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Ridley Scott is one of the hottest directors in Hollywood at the moment. While not actually having directed many movies, the projects that he does undertake are hugely talked about. It all took off for him with the 1979 release of Alien, which has become a cult classic. Add that to Blade Runner, Thelma and Louise, Gladiator and Hannibal, and you can see why he is a well-respected figure in the film industry. However, it was the release of Black Hawk Down in 2001 which raised eyebrows and caused controversy. The film is based on Mark Bowden’s best-selling book, detailing a mission which went wrong in Somalia on 3rd October 1993. With a bare bones release on region one, it comes as a nice surprise to find that the region two version includes two discs, and features a wealth of extras. Read on to find out more.

The Arrival
Somalia in 1992 is in the middle of a civil war. Over three hundred thousand people have died of starvation, and the capital city, Mogadishu, was ruled by Mohamed Farrah Aidid, one of the most powerful warlords. Any international food shipments into the city were stolen, and the people were in serious need of help. Order was restored briefly when US marines supplied food, but as soon as they left, the warlord resumed his evil ways. Unable to watch the country destroy itself, America once again stepped in and attempted to wipe out Aidid once and for all. This is the point in history which the film focuses on.

American sources have received intelligence, indicating that a meeting of  two of Somalian warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid's lieutenants is to take place in the capital. Desperate to complete what was becoming an embarrassing mission, the Americans realised that this was a perfect opportunity to capture important members of Aidid’s group. The mission was planned, and nearly one hundred U.S. Army Rangers, commanded by Capt. Mike Steele (Jason Isaacs), were dropped by Helicopter in the middle of Mogadishu. The mission was thought to be risky, even if things went to plan, but nothing prepared the Rangers for what was about to happen. During the seizure of the Somalian warlords, a Black Hawk helicopter is shot down by aggressive Somalians, resulting in several Rangers being stranded in the hostile environment. A couple of units are also assigned to protect the crashed helicopter, which leaves US resources at breaking point. All the while Somalian rebels are keen to take revenge on the American soldiers, and a bloody firefight ensues.

Just as it seems that things can’t get any worse, a second helicopter is blown out of the air and the pilots are left to fight for their lives, with hundreds of Somalians eager to kill them. This is a brief summary of the events that took place on the 3rd October, which are covered so vividly by the movie. The film focuses on the events leading up to the mission, right through to the final showdown which occurred fifteen hours after the mission started. The rangers had to deal with difficult surroundings, and keep their concentration while chaos was ensuing around them. The events of 3rd October meant that over one thousand Somalians and eighteen Americans were killed that day. Black Hawk Down is a gruesome, and honest look at what went on that day.  

The Landing
There have been many comparisons between this film and Saving Private Ryan. While Spielberg’s film was a cracking effort, it always felt like a Hollywood blockbuster, while Black Hawk Down doesn’t attempt to keep to the clichés you would expect from a major American movie. There are no stars in this movie, which must be considered a good thing. Private Ryan had Tom Hanks and though Black Hawk Down may have some familiar faces, there is not enough character development for us to think about who is playing the characters.  The movie is shot with the least number of colours which also happen to be subdued, so that the audience gets a real feel for how gloomy the surroundings were. The camera work is superb, as we are shoved into the middle of the action. There is no fancy camera work, with jerky movements being a regular occurrence. If a soldier is running for cover, as a viewer, it seems that you are actually running with him. Credit must also be given to Jerry Bruckheimer, who was the producer of the movie. He received a lot of criticism for his work on Pearl Harbor, but in this movie is he back to his best. There are similarities between the arrival of the Japanese planes in Pearl Harbor and the start of the mission in Black Hawk Down. This is quite a good point though, as I considered the invasion in Pearl Harbor to be entertaining and well made. Bruckheimer may have his critics due to reusing shots in his movies, but in my opinion if its not broke, why fix it?

Some people may consider the movie to be too long and too boring. That may be the case, but Black Hawk Down is supposed to be a realistic account of the events that day, so don’t expect big explosions and fancy special effects. Ridley Scott emphasises the duration of the mission by constantly reminding the audience of the current time. This made me realise exactly how intense and tiring the day must have been for the rangers fighting. Black Hawk Down is not for the faint hearted. It contains some gruesome scenes, and in my opinion it features one of the most grotesque battle injuries portrayed on the big screen. I can remember it quite vividly from my first viewing, and it didn’t seem any more pleasant in the comfort of my own home!

I originally saw the film in the cinema when released, and this DVD release gave me the perfect opportunity to revisit what I remembered as a solid war movie. I am happy to report that I enjoyed it just as much the second time around. I found the film’s subject very engrossing, and this time around I might actually read Mark Bowden’s novel, which I was inspired to buy after seeing the film in the cinema. Fans of war movies should enjoy Black Hawk Down. It was interesting to watch a different type of war movie, where for example the enemy were not as prolific with their weapons, but the sheer number of them made them just as dangerous. I can thoroughly recommend this movie. Ridley Scott once again shows that when it comes to directing movie, there are not many better than him.  

The Trouble!
Black Hawk Down is presented in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen. Ridley Scott deliberately shot the film is a realistic manner, so sometimes grain levels are high (especially in the opening minutes). Colours are also quite subdued, but once again that is intentional. Black levels are solid, with the night scenes in particular being portrayed well. Detail level is also what you would expect from a new release. The image is sharp, and probably exceeded my expectations. The streets of Mogadishu are brought vividly to the screen, which is a testament to the quality of this transfer. The region one version is reported to suffer slightly from edge enhancements, but I noticed no evidence on this release. Compression artefacts were also non-existent. Overall this is a very impressive transfer, which should keep fans happy.

Columbia Tristar have provided us with an English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, and what a track it is! Some people will moan that we don’t get a separate DTS track, but believe me, you won’t miss it. Not since listening to the ‘Saving Private Ryan’ soundtrack have I felt so caught up in a track. Once the action starts, the gunfire comes from all directions. Even during quieter scenes, you suddenly get a burst of gunfire from the rears which should keep you alert. The balance between dialogue, music and sound is spot on. The dialogue is never lost, even in the midst of chaos. The musical score is also relayed well, particularly in the opening scene. This soundtrack will also get the best out of your subwoofer, with plenty of explosions provided. The film won an Academy Award for Best Sound, so it comes as no real surprise to find an excellent soundtrack included. This track is probably worth the purchase price alone, and would be a good demo disc to show your equipment off to friends.

Subtitles included are English, English captions, Hindi, Dutch, Directors and Producers Dutch Commentary, Writer’s Dutch Commentary and US Special Forces Veterans Dutch Commentary subtitles.

The extras for this release are spread out over the two discs. On disc one we are treated to three commentaries and filmographies. The first commentary is by Director Ridley Scott and Producer Jerry Bruckheimer. Ridley starts the commentary by talking about the nature of the film, and how he couldn’t dramatise the events as they were too recent. This is a very detailed commentary, with the director and producer talking about their knowledge of events and how they filmed the movie. Any fans of Ridley’s other DVD commentaries will not be disappointed by this one, as Ridley takes every opportunity to supply us with useful information. It is evident from the commentary that Ridley has obviously researched the events that took place. He also praises Josh Hartnett for his role in the film, and even tops him for great success in the future. The second commentary is by author Mark Bowden and screenwriter Ken Nolan. This commentary focuses more on the movie adaptation, and how closely it follows the book. The final commentary is by US Special forces veterans from 1993. This is a more technical commentary with the commentators giving detailed information about the mission. Any fans of war films will love this commentary, as the soldiers explain at great length the events of the day. The three commentaries compliment each other well, and should ensure that no elements of the movie are left untouched.

Black Hawk Down
Disc two is dedicated solely to extras. The first section on this disc is called ‘The Essence of Combat: Making Black Hawk Down’. This section consists of 6 separate documentaries, which can be viewed separately or played as one. The first documentary is called ‘Getting it right – Story and characters’. It starts off with real life news reports and footage from the events of 3rd October. We also get to see reports from CNN. Mark Bowden talks about how people seem to have forgotten about what happened, and how he was surprised that no one had written a book before him. For his book, Bowden tracked down the soldiers involved in  the events to interview them. His work was originally published as a newspaper article and put up on the Internet. In this documentary we also get to hear from Ken Nolan (Screenwriter). He talks about how he created the screenplay from Bowden’s book. Nolan also mentions that Jerry Bruckheimer bought the rights to the story even before it was published. The rest of the documentary is made up of clips from the movie, which are accompanied by extracts from the screenplay. The documentary finishes by showing some of the actors involved in the movie. They talk about their responsibility to play the roles correctly, and how they did their best to portray the characters as best they could. This documentary runs for just over twenty-three minutes.

The second documentary is called ‘Crash Course – Military Orientation.’ This documentary shows the training that the actors had to go through before filming took place. Jerry Bruckheimer wanted them to have respect for what the soldiers had to go through, so he sent them on training courses. It is very interesting to see footage from the camps. The actors were taught how to deal with weapons, so they looked realistic in the movie. We are treated to detailed explanations about the different training programmes that the group went through. The funniest clip involves footage from the group’s haircutting session. The actors all had to have their hair shaved off, which took a matter of seconds. Overall this documentary has a running time of just under thirty minutes. The next documentary is called ‘Battlefield: Morocco – On location’. We get to see more of Ridley Scott in this documentary. He explains why the film was shot it in Morocco. While filming the crew had to be careful of local people, who are jealous of rich Americans. To deal with this, thousands of Moroccan people were hired for parts in the film. Other highlights in this documentary include a brief interview with MsGT Matt Eversmann, who talks about how realistic the set was and how it looked creepily like Somalia. This documentary lasts for just over thirty minutes. The least interesting documentary is called ‘Hym To The Fallen – Film Score’. It shows clips from the dark recording studio. The documentary is quite sombre and slow. Probably worth skipping over, as it doesn’t provide much of interest. It is also the shortest feature, with a running time of just under seventeen minutes.

Probably my favourite documentary on this disc is called ‘Digital Warriors – Visual Effects’. This documentary concentrates mainly on the CG effects that were used in the movie. The technical team talk about how hard it was to create effects for the film, because they were reality effects rather than fantastical effects. People don’t expect to see any glitches, and the effects had to be believable. The highlight of this documentary is the enactment of the helicopter crash. A full sized helicopter was created, and crashed. Some of the crowds were also computer generated, with the opening scene being a good example of this. The final documentary in this section is called ‘After Action Report – Final Thought’. This involves many of the soldiers talking about the effects of 3rd October. The actors also talk about how they were angry with themselves, and embarrassed for not knowing more about the events. This is a political documentary, and is good viewing for anyone who wants to find out more about the events and aftermath of 3rd October. This documentary lasts for twenty-five minutes.

The next section on the disc is entitled ‘Image and Design Section’. The first option in this section is called ‘Designing Mogadishu’ which deals with the difficulties the crew had in finding out information about the city. Apparently it is still a no-go area, and you cannot even get reference material about the city. The makers had to look elsewhere for influences and finally settled on Morocco as it was the closest they could get to creating the Somalian city. Also included on the disc is a ‘Production Design Archive’. This extra shows production drawings of some of the main areas involved in the film. We also get access to two storyboards. All the storyboards show the extracts from the film, and gives you a choice of listening to commentaries. There are also two galleries for anyone who would like to see still photographs from the film. The final extra in this section is called ‘Title Design Explorations’. This is a title sequence for the movie which was deemed unsuitable for the final cut. It is a very artistic opening but it didn’t really suit the realistic tone of the film, and was therefore dropped.

The third section on this disc is called ‘Deleted and Alternate scenes’. There are eight deleted scenes altogether, which are accompanied by some information explaining what they are about. Each deleted scene can also be watched with a commentary from Ridley Scott. Highlights of this section include the narrated opening and the alternate ending. The narrated opening scene is performed by Josh Hartnett, and is very similar to the opening included in the final cut, which I think I preferred. The final section on this disc is called Subtitles, and gives you the option of selecting subtitles in French, Italian, Spanish and Dutch.

Black Hawk Down
Black Hawk Down is a realistic war movie, which will keep you on the edge of your seat for two hours. Ridley Scott gives you the opportunity to relax for the first half hour, but once the mission begins it is action all the way! Sometimes gruesome and violent, the movie cannot be criticised for playing to American audiences. The film received a lot of criticism for showing events as they were, and that is one of the main reasons the film succeeds. This two-disc edition will be the envy of all region one fans, who have to settle for the time being with a extra-less edition. The audio and visual aspects are superb, and the extras included leave no stone unturned. If the rumoured three-disc region one version is to be released, I will be interested to see what extra material they will dig up. For the time being this is the ultimate edition, and probably won’t be expanded upon in the near future. If you only buy a few DVDs this year, make sure this is one of them.