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Black Hawk Down

review by Zach B.

 

 

Rating: R (Intense, realistic, graphic war violence and for language)

Running Time: 144 minutes

Starring: Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor, Tom Sizemore, Eric Bana, William Fichtner, Ewen Bremner and Sam Shepard

Screenplay by: Ken Nolan
Based on the book by: Mark Bowden

Directed by: Ridley Scott

 

Studio: Columbia/Tri-Star

Retail Price: $27.96

Features: "On The Set" Featurette, Filmographies, Bonus Trailers

Specs: 2.40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Surround, English Subtitles, French Subtitles, Chinese Subtitles, Thai Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selection (28 Scenes)

Released: June 11th, 2002

 

 

In October 1993, dozens of United States Army rangers went into the foreign city of Mongadishu in attempts to capture two lieutenants linked to a Somalian warlord. All of this led to a huge scale war, two Black Hawk helicopters going down in the city streets and bonds between men about doing the right thing, helping one another out, doing their part in the war and leaving no man behind.

2001 showed off a number of impressive movies, each with great directors and amazing visuals to tell the respected stories. While I was quite happy Ron Howard was awarded an Oscar® for his efforts directing "A Beautiful Mind," I personally wanted Ridley Scott to win. Scott, who I think has directed some of the greatest and most interesting movies in the past 25 years, was in full game with "Black Hawk Down," only reinforcing one thing I already knew: Ridley Scott is a directing genius.

I don't know how he did it, but somehow he has done it. Ridley Scott condensed a war that last a few hours under a day into a mere two and a half hours. The point is that it's all cohesive and all of it does work. To direct a movie like "Black Hawk Down" must have been quite frustrating, let alone a daunting, challenging and amazing task. You really have to admire someone like Scott for pulling it all off, and that it's quite breathtaking to watch. Even though it is Hollywood entertainment, it more or less pits you into the Somalian war.

Ridley Scott has the skill and talent to pull something like "Black Hawk Down" off, and it's quite a spectacular vision to watch. He has essentially re-created something so brutal yet painfully realistic in a majestic cinematic form. So much of "Black Hawk Down" is technical. Given, this may be one of those movies that emphasis technology advancements over the main story, but it's still intense, thrilling and bold to watch. Despite Scott's amazing work, a lot are sure to take it as simply yet another mindless Bruckheimer action film. There are some amazing shots to behold that had me in awe of how rich and fulfilling they happen to be.

While I do admit I at times got a little lost watching the story, I suppose Scott captures the frenziness of war in that respect. Longtime Scott edtior Pietro Scalia pieces together many of Scott's wondrous, forceful shots into an epic canvas that flows naturally and willingly (there's no question why this movie won an Oscar® in this department). Scott really brought the whole war to life in such fine fashion and in your average epic running time movie length. On another technical note, the film's sound department has also done amazing work (one team one an Oscar® for the work).

People have made comparisons between "Black Hawk Down" and another certain war movie classic, "Saving Private Ryan." In some ways they are quite alike dealing with themes about "leaving no man behind" and their jaw-dropping realistic, gory battle scenes. In contrast though, they are quite different. While Ryan sure did have a lot of great action, the major emphasis, in pure Spielberg nature, was the story and the audience questioning the worth of each unique character - "Was it worth it for several guys to save one?" all with a war backdrop that worked incredibly well.

The focus of "Black Hawk Down" is very different. I would say that 75%-80% of the movie plays out a lot like the key, memorable opening scene from "Saving Private Ryan." This is one movie that is not for the squeamish. There is a lot of violence, a lot of gore and a lot disturbing images. Still, the visuals and amazing stuntwork do make quite an impact on the audience, giving the tone the movie wants to tell: war is sad and leads to pain and suffering directly and indirectly.

Ken Nolan adapted the screenplay from Mark Bowden's award-winning book. Nolan offers some nice dialogue and a fine adaptation of the book, giving us the key points of October 1993. A lot of people have criticized Nolan's screenplay in that the movie fails to develop its characters, builds upon them and create identities for them. Personally, I think that's the whole point. "Black Hawk Down" isn't a story about about United States soldiers, its about the war itself and the situations the characters are put through. In a servicable war, thousands (and for those grand scale ones, millions) of people fight. You don't know all their back stories and all their names.

What "Black Hawk Down" does is introduce us to the key players and puts them through the situations. Yes, a lot of war movies tend to be about certain characters and what they must go through, growing the foundation all of that has.. But I believe many critics and audiences missed the point of "Black Hawk Down" in that it is truly about the war itself, not the characters themselves. In any war, people play a microscopic size when you put things in the correct perspective.

The ensemble acting in the film is also terrific. Everyone here offers solid, realistic and highly charged performances with pure emotion as well as solid deliveries, giving each character something distinct (even if you must argue they're not fleshed out, you can't deny that they're all different). Josh Hartnett, Tom Sizemore, Eric Bana, Ewan McGregor, William Fichtner and the strong Sam Shepard, among others, do solid work in the film.

While I found "Black Hawk Down" slow sometimes storywise and not up to par fully with the story being told, there is no question in my mind that this is one of the most technically impressive movies I have ever seen. Still, I would have prefer the movie to go more into the political intrigue of both Somalia and the United States, and perhaps more background in some other areas. Either way though, if you're into the war genre or just like to be impressed, "Black Hawk Down" is a must see and is a tour-de-force showing why Ridley Scott is one of the great visionaries in the entertainment industry. This is certainly one of the best war movies I've had the pleasure of watching, as it fully captures what war is really about.

 

Presented in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen, "Black Hawk Down" looks terrific. The gritty colors of the Somalian streets, the paled out deserted areas and sleek army bases are brought to full life on this transfer. Colors are rich, bold and deeply saturated, giving off an amazing three-dimensional look that pops right off the screen. It almost feels like you're watching all of this right in front of your eyes. The reds of the gore, the sandy areas and all the little colors are fully realized here. Fleshtones are some of the best I've ever seen on DVD transfer, giving off a perfect look. Detail is downright amazing as well. You can see the people in the streets. The sweat on characters' faces. Just every little thing is here and commendable. It's really breathtaking how great this transfer looks.

While there is a lot to love here, this transfer is near-perfect. Unfortuantly, a few tiny things keep it from being purely reference quality. There's a good deal of shimmering to be found, and some pretty slight edge enhancment. It's a little grainy too, but I believe that's the intended look of the film, as it certainly does fit. You probably won't notice, but there's a speck or two to be found on the print. Still, no matter what, this is an outstanding visual presentation of a truly visual movie. This will go down as one of the best live-action transfer for 2002 in my book.

 

While there is no DTS, the English 5.1 track is quite impressive. You'd probably expect this to be a surround fest, and that's exactly what it is. The 5.1 mix is incredibly aggressive, and given the film's constant action, there's little room to breathe. These sounds will certainly shake your speakers and your room. Your subwoofer will be constantly used and this is the .1 LFE's time in its prime, so enjoy it. The surrounds here are very well mixed, as you'll feel you'll being shot at every angle.

The gun triggers being pressed, shots going off, choppers flying overhead, doors slamming shot and the climatic battle all will pump everything out especially. A fury of surrounds is presented here, and this will surely be enjoyed by a lot of you (especially those of you who love showpieces for your kick ass home theaters). This is war, and the sounds here clearly represent that. I would say the centerpiece of this surround dish are when the black hawk choppers go down... very nice stuff here. The fidelity is quite high here and the dynamics are overly strong, which is always a fantastic thing.

Despite all the action, there's a wonderful balance to this mix. Dialogue is very easy to hear and rather crisp, and no other sounds interfere or get in the way of the others. The songs played out throughout the movie are nicely presented through the channels, while the very deep Hans Zimmer score is also mixed with elegance. Overall, there's a lot to enjoy here and it's a very stunning, fitting and truly captivating presentation. Also included are subtitles in Chinese, French, Thai and English, English closed captions and a French Dolby Surround track if you need them.

 

Not much, but you probably know that Ridley Scott loves special editions. You probably also know a special edition of this fine film is due out later in 2002. Still, if you need it now, here's what you get:

On The Set: Black Hawk Down is a fine featurette that's cut above the usual promotional set-ups. It's in non-anamorphic widescreen (grr) and has clips from the movie, on-set the footage and a load of interviews with Josh Hatnett, Ridley Scott, Jerry Bruckheimer, Tom Sizemore, Ewan McGregor and much more. The cast and crew actually give heartfelt interviews, talking about the story, the characters and what it all means to them. A very nice way to spend twenty-four minutes if you like the movie.

Rounding the rest off are Filmographies of the cast and crew and Theatrical Trailers - one for "Spider-Man" and the other for "The One," both in anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1. Oddly, there's not one for "Black Hawk Down."

 

"Black Hawk Down" is a fine war drama that won't appeal to everyone, but if you can sti through it, it's quite a rewarding filmwatching experience. This DVD edition has an amazing presentation of the film with a wonderful transfer and aggressive 5.1 mix in English. The extras aren't much, but that's okay seeing how a special edition is due out later in 2002. Unless you can't wait and don't care for extras, you can snag yourself this edition right now.