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A view from the Blu (-ray) on DVDBeaver by Leonard Norwitz

Black Hawk Down [Blu-ray]

(Ridley Scott, 2001)







Review by Leonard Norwitz



Theatrical: Columbia Pictures & Revolution Studios

Blu-ray: Sony Home Entertainment



Region: FREE! (as verified by the Momitsu region FREE Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 144

Chapters: 16

Size: 50 GB

Case: Locking Blu-ray case

Release date: November 14th, 2006



Aspect ratio: 2.40:1

Resolution: 1080p

Video codec: MPEG-2


Audio: English PCM 5.1, English DD 5.1, French DD 5.1


Subtitles: English SDH, English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Thai, none



• Audio commentary with Director Ridley Scott and Producer Jerry Bruckheimer

• Audio commentary with Author Mark Bowden & Screenwriter Ken Nolan

• Audio commentary with U.S. Special Forces Veterans

• Documentary: The Essence of Combat: Making Black Hawk Down (150 min.)

• Blu-Wizard Enhanced



The Film: 8.

As we are informed in pseudo-documentary fashion before the movie proper gets under way, American special forces units were dispatched to Mogadishu in the summer of 1993 to remove Aidid and restore order. On October 3, during what was expected to be a 30 minute operation, 140 soldiers approaching from the ground and by air, run into a perfect storm of resistance that went on for hours and resulted in 19 Americans and countless Somalis dead. The movie follows the downing of the two helicopters and the attempts to rescue the crews that resulted in its spiraling casualties. Given the medium and the promise of 50 GB capacity, some will be disappointed that Sony has opted for the 144 minute theatrical version of the film, not the later 153 Extended Cut. My feeling is that the extra footage isn't of much consequence. On the other hand, we do miss some of the extra features that were on the 3-disc SD Deluxe Edition (which did not include the Extended Cut.)




That said, despite all manner of subtle "improvements" in audio and imaging since this title came out in November of 2006, it remains one of the better demo discs on my shelf. And it's an absorbing film in its own right. There will be many who will carp about its fictionalized or politicized aspects. I am not one of them. Black Hawk Down is not a documentary, even though Mark Bowden's book, upon which it is based, more or less is. For those who want to know how Director Scott and Screenwriter Ken Nolan's adaptation works – or not, Sony offers us two commentaries that address the question in some depth. (see more in Extras.)


Unlike many a war movie, where we focus on just a handful of soldiers and get to know them intimately, Black Hawk Down tends to see the Americans as a band of brothers. The group and their mission is the thing. True, some of the faces are etched into our minds, but their backstory remains just that, reduced to an aside remark, or an image of a soldier trying to call home, and another giving what may be his final letter to a reluctant comrade. Still less is offered about the Somalis, rebels or innocent civilians caught up in or between the firefight. What I remember are faceless people scurrying across alleys, along rooftops, and in the shadows.

Image: 9 (9/9). 

NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.

The score of 9 indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray DVDs. The score in parentheses represents: first, a value on a ten-point scale for the image in absolute terms; and, second, how that image compares to what I believe is the current best we can expect in the theatre.


Despite that this title was one of Sony's earlier Blu-ray ventures, Black Hawk Down is one knockout DVD. It was so in its Superbit incarnation, and it is here again, only more so. After a noisy documentaryish intro, and once we tumble to Scott's high contrast, saturated color and contrast palette, we cannot but marvel at this jaw-dropping image. Bit rates tend to the upper 30s and low 40s. A fine dust covers the image at all times which, even if not intended, helps to mitigate the digital effects that come later. Dark areas tend to black further along the tonal scale than in a typical drama, but clearly this is the intent of Scott's production design (Pietro Scalia) and photography (Slawomir Idziak). In case these chaps aren't exactly household names, by the way, Scalia's other credits include JFK, Stealing Beauty, Scott's Oscar winning Gladiator and, more recently, Memoirs of a Geisha (the only good reason to see this movie.) Slawomir Idziak was the DP on several Kieslowski pieces, including La Double Vie de Véronique and Trois Couleurs: Bleu and some of the work for Dekalog; more recently, Idziak filmed Gattaca and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Not exactly chopped liver, n'est-ce pas!
















Audio & Music: 9/8.

As good as the image is, the audio is perhaps better. Talk about Shock & Awe: Black Hawk Down is the ideal surround sound opportunity – even more than your average action or fantasy/adventure film because we are drawn in to its pretense to reality. We feel with the soldiers and, in a different way, the innocent people caught between the U.S. and rebel forces. The overpowering sound of helicopters such as the Black Hawk, and ordinance of every description are not simply cinematic effects, but stand-ins for live ammunition and the devastation it caused. In its way, it brings home the consequences of such expeditions in a way that newsreel footage does not and cannot. Hans Zimmer's music score is punctuation at its most primitive, and supports perfectly the mood and action, becoming absorbed into the audio mix like another piece of omnipresent artillery.


Operations: 9.

Quick loading, then Sony gets right to a menu, underscored by a driving music track. Menu operations require no guide book to sort yourself out.



Extras: 6.

Those of us that were hoping that Sony would bring over all the extras found on the 3-disc SD edition will be disappointed. Most of all, we miss the History Channel's 100 minute documentary and Frontline's hour-long "Ambush in Mogadishu." We do get the three commentaries: most absorbing is certainly the track by Task Force Ranger veterans – the guys that were there and knew the men depicted in the film by name, as if they were brothers, which they were. The commentary by the author of the book, Mark Bowden, and the screenwriter, Ken Nolan, is interesting, not just to clarify how the former was adapted to the movie, but by virtue of the their team approach to the assignment. The excellent 2.5 hour making-of documentary that is included is not to be missed, though it is not in HD.



Bottom line: 9.

Black Hawk Down presents a relentless series of images of urban warfare, reminiscent of WWII documentary photography in its arbitrariness, its fear, grit and determination. This Blu-ray edition is not to be missed for image and audio quality, heart-stopping action and strong performances by all concerned.

Leonard Norwitz
April 12th, 2008

January 17th, 2010






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About the Reviewer: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.

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