificent creating a truly enveloping experience in my living room as bullets zipped and flew by my ears causing myself to jump in some sequences. Dialogue was clear for the most part arriving from the front channel while the rears blazed Hans Zimmer's rather impressive score with booming audio.

Surrounds are simply the best part here as the discrete effects were consistently working together with the film to, literally, try to stop our hearts with such impressive low-ends that I felt something in my stomach, and it wasn't the food I had eaten earlier. As I attempt to find a problem here, I've come to the realization that there isn't a single problem with the audio here. Everything is perfect, from the way the dialogue was eloquently mixed in with the sound effects to how simply clear and clean the overall experience was. What an experience.

Special Features

  • Audio Commentary with Director Ridley Scott and Producer Jerry Bruckheimer: Dominated by Scott, which was a good thing, we get to learn about the casting, film locales, and the production challenges Scott felt producing a war film. Scott also gives a bit of information on how he felt about real-life conflicts in the film. As a fan of Scott, I found this commentary very interesting despite Bruckheimer rarely speaking.
  • Audio Commentary with Novelist Mark Bowden and Screenwriter Ken Nolan: Bowden speaks to us on how he had to compress his wide story into a workable piece that could be made into a film. The interesting commentaries continued as Bowden was consistently upbeat always giving us information. Nolan speaks on what it was like working with Bowden closely for the film.
  • Audio Commentary with real-life Trask Force Ranger veterans: Certainly the commentary track, out of the available three, that will get the most spins due to the reality being heard. The participants give us the breakdown of what was realistic and what Scott had to shorten. Well worth a listen as these veterans broke themselves down and told us exactly how they felt.
  • The Essence of Combat: Making Black Hawk Down: Running at an amazing 151 minutes (longer than the film!), this documentary covers everything from pre-film 'boot camp' the actors went through, scoring with Hans Zimmer, interviews with the Task-Force veterans, and a lot of behind the scenes information. If you have the time after the three commentary tracks, check this one out.
  • Blu-Wizard: Introduced first on this release, Blu-Wizard for Sony is a new technology that, basically, is a way for the user to create the way they chose to view the supplements included on the disc. Included is the option to view the 'Essence of Combat' making of, six chapters and all. I suppose this piece of technology is good in a way that U-Control is for HD DVD as it shows the possible interactivity that Blu-Ray has. The actual feature had no problem playing on the Panasonic player nor in the newer PS3. A feature of this nature will definitely be cool down the road as it will allow consumers to pick their favorite features for demo. Right now though, Blu-Wizard, like HD DVD's U-Control, is in its infancy.

Closing Thoughts

Black Hawk Down, when compared to other war based films, succeeds on a level where others have failed as it presents a good enough interpretation of the events that took place. Sony has provided us with an all around great package with great video and audio that is just as good as Batman Begins was for HD DVD (read demo-worthy). The three included commentary tracks were interesting once through, but I don't imagine many listening to them more than once over. Sony's new Blu-Wizard, while still in its infancy, was a nice sign of what may be coming for Blu-Ray. Even though more features would have been welcome (considering the amount available), the power of the film and the dynamite audio track give this one a tag of Highly Recommended

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