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Ridley Scott
Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor, Tom Sizemore, Eric Bana, William Fichtner, Ewen Bremner, Sam Shepard
Ken Nolan

123 elite U.S. soldiers drop into Somalia to capture two top lieutenants of a renegade warlord and find themselves in a desperate battle with a large force of heavily-armed Somalis.
Box Office:
Budget: $92,000,000.
Opening weekend: $274,347 on 4 screens.
Domestic gross: $108,638,745.
Rated R

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
English PCM 5.1
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 144 min.
Price: $19.95
Release Date: 11/14/2006

• Audio Commentary with Director Ridley Scott and Producer Jerry Bruckheimer
• Audio Commentary with Author Mark Bowden and Screenwriter Ken Nolan
• Audio Commentary with Task Force Ranger Veterans MSgt. Matt Eversmann, Col. Tom Matthews (Ret.), Col. Danny McKnight (Ret.), and Col Lee Van Arsdale (Ret.)
• “The Essence of Combat: Making Black Hawk Down


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


Black Hawk Down [Blu-Ray] (2001)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 13, 2016)

For 2001’s Black Hawk Down, director Ridley Scott looked at a conflict that wasn’t officially a war, at least not for the participants on whom he focused. In the early Nineties, Somalia went through a civil war, and as a result, the country suffered from a famine, as warring parties would seize food shipments and not divert them to the citizens.

United Nations forces intervened to attempt to occupy the country and re-establish a more democratic form of government. Much of these efforts went toward the capture of Somali leader Mohamed Farah Aideed. On October 3, 1993, US Army Rangers sought to snag two of Aideed’s top leaders.

Black Hawk Down offers coverage of those events. We meet many of the Rangers involved and watch as the actions unfold. Initially, the forces believe the intervention will take only an hour or so, but when they encounter stiff resistance, problems develop.

One Army helicopter – a Black Hawk, hence the movie’s title – gets shot down, and behind their motto that “no one gets left behind”, the other soldiers do their best to retrieve all of their fallen comrades.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t go well. The planned brief action takes hours as the Somali resistance injures more and more men. The vast majority of Hawk concentrates on these actions, as we watch the grim tale unfold.

Hawk enjoys a solid pedigree. In addition to the talent of Scott behind the camera, mega-successful producer Jerry Bruckheimer works his magic on it as well. The movie also provides a slew of fine actors, as we find folks such as Tom Sizemore, Ewan McGregor, Sam Shepard, and Josh Hartnett, among many others.

Too many others, to be honest, as Hawk suffers from such a large cast that it loses focus. I often assert that war stories are best told when they focus on a small number of participants. These tales take on greater power when we more fully feel the loss and the pain. With a huge roster of folks, we can see the scope of the conflict more clearly, but conversely, we experience less of the human anguish.

Hawk definitely spreads itself too thin. The movie doesn’t attempt to cover all of the 100-plus US soldiers involved, of course, but it still concentrates on far too many of them. The film includes scads of semi-significant roles, and as a result, almost none of them stand out from the crowd.

Even though the soldiers’ names were written on their helmets, I still couldn’t really keep track of them. I often could only recall characters if I recognized the actor; if I didn’t already know the performer, I usually lost track of the personality.

Actually, that’s not totally true, for a couple of guys - Ranger Specialist Shawn Nelson (Ewen Bremner) and Sgt. First Class Norm "Hoot" Hooten (Eric Bana) – stood out to me even though I didn’t recognize the actors when I first saw the film. Nonetheless, they were exceptions to the rule.

While the lack of real character development bothers me, I wouldn’t say it causes the heaviest problems with Hawk. Instead, the movie’s odd ambivalence creates the most concerns.

When people see Bruckheimer’s name attached to a project, they assume it’ll be a rah-rah popcorn flick. I think Bruckheimer’s material offers greater subtlety than some believe, but I can’t offer much of an argument against that consensus.

Hawk clearly is supposed to be a grittier and more serious piece than the usual Bruckheimer fluff flick, and that’s part of the problem. Neither Bruckheimer nor Scott really seems willing to go all the way.

Of course, one could argue the same with Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan - even with all the film’s noted gore, it still suffered from some stereotypical Spielbergian sappiness at times.

Hawk dispenses with the jingoism often found in Bruckheimer productions, but it doesn’t seem quite able to take things to their appropriate extremes. Hawk wants to be gritty. Scott uses a semi-documentary style much of the time, and it exhibits occasional examples of graphic carnage, though it never approaches Ryan levels.

And that’s part of the problem. It feels like the filmmakers couldn’t decide if they wanted Hawk to be an “R” or a “PG-13” flick, and the tentative nature of the production harms it.

However, the issues don’t relate explicitly to the lack of significant buckets of blood. Instead, they come across more strongly via the film’s ambivalent take on its subject. Scott and Bruckheimer avoid the “hey hey, USA!” tone one might expect, but they also fail to provide any remote sense of balance between the conflict’s two sides.

Only one sad little scene tries to explain the Somali point of view, as captured pilot Mike Durant (Ron Eldard) chats with his abductor. This segment really feels tacked-on and gratuitous, and it actually compounds the movie’s absence of counterpoint.

Clearly Black Hawk Down focuses on a compelling and worthwhile subject, and at times, the movie becomes dynamic. However, as a whole I think it fails to become terribly engaging.

The movie kept me at a distance much of the time, and for a variety of reasons, I never really got involved in the story or the characters. Hawk can’t decide if it wants to be Apocalypse Now or The Rock, and the film suffers for it.

The Disc Grades: Picture B / Audio A- / Bonus A-

Black Hawk Down appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Though it came out during the format’s first year, the Blu-ray offered largely good visuals.

Sharpness worked pretty well. A few wider shots demonstrated a smidgen of softness, but those moments remained minor and fleeting, so the majority of the film looked accurate and concise. I saw no shimmering or jaggies, but some light edge haloes cropped up during the movie. These didn’t come across as dominant, but they created light distractions.

Print flaws seemed absent. As part of the production design, moderate to heavy grain showed up on occasion, but that was intentional. Otherwise the image lacked any source defects.

Hawk featured a heavily stylized palette. Most of the movie offered intense tans and greens, with an occasional splash of red or blue tossed in as well.

Despite the inherently unusual look of the film, I felt the disc replicated the tones quite nicely. The colors appeared distinct at all times. Black levels also came across as dense and rich, while shadow detail was appropriately thick but not excessively heavy. Despite a few minor concerns, the movie usually seemed well-reproduced.

I felt more pleased with the film’s Uncompressed PCM 5.1 soundtrack. While not on a par with something such as Saving Private Ryan, the audio did the job well.

The soundfield presented an active affair that created a nice sense of the setting. All five channels received a good workout, as the mix featured fine stereo separation for the music and integrated effects material well. Material blended together neatly and smoothly, and the different elements seemed appropriately localized as well.

The surrounds added a good sense of depth to the package, and they contributed quite a lot of unique audio during the battles. Since most of the movie consisted of fight scenes, this meant the rear speakers received a lot of work.

Audio quality appeared fine. Though much of it must have been looped, dialogue seemed clear and natural throughout the film. I heard no concerns related to intelligibility or edginess. Music was bright and distinct and showed nice fidelity; the mix of score and songs came across with robust and lively tones.

Effects seemed crisp and concise. Even with all the loud action onscreen, I never heard any distortion, and the material appeared accurate and vivid. Low-end response came across quite well, as the movie presented tight and taut bass. Overall, Black Hawk Down provided a satisfying soundtrack.

How did the Blu-ray compare to the 2003 Special Edition DVD? Audio showed a bit more kick and range, while visuals were tighter and more accurate. Even with the minor complaints I had about the transfer, this still offered an obvious step up in quality.

The Blu-ray includes some of the SE DVD’s extras, and we begin with three separate audio commentaries. The first presents director Ridley Scott and producer Jerry Bruckheimer. Recorded separately, Scott provides a running, screen-specific track, and it edits in Bruckheimer’s remarks at appropriate moments. The producer shows up only occasionally, as he adds a few notes about subjects like the history behind the movie, the logistics of working with the US military, and the film’s reception.

Not surprisingly, Scott heavily dominates the commentary. A veteran of many other tracks, this may well be Scott’s best, as he covers virtually every appropriate topic under the sun. I can’t hope to mention them all, but he includes matters like casting, effects and action set pieces, the facts of the real incident, his directorial style and choices, and location shooting.

Scott remains engaging and informative at all times and really brings a sense of energy to the piece. Scott fills us in on a vast number of subjects and does so well in this terrific commentary.

Next we get a track from author Mark Bowden and screenwriter Ken Nolan, both of whom sit together for their running, screen-specific piece. As one might expect, Bowden mostly discusses the real situations that the film depicts, and he also remarks upon liberties taken by the production. Nolan fills most of the track’s space as he gives us his perspective.

Nolan helps provide the audience’s viewpoint, as he still seems excited to have been part of this major undertaking. He chats about how he based his script on Bowden’s book and other issues related to his text, but mostly Nolan offers anecdotes from the set.

Taken individually, most of these tales fail to tell us a lot, but cumulatively they offer a fun picture of the production. Though it seems less stellar than Scott’s chat, the writers’ track remains consistently lively and entertaining.

Finally, we find a discussion with Task Force Ranger Veterans MSgt. Matt Eversmann, Col. Tom Matthews (Ret.), Col. Danny McKnight (Ret.), and Col Lee Van Arsdale (Ret.). All four men were recorded together for their running, moderately screen-specific discussion. A fascinating chat, the veterans give us their own perspective on the real events and their depiction in the movie.

They seem frank about what happened and they convey their thoughts in a concise and involving manner. The commentary rarely slows as they give us lots of valuable information and present it well. On a disc with three strong tracks, this one might be the best of the bunch.

We also find a documentary called The Essence of Combat: Making Black Hawk Down. Actually, as depicted here, we get six separate featurettes that combine to create the overall program. These run between 17 minutes, 55 seconds and 30 minutes for a total of two hours, 31 minutes and 20 seconds of material.

Each of the separate programs uses the same format, as they include a few movie clips but mostly feature interviews and footage from behind the scenes. We get information from director Scott, author Mark Bowden, screenwriter Ken Nolan, producer Jerry Bruckheimer, actors Ewan McGregor, Eric Bana, Jason Isaacs, Ian Virgo, Orlando Bloom, Gabriel Casseus, Sam Shepard, Josh Hartnett, Hugh Dancy, Jeremy Piven, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Johnny Strong, Ron Eldard, Brian Van Holt, Tom Sizemore, Ewen Bremner, Brendan Sexton III, William Fichtner, Matthew Marsden, Michael Roof, Kim Coates, Steven Ford, Razaaq Adoti and Tom Hardy, military advisor/associate producer Harry Humphries, Ranger Public Affairs Officer Major Bill Butler, extras casting Billy Dowd, costume designer Sammy Howarth-Sheldon, executive producer Branko Lustig, MSgt. Matt Eversmann, special effects supervisor Neil Corbould, stunt coordinator Phil Neilson, composer Hans Zimmer, visual effects supervisor David Jones, visual effects supervisor Tim Burke, Task Force Operations Officer Major Brian Bean, Task Force Commander Lt. Col. Kurt Potts, and military consultants SFC John Collett (ret.), Col. Tom Matthews (ret.) and Col. Lee Van Arsdale (ret.)

”Getting It Right” covers the origins of the book, its adaptation and early drafts, condensation issues, and attempts by the actors to form accurate characters. “Crash Course” depicts the actors’ training as well as some encounters with the real personnel who went through the incidents in the film. “Battlefield Morocco” looks at the shoot itself and includes elements about local crew, extras, costumes, location challenges, accuracy in filming, pyrotechnics, and Scott’s methods. “Hymn to the Fallen” examines the creation and recording of the score. “Digital Warriors” looks at the film’s visual effects, with a particular emphasis on computer generated imagery. Finally, “After Action Report” takes a little historical perspective on the events and talks of the movie’s legacy, especially in regard to the memories of the soldiers who fought.

While the interviews include some good information, “Essence” works well mostly because of its behind the scenes footage. The program presents a surfeit of excellent footage that really helps give us a feel for the shoot.

I’m not wild about the format, as the conglomeration of featurettes almost inevitably must seem somewhat disjointed. Nonetheless, “Essence” covers a great variety of subjects that make it a pretty complete examination of the film’s creation, and the candid footage adds a lot to its success. The show details the production well and enhances the project.

The Blu-ray drops many features from the 2003 DVD – far too many for me to list. Their absence disappoints – the SE was one of the most impressive DVDs ever made, which is why I placed it third on my list of its year’s top 10 releases.

While I wish the Blu-ray included everything from the 2003 DVD, I do feel pleased with what we get. Yeah, I’d like all that earlier material, but with three good commentaries as well as a long and informative documentary, we still get a nice array of extras here.

As a film, Black Hawk Down doesn’t do much for me. The flick has its moments and seems generally interesting, but it never really comes together and delivers the moving, visceral experience I expected. The Blu-ray provides mostly solid visuals with excellent audio and a mix of highly informative bonus materials. Serious fans will need to keep the 2003 DVD for its supplements, but for others this Blu-ray becomes the one to own.

To rate this film visit the original review of BLACK HAWK DOWN