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In 1993 both Army Rangers and Delta Force Operatives, along with the 160th SOAR unit, were installed in Mogadishu, Somalia in response to Militia Leader Mohammad Farrah Aidid’s willful blocking of supplies for the hunger stricken peoples of the country of Somalia. Over 300,000 people had already died due to his actions, and the US had to intervene.

One particular mission called for Delta Operatives to secure Aidid’s top political aides at a meeting in the Bakara Market area of Mogadishu. With Rangers to back them up, the mission required a simple insertion and seizure of prisoners. This was to take an hour. Apparently, the US soldiers underestimated the Militia’s capabilities, for not more than twenty minutes into the mission, one of the Black Hawk helicopters orbiting overhead was shot down by an enemy rocket. The Americans had lost the initiative. They now had to not only deal with getting the prisoners back to Mogadishu airport where the soldiers were stationed, but had to also secure a perimeter around the downed chopper and rescue any survivors and remove the bodies of those who had died. No man gets left behind.

Black Hawk Down
To make matters worse, a second Black Hawk helicopter was shot down shortly after the first. The soldiers on the ground, whose resources were already being stretched to the limit, were now stretched even further, for the same measure had to be taken to secure the second helicopter.

What was supposed to take an hour, took nearly fifteen. One of the most arduous fire-fights in the history of the military has been brought to the screen by Director Ridley Scott ( Alien, Legend, Thelma & Louise) from material published in the original book written by author Mark Bowden.

Black Hawk Down is a powerful, unflinching drama, with nearly forty characters to meet. This can be seen as a problem, though, for one of the war genre’s best conventions is the getting to know a particular group of men well enough so that their deaths may serve a purpose and mean something to the viewer. However, I believe plots such as those are very manipulative, only because I never really knew an Adrian Caparzo or an Erwin Wade. For me, I find it more important to understand why a character is fighting, risking their life. Who they were is much less important by comparison. If there cause is noble, their death should mean that much more.

Black Hawk Down is the first depiction of true urban warfare, the type of combat that seems to be the most common and deadly in today’s modern world and for that should be praised.

Black Hawk Down is presented with an anamorphic widescreen transfer, framed in its original aspect ratio of 2.40:1. This transfer is a tough one to judge, due to Slawomir Idziak (the films’ director of photography) and his intentional use of bold colours and washed out tones. Despite this, the transfer presented none of the problems associated with sloppy authoring. In fact, it is practically flawless. No grain (except during the opening text, but that might have been intentional, or a side effect of the colour processing the film so obviously went through). Moiré effects (jaggies) are barely noticeable and blacks are deep. One slight problem, however, was the edge enhancement visible throughout all of the film. It’s not distracting, but is most definitely present, especially during the scenes shot at night. To really notice the edge enhancement though, you have to look close, so in the end it really isn’t a problem.

NOTE: The print used for this DVD must have been of the utmost quality. The subtitles provided for the Somalis are not present on the print itself like they were for the theatrical release, but have been replaced (rather annoyingly) by digital subtitles that cannot be turned off. I don’t recall this being a regular practice for the studios, but it does raise an interesting question: should the original print be altered (things outside of edge enhancement and the clean up of grain and dirt) in order to provide the highest picture quality possible?

Black Hawk Down
This film won an Academy Award for sound, and it’s plain to see why. This is the most impressive 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack I’ve heard since last year’s Star Wars - Episode One: The Phantom Menace. Although this track is more subdued than the likes of Pearl Harbor and Saving Private Ryan, it more than delivers the goods. From the opening text scenes’ swirling wind to the more than intense skirmishes on the streets of Mogadishu, this track thunders. Separation is superb. The Black Hawk helicopters flying overhead really seem to be circling at 500 feet, crowds of enraged Somalis literally fill the room, bring the chaos on screen to your living room. Hanz Zimmer’s energetic score often uses the LFE channel to such extremes that the neighbours are bound to complain (I know mine did!) if the volume’s turned up loud enough. The surrounds are used extremely effectively; sound is split between the five channels flawlessly and almost always in synch with the cuts in the film. Spatially, this track is a dream.

With so much going on during the film, it is surprising that dialogue is never trampled by the loud effects. Thankfully, when the characters speak, we can always hear everything they are saying, despite the fact that almost every line of dialogue is cut in mid-sentence from in front of the camera convo’ to over the radio chatter. Very impressive indeed.

As good as the presentation of the film itself is Black Hawk Down falls flat where added material is concerned.

First we have a very promotional featurette titled Black Hawk Down: On the Set. This is a sub-par knock-off of HBO’s First Look program. That isn’t saying much. Included are interviews from just about anyone with a speaking part as well as most every important person involved with the production itself. This documentary, in my opinion, was a complete waste of time. The space on the disc should have been better allocated so as to make the aforementioned edge-enhancement less visible than it already is, or perhaps a DTS track could have been included.

Secondly, we have two theatrical trailers, neither of which are for Black Hawk Down. The first is for Spider-Man, the second for The One. The plus side to these trailers is that they are both presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1 and 2.35:1 respectively) and have Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks. Not a bad touch.

There are some lean filmographies, that do nothing more than list all of the works that all of the cast and crew have been a part of. And finally, we have some production notes included on the inside of the chapter list. I read the notes before watching the special features and the notes are nothing more than direct quotes form the interviews contained within the documentary. At least the layout is nice. Columbia/Tri-Star should nixed the extras, got rid of them completely and opted for a Super Bit Edition to tide us all over until the release of the 2-Disc Special Edition that the studio announced following the announcement of this disc.

Black Hawk Down
Black Hawk Down is without a doubt, one of the finest war films made in the last decade, right up there with Saving Private Ryan. Ridley Scott is truly a master filmmaker; I can hardly await his 14th feature, nor can I wait for the second edition of this DVD to be released.

Beautiful Audio and Video presentations make this disc worth purchasing now (it can be found at Best Buy for a mere $15.99), but a sloppy presentation overall makes me want for a Super Bit edition in more ways than just one.

If you like the film as much as I do, have no fear about picking it up now. In six months, when you purchase the 2-Disc edition (and you know you will), $15.99 won’t seem like such a wasted dent in your pocketbook.