Black Hawk Down, the Deluxe Edition, on DVD
Though we dont condone studios releasing numerous versions
of movies on DVD (especially a mere year apart), we cant deny that this
is one of the most extensive sets ever produced.
Spread over three discs, there are more extras here than you can
shake a stick at.
Ridley Scott's followup to his multi-Oscar winning
Gladiator is a timely tribute to
America's men in uniform. And this is pleasantly surprising, coming as it does
from liberal Hollywood.
Based on a true event while the US was participating in
UN-sanctioned actions in Somalia during the early 1990's, it's the tale of a
group of soldiers on duty in Mogadishu whose supposed half hour mission to
capture some high ranking aides to warlord Muhammed Farrah Aidid goes
hopelessly wrong after two of their Blackhawk helicopters are shot down.
The soldiers are stranded in the hostile streets, forced to fend
for themselves against Aidid supporters armed with a pretty good selection of
deadly ordnance - and who are fighting to the death for a cause in which they
(rightly or wrongly, and the filmmakers take no sides) believe.
The film is based on author Mark Bowden's book, and director
Scott's riveting film features a sharp ensemble cast performing in some very
authentic battle sequences that, if it weren't for their obvious production
values and Hollywood stars, almost feels like a documentary. This isn't
surprising; Scott's movies are generally very rich and textured visually and
aurally, and Black Hawk Down puts us right into the action and makes us want to
duck for cover along with the US servicemen.
The ordeal stretches through the night, with relief finally coming
early the next day - but not before some twenty soldiers were lost in the
action. Historically, this event went a long way toward helping the gutless
liberal mainstream media pressure the weakling president Bill Clinton into
pulling out of Somalia.
Fortunately, Black Hawk Down makes no overt political statements
and instead is a first rate action/war movie that, rather than extensively
rewriting history or moralizing (unlike us, eh?), keeps the audience on the
edge of its seat while showing the kind of heroism professional soldiers
generally display when duty calls them into harm's way.
In the end, we have an extremely well-crafted, state-of-the-art
movie that's truly frightening to behold. Events unfold so quickly it's hard to
keep track at times, which is undoubtedly just how it felt to those in
Josh Hartnett leads a journeyman cast that also includes Ewan
McGregor, Eric Bana, Tom Sizemore, William Fichtner and Sam Shepard. And,
contrary to Hollywood's usual attempt to graft an unnecessary love interest
onto the story to ensure that women show up in the theater, Black Hawk Down
(except for one very short scene) eschews "the fairer sex" and concentrates,
more accurately, on the men involved and the camaraderie they share that helps
them get through the coming ordeal. A very welcome and unexpected touch.
The DVD does the movie justice, too, with a razor sharp and richly
colored picture that's presented in digitally mastered (in HD) anamorphic
widescreen (16x9 TV compatible). The picture just about leaps right off of the
home theater screen, which is exactly as it should be.
Likewise the audio is terrific. Though it's only offered in Dolby
Digital 5.1 surround (no dts option is available), the audio quality is first
rate. The helicopters surround you as they swoop across the skies of Somalia,
and the various pieces ordnance not only zip around the room (making you want
to keep your head down) but thump in your chest depending on the caliber of the
rounds being fired - and the subwoofer being used. Not only that but while some
of the dialogue is hard to hear thanks to all the background noise emanating from
the urban mayhem, it's generally very crisp and clean.
Accompanying the feature on disc one is three audio commentaries.
The first is by director Ridley Scott and producer Jerry Bruckheimer. Scott is
always smart and witty, giving plenty of information and telling anecdotes of
the shoot. Bruckheimer always comes across as a typical Hollywood producer, but
this time he seems to actually care about the subject matter (when he decides
to speak). Between the two, they provide an entertaining and informative
The second track is by author Mark Bowden and screenwriter Ken
Nolan. Bowden talks about his approach to writing the book, and about how he
traveled to Somalia himself for the ultimate bit of research. It's just as
informative as the director/producer track, but lacks the wit of Ridley Scott.
The third track is by Task Force Ranger Veterans Msgt. Matt
Eversmann, Col. Tom Matthews (Ret.), Col. Danny McKnight (Ret.) and Col. Lee
Van Arsdale (Ret.). They discuss the real Black Hawk Down incident, military
tactics, and the similarities between the movie and the actual event. All three
tracks are very informative, so if you have the time to listen to them, it will
be well worth it.
The main extra on disc two is a 150-minute making-of documentary
called The Essence of Combat. The doc is broken into six segments,
and covers everything from Bowden writing the novel to the post-production.
Its chock full of interviews with Scott, Bruckheimer, Bowden, Nolan, all
the main cast members, and actual military personnel involved in the real
event. Its very in depth, featuring more information than most people
would even think.
Considering its longer than the movie itself, its
mainly for hard core fans, or people who enjoy such documentaries. Also on disc
two are some deleted and alternate scenes with optional commentary (but the
movie is already two and a half hours long, so its understandable that
they were cut), a designing Mogadishu featurette, a production
design archive, storyboards and Ridleygrams with optional commentary, Jerry
Bruckheimers BHD photo album, title design explorations with optional
commentary, and some photo galleries.
Disc three is equally feature-loaded, beginning with The History
Channels documentary The True Story of Black Hawk Down. It
runs roughly 100 minutes and tells a lot more background about the incident
(basically elaborating on the subtitled background at the beginning of the
film), and features interviews with author Mark Bowden and several of the
personnel involved in the 1993 event. Its just as entertaining as the
making-of documentary, but is also (gasp!) educational.
If youre interested in the true story and want to learn
about it, you probably cant do any better.
There is also another hour-long documentary, PBSs
Frontline: Ambush in Mogadishu. Its not as informative or
extensive as the other documentaries, but it is entertaining enough and tells
you a little bit more. Other features include a multi-angle sequence with
optional commentary, a few question & answer forums, a music video, and the
trailers and TV spots.
Since the transfers are exactly the same, this set is really only
for die-hard fans of the film. If you dont care about the extras,
youll save yourself some money to buy the original version. However, this
is one of the best DVD presentations weve yet come across, rivaling last
years Pearl Harbor Directors Cut.
Black Hawk Down, from Columbia Tristar Home Video
anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 TV compatible, Dolby Digital 5.1
Starring Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor, Eric Bana, Tom Sizemore,
William Fichtner and Sam Shepard
Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer
Written by Ken Nolan, Directed by Ridley Scott
Tell us at TechnoFile what YOU think