Plot: What’s it about?
A mission to capture a Somalian warlord, Mohamed Farrah Aidid, was supposed to be a routine one, a mere half hour or so excursion. Aidid and his forces had been a cancer to the people of Somalia, stealing shipments of food and supplies, shipments that were intended to keep the locals alive. Instead, the shipments were taken by the warlords and as a result, hundreds of thousands of people died of starvation. So action needed to be taken, in order to restore order to the area and get relief to those still alive. As such, a team of elite Army Rangers was dispatched to the capital city of Mogadishu. The men were transported in by helicopter and led by Capt. Mike Steele (Jason Isaacs), with orders to hunt down some of Aidid’s lieutenants. But the mission didn’t go off as planned, as two Black Hawk helicopters were shot down, which was just the start to a horrific, drawn out battle in Mogadishu. The enemy forces numbered in the hundreds and were well armed, so gun battles were intense and explosive. Those that survived the harsh arrival found themselves trapped, as the forces of the warlords surrounded them. A number of additional problems also arose, ones which complicated the arrival of more soldiers and supplies. As the enemy closes in, the survivors hold firm, but time is starting to run out…
This is not your typical war movie, as it doesn’t deal as much with personal stories, emotional content, or grandiose heroics, just the sheer chaos of the conflict. This seems to fit director Ridley Scott’s talents well, as he is a very visual director and here, he can use the madness to create some memorable sights. The film does have some personal storylines within the main premise, but the movie switches between them so often and covers so many characters, not enough is spent with them to develop much. You’ll still find some emotion in Black Hawk Down, especially since this was based on real life events, but this isn’t a Saving Private Ryan kind of movie, it tends to focus on the action and visuals. And with Scott and producer Jerry Bruckheimer present, you know those elements are in full effect and well crafted. The film is packed with massive explosions, intense gun battles, and other impact elements, all of which are realistic and effective. As far as creation of a tense, believable war atmosphere, Black Hawk Down is excellent. And of course, I should mention that this movie took home two Oscars, one for Best Editing and the other for Best Sound. But without sufficient emotional presence and character development, Black Hawk Down is unable to rise above its flaws. I found it to be a solid popcorn flick in all respects, but its just too thin on the storylines. Even so, it is worth a look and since Columbia has issued this generous Deluxe Edition, with three discs of content, this release is more than recommended.
This movie moves between storylines and highlights numerous performers, so there isn’t a lead, at not in the typical sense. But if I had to pick someone, it would be Josh Hartnett, who seems to pop up more often than the others. If you’ve seen some of Hartnett’s other performances, you know that isn’t the best news. I have never been much of a fan of his work, but in a few films, Hartnett has been solid and shown potential. But he has slid back down since those, to his usual effortless performances. Hartnett injects minimal emotion into his role and in truth, he doesn’t even seem like he’s awake half the time. That is terrible in this case, since he is in the middle of an intense battle and should be alert & responsive. So whenever he is on screen, the movie tends to grind down and be less effective. It picks back up again when the movie switches focus again, but Hartnett is a real drag on Black Hawk Down. So perhaps if someone else would have been cast in his role, this could have been that much better. Other films with Hartnett include The Virgin Suicides, Pearl Harbor, 40 Days and 40 Nights, Here on Earth, and Halloween H20. The cast also includes William Fichtner (The Perfect Storm, Strange Days), Eric Bana (The Castle, The Hulk), and Tom Sizemore (Natural Born Killers, Bringing Out the Dead).
Video: How does it look?
Black Hawk Down is presented in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen. I’ve never seen the original release, so I am unsure if this is the same visual presentation, but I do know that this treatment looks terrific. Of course, the filmmakers used some special visual techniques to create a dark, gritty style, so don’t expect a pristine presentation. The visuals have a worn, dirty texture, so grain is enhanced and colors are muted, but keep in mind, this is intentional. So as far as this transfer goes, the image looks just as it should look and while that means some rough visuals, the vision of the filmmakers has been preserved here. The hues have a dark, dull presence, while black levels are stark, so detail is consistent. This is a hard transfer to judge on the usual scale, but the visuals reflect the theatrical presentation, so all is well here.
Audio: How does it sound?
As I mentioned before, this movie took home an Oscar for Best Sound, so I expected nothing less than an elite level audio presentation. In the end, the included Dolby Digital 5.1 option almost earns our highest score, but it is a shade off from that level. It has all the power to burn and handles more reserved scenes well, but there’s a small level of refinement that is absent, something I just can’t put my finger on. Even so, this mix is dynamic and effective, so I can’t imagine anyone being let down here. The surrounds pulse, rumble, explode, and blast, thanks to the constant war atmosphere in Black Hawk Down. So your system will be put through its paces throughout this movie, as the audio never lets up, save for a few calm moments. The music has a lot of life also, while the dialogue remains clean and audible, despite the immense amount of background noise and explosive content. I do wish Columbia could have given us a DTS option, but this soundtrack is so good, I can’t complain too much. This disc also includes French and Spanish language tracks, as well as subtitles in English, Spanish, French, Chinese, and Thai.
Supplements: What are the extras?
The original release of Black Hawk Down was thin on supplements, but now we have this mammoth three disc Deluxe Edition. The first disc is home to some talent files, as well as a total of three audio commentary tracks. Up first we have director Ridley Scott and producer Jerry Bruckheimer, then author Mark Bowden and screenwriter Ken Nolan, and in the final track, we have some Task Force Rangers. The first track covers the production itself, how it came to be and how it all unfolded. Scott offers his usual solid comments, while Bruckheimer also proves to be a good resource in this session. I found this to be the best of the tracks, though the other two also have a lot of worthwhile content involved. So if you want to know about this project from all angles, make sure to listen to all three sessions.
The second disc focuses on the production elements, starting with The Essence of Combat, a two and a half hour documentary on how Black Hawk Down was brought to the screen. I have to think this is the most extensive piece of behind the scenes material on DVD and beyond that, second only to the comprehensive documentary found on the laserdisc edition of The Frighteners. A huge amount of insight can be gleaned from this piece, as it deals with every facet of production, from conception to completion. After endless promotional kits and fluff featurettes, a supplement like this one is most appreciated, one that shows us the real world behind the scenes. If you’re not that interested in the material however, things can become a bit slow, but in a piece this extensive, that is to be expected. But there’s even more goodies here, as we also have a selection of deleted & alternate scenes, complete with optional audio comments. You can also browse some storyboards, Ridleygrams, and title design explorations, all of which also include optional audio comments, to add additional insight. This second disc also includes Bruckheimer’s photo album, a brief production design featurette, and additional still photos.
But hold on, as a third disc yields even more bonus materials, such as The True Story of Black Hawk Down. This program is from The History Channel and as such, deals with the real life events that inspired this motion picture. I love the inclusion of pieces like this, as if you don’t the real story, you can learn all about the actual events. This not only increases your knowledge of an important historical event, but also enhances the experience of the movie itself. This piece puts a real face on the men involved and paints the immense level of danger involved, as well as the political waves the event caused. Another such piece is Frontline: Ambush in Mogadishu, which once again, covers the real events behind the movie. A mission timeline is next, which gives an overview of how the events unfolded. I am really glad Columbia includes these elements, as they add a lot to the release and help put the events in better perspective. A special multi-angle sequence is found on this disc also, once again with optional audio comments. This disc also includes a number of informative question & answer sessions, a music video by Denez Prigent & Lisa Gerrard, a selection of poster concepts, some television spots, and the film’s theatrical trailer.