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  Directed by
  Starring
  Specs
  • Widescreen 2.35:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Dual Layer (RSDL )
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  Subtitles
    English, Dutch, Hindi
  Extras
  • 8 Deleted scenes
  • 3 Theatrical trailer - BHD; Spiderman; Men In Black II
  • 3 Audio commentary - 1. Dir. Ridley Scott / Prod. Jerry Bruckheimer 2. Author Mark Bowden / Screenwriter Ken Nolan 3. 1993 U.S. Special Forces Team Veterans
  • 4 Featurette - Designing Mogadishu; Bruckheimer's BHD Photo Album; Title Design Exploration; Q & A FORUMS
  • 20 Photo gallery
  • Music video
  • 8 Documentaries - Story and Character; Military Orientation; On Location; Film Score; Digital Warriors; Final Thoughts; The True Story of Black Hawk Down; Ambush in Mogadishu
  • 3 Multiple angle
  • Filmographies
  • 1 Alternate ending

Black Hawk Down: CE

Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 138 mins . MA15+ . PAL

  Feature
Contract

While recently sitting in my lounge discussing the current conflict in Iraq with my cousin, he mentioned the DVD of Black Hawk Down. He’d recently bought a DVD/surround setup and was eagerly entering into the financially irresponsible world of building a “collection” of movie titles, and this was one film he wanted to know more about. Was it a good film? What did it sound like? Was it worth buying?

Then he asked the question which had us talking for another two hours on the subject, “Did the story really happen?”

He said that he had no memory of ever hearing about the event on television, and that if it was such a big deal, why wasn’t it more commonly known about?

All I knew was that prior to the film, I’d never heard of the story, and that via what I had read about the making of the film, yes it did really happen back in 1993. As for why he’d never heard about it, I could only guess that, outside of America, media coverage back then was not what it is today, with journalists ’embedded’ with troops and fed the party line for nightly dissemination. Also, it was not a massive operation in the vein of Vietnam, instead being a small incursion intended to end the reign of a warlord out of control in a starving nation. Further, had the mission gone as planned, probably no-one would ever have known it happened. I could have been completely wrong on all counts, but it seemed as good a place as any to begin discussing our theories.

I’ve since discovered that most people I know who have seen this film have also wondered if the event was as depicted. This has led me to think that if just one of Bruckheimer/Scott’s goals with this film was to raise the profile of a military battle which was supposedly the fiercest since Vietnam, then it worked a treat.

Revealing the military operation to put a stranglehold on Mogadishu warlord, Mohamed Farah Aidid, it was planned as a 30 minute incursion to capture his top aides in order to put the squeeze on him. Almost immediately things go awry, when a Black Hawk helicopter is shot down with the pilots trapped in the crashed vehicle. With their plan thrown into chaos, the soldiers on the ground find themselves under attack from thousands of irate and heavily armed civilians. Surrounded, under constant fire and taking casualties, it would be 18 hours and 18 U.S. lives before they were brought to safety.

Scott didn’t want BHD to be a conventional Hollywood war film, and the resulting look evokes more of a documentary feel. Reminiscent of the shaky handheld camerawork from Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, the camera sits in amongst the soldiers as the erupting street warfare rains down death and hatred from all angles. It is this aspect, the constant full 360 degree assault on the senses, which elevates it beyond the bookended violence of SPR and creates a greater emotional drain on audiences.

Also upping the ante is the sacrifice of any significant character back end, choosing to establish the prime players in only the briefest grabs prior to getting the story proper off the ground. Of a large cast featuring young guns (three cheers for Eric Bana, three jeers for his truly God-awful accent) alongside a few who can be considered comparative heavyweights (Tom Sizemore, Sam Shepard), most do well - but it’s hard to screw up when the most you have to work with for 90% of your screen time is looking scared or angry or shooting a “skinny”.

But, once the shit hits the fan, character development is thrown out the window anyway and the viewer is engaged in their very own instant loungeroom war simulation. Bullets whiz around the room like death dealing mosquitoes, choppers swing past your head and open up with the unique and unforgettable sound of their mini-guns and enemy fired RPGs promise mutilation and destruction.

There’s a sense of confusion as you watch identical looking soldiers perform their duties in different groups strewn about the city, but maybe the confusion was a deliberate part of the picture? All I know is that when one of the “good guys” dies, I normally had no idea which one he was. It’s almost as if the point of the film wasn’t to highlight the 18 U.S. casualties, but the actual battle itself, the struggle to overcome, to survive, to get their men out if it killed them.

When the end does come, over two hours later, you feel elated that they made it out, and more so that the film is finally over.

  Video
Contract

If any film wanted you to feel the nauseous nature of a violent battle, then BHD is that film. Shifting colours to greens, draining the print of colour, pushing the blacks into everything and removing shadow detail entirely at times, the 16:9 enhanced 2.35:1 aspect ratio is stunning to watch, and perfectly evokes a sense of gritty reality, despair and confusion. Check out the interiors of the helicopters flying high above Mogadishu, the occupants barely a silhouette framed by the glaring sunlight outside. The final “Mogadishu Mile” run back to base tinted an unnatural cool blue/grey to match the opening shots, working as bookends.

The transfer itself is also just about perfect. The print is nearly flawless, with a few small blemishes so minor that they’d blend in with the grittiness on screen. And what film is more suited to grain than this one? With the dust storms kicked up by the Black Hawks blanketing the streets, the line between grain and dust is blurred and the two meld, becoming perfect partners. The film is well spaced out, with plenty of room to breathe over two layers (my player creating an unfortunately very noticeable pause between layers, hopefully yours will be better) and the flow of data off the disc generous enough to relay an artefact-free picture.

  Audio
Contract

What a brilliant sounding film, well and truly immersing you in the thick of the action. The single 448kbps Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix does everything with aplomb, impressing upon you the multi-layered cacophony that tense battles create, and then subtly moving the front soundstage back and forth to draw attention to the battle segments, or to draw focus on the dialogue. The gunfire, the sound of choppers and the use of large calibre weapons are enhanced by fantastic use of the LFE channel (some of the best LFE I’ve heard on a DVD), underlying all the sound to add a substantial and controlled weight to all of it. Integration of the surround channels is nigh on perfect, ping-ponging or slowly drifting from speaker to speaker across the room with the movements of the on-screen activity. Some sound placement beyond the speakers is fantastic, settling an effect beautifully between the front and rear channels, then drawing it slowly towards one while not neglecting the rest of the audio.

Find your sweet spot in your room, settle yourself in and be rewarded with a bravado bit of sound design. Top marks!

  Extras
Contract

I hope you’ve got a bit of spare time up your sleeve, because this is a three disc set. Yep, not one, not two and not four, but three brand-spanking new DVDs full to the brim with death and destruction, creation and production and analysis and information and all things BHD.

And unlike many DVDs, there’s not much of what you’d call trivial disc filler. Most of the material is quality stuff, and will definitely expand your understanding of the film, the actual event and what it takes to make a film.

Disc 1

Audio Commentary – director Ridley Scott & producer Jerry Bruckheimer
Scott and Bruckheimer have a whole stinking heap to say on virtually every aspect of the film. Going from the logistics of getting it done, the involvement of the U.S. Government and the army forces, the use of CGI and the politics, it’s practically non-stop throughout, and definitely worth a listen if you have the time.

Audio Commentary - author Mark Bowden & screenwriter Ken Nolan
Bravo, a slap on the back to whoever thought this would be a good idea, because the thoughts of the author and the screenwriter should be essential to a better understanding of a film. You get a good idea of where the film deviates from the story, and where they thought certain story elements couldn’t be shot (but usually were in the end). It's good to understand the difference in the author's opinion as to what makes it to a screenplay, and what a screenwriter thinks.

Audio Commentary - 1993 U.S. Special Forces team veterans
And an even bigger slap on the back for this idea, bringing in the soldiers to comment on the film - brilliant! It's very refreshing to get the views of people who experienced various aspects of the operation, and where the film got it right or wrong. But even though they might point out elements and procedures that were done incorrectly or simply did not occur, they are respectful of the fact that allowances have to be made for the creation of a film. They also voice their dismay at the criticism levelled at the operation, claiming their assessment of an operation isn’t based on whether they lose a life or not. There are a lot of interesting comments made during the film, and for my money this is the pick of the three commentaries.

Cast and Crew Filmographies
There are about 1,000 actors in this film playing the parts of the soldiers and the operations crew, and I guess they have to draw the line at the first tier line-up. The filmographies cover Josh Hartnett, Eric Bana, Ewan McGregor, Tom Sizemore, William Fichtner, Sam Shepard and Ron Eldard. Crew covered are Ridley Scott, Jerry Bruckheimer, Hans Zimmer, Pietro Scalia, Arthur Max, Slawomir Idziak, Mark Bowden, Ken Nolan, Simon West, Mike Stenson, Chad Oman and Branko Lustig.

Okay, so far a pretty good effort, with three good commentaries from people involved in the film and in the action itself. That would be pretty good going on most DVDs and would earn a high mark as it was, but on this set we’re just getting started...

Disc 2
THE ESSENCE OF COMBAT: MAKING BLACK HAWK DOWN

Getting It Right: Story and Character (23:22)
Bruckheimer was so impressed with the story that he bought the rights before the book was even published, then set author Mark Bowden about creating the initial screenplay, of which only a small part made it through to the final version. Bowden discusses how he went about putting together his book, then with input from screenwriter Ken Nolan and Bruckheimer what is necessary in translating that story into a coherent film that deals with the event over only two hours rather than 18. This explains why some characters are amalgamations of many real people, and the weeding out process as to what events made it into the film. The actors also discuss what their approaches were to playing their parts, getting the mix of the real person and the fictional person to a believable degree.

Crash Course: Military Orientation (29:57)
Par for the course for the production of any modern military movie is the boot camp. When the actors sign on the dotted line, their next step is a stay with the army to give them the skills to play their part and give the army a chance to swear at overpaid actors and make them crawl through sewerage. Starting with the jarhead haircut, they have a bit of a laugh and crack jokes, but then the real thing fires up and it’s no longer fun and games. You might slap yourself in the head when Ewan MacGregor expresses genuine amazement that the army teaches soldiers to take a building by force. “They train them to deal with a situation in a violent manner. As a non-military person it took me by surprise.” Did he expect that soldiers would ask the enemy to please stop pointing those nasty guns at them and maybe have a nice chocolate biscuit instead? This is the reason why actors are asked to attend boot camp, to get stupid ideas like this out of their heads. This doco shows them learning all the important army basics, such as doing pushups, storming a room in a dramatic manner, shooting stuff, blowing up doors, crashing helicopter simulators and screaming.

Battlefield: Morocco – On Location (30:03)
This feature is the equivalent of the normal ‘Making of...’ on many DVDs, and in over half an hour it shows us the creation of the film. After getting through the bits where they tell us about how they dressed the extras and why they chose Morocco, they dive into the filming of the guts of the film. They tell us how for most of them it was a noisy and violent experience. Watching battle scenes being filmed, you have to wonder how anyone could clearly think or know what to do, with explosions going off everywhere, people running like mad and various pyrotechnics blowing up in their faces. It was, judging by the actors comments, incredibly loud, and some shots they play certainly give that impression.

Hymn to the Fallen: Film Score (17:58)
Within footage of musicians at work with instruments and computers, Hans Zimmer tells us how he tried to create a score for the film which utilised two distinct sounds to represent both sides of the conflict, as well as invoking an emotion of Somalia and the vulnerability of the soldiers.

Digital Warriors (23:10)
Bugger, just when you think you have effects pegged so you can tell the real from the fake, along comes this doco to throw a CGI spanner in the works. Focussing predominantly on the Black Hawk crash landing (but also covering the addition of dust storms, bullet impacts and explosions and digital extras), it shows how it was assembled utilising real footage from the set, CGI and scale models. The end result is excellent, but man was there a lot of effort out into creating it by the effects house. No doubt helping out was the stylised look of the film, with muted colours and muddy blacks aiding in masking the difference between the CGI and the real. Sure, you can still spot a few CGI elements in other parts of the film, but this had me flummoxed.

After Action Report: Final Thoughts (24:59)
A sombre wrap up and assessment of the real operation in Somalia from various people associated with the film, and probably how it reflects on what the U.S. can achieve from a military standpoint since the backlash from the opponents of the mission. Most still express a general hope that American citizens will realise the sacrifice made by young men in a battle that most people know very little about, and that greater understanding and support would be shown in future conflicts. It could be seen as a little heavy in blind propaganda by opponents of U.S. involvement anywhere in the world, but at the time of the current conflicts it will probably provoke just as much a sense of patriotism.

IMAGE & DESIGN

Designing Mogadishu (13:12)
The use of Mogadishu was out of the question for the filming of BHD, so they had to look elsewhere to double for the city. They selected Morocco as the best fit (interesting in that they say in the veterans commentary that the city looks nothing like it from the aerial shots, but much more so in the ground shots). This didn’t provide for everything though, so there was still a lot of work for the 400 set builders because they had to construct the ‘target’ building from scratch in a soccer field. Even then, to create the street scenes they utilised an incomplete housing project to build upon further, and this served as the location of the Black Hawk helicopter crash site.

Production Design Archive
Consists of seven galleries covering various set designs and even some pics dedicated to the anti-America graffiti and urban art scrawled on walls. Some excellent images can be found across all the galleries, and the style and quality of the drawings wouldn’t look out of place framed on your walls. Not that I’m encouraging you to borrow these copyright protected images, enlarge them and print them out on a printer then frame them and stick them up in your lounge, no, not at all. But if you did, they would look pretty cool, I’m sure.

Storyboards (7:28)
Using the multi-angle function, you can view a montage of storyboards covering many different scenes from the flick and compare it with the final footage, with either a music track or commentary by the artist, Sylvain Despretz (he’s also worked Gladiator and I Am Legend and for Kubrick, Fincher, Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Tim Burton, so I guess he’s good. Actually he is good, his stuff could be made into a graphic book version of a film no probs. Then again, I suppose his storyboards are already a graphic book version of the film if you think about it. I’m tired and I’ve seen far too many extras this week. Even my dreams have a “Making of..” documentary at the moment).

RidleyGrams (7:17)
Again with the multi-angle doodad you can compare Ridley Scott’s own storyboard doodles with that of the completed shots. He’s a bit of an artist, so he can doodle quite well when he’s up for it. It helps him get his view across to the rest of the cast and crew, so it’s obviously quite helpful on set. You can listen to a music track while this plays out, or get into an analysis of both Ridley’s style and and that of his boards with the storyboard artist Sylvain Despretz.

Bruckheimer's BHD Photo Album (5:27)
Jerry has always loved photography, and has developed a few books of photographs from the film sets. Here he tells us about some shots he took while they play through. Some are so-so, some are very good. It's hard to see him retiring from making blockbusters and taking happy snaps of daisies for a living though.

Photo Galleries
Would you believe 12 separate galleries? You would? Good. The bad news, however, is that many of them have only a very small number of pics in them. They’re grouped into sections such as Portraits, Crash Sites, Apparel, etc, and consist of production shots, poses and stills. There’s something for everyone in here, so go nuts.

Title Design Exploration (3:23)
A look at a few examples of title design sequences that weren’t used, and it’s not too hard to see why. They’re either far too arty, or over-designed, many sections looking like “design for design's-sake” and not really invoking the style or emotion of the film. Viewable with the designer's commentary or with music track, this is interesting in that it gives a bit of an insight into how he went about making them.

Deleted and Alternate Scenes
We get an alternate opening and closing scene, eight deleted scenes and one extended scene. The deleted scene, Snafu, is the pick of the crop. It shows how they screwed up by entering the wrong building and were shot at by their own people. All the scenes can be viewed with Scott’s commentary.

And finally, pop in Disc 3 for the last lot of bonus material, but maybe get a drink first and stretch your legs, because we’ve got a little while yet to go before this is over.

DISC 3

HISTORICAL ARCHIVE

The True Story of Black Hawk Down (1:32:25)
Wow! Er, really, really wow! If you could only watch one extra feature in this set, then this would be the one. Made for The History Channel, this covers absolutely everything to do with the events that lead up to the operation, the dismaying major FUBARing that ensued and finally the aftermath not covered beyond the end of the film. With re-enactments, real footage and lots of interviews (from both sides), this is an absolutely riveting documentary that offers a better understanding of what the whole kerfuffle was all about, something the film can’t really compete with. Insightful, totally honest, and at times scary, this is brilliant stuff.

Frontline - Ambush in Mogadishu (55:02)
And if you haven’t learnt enough with the above documentary (not likely), then this one will cover mostly the same ground again from slightly different perspectives. With more accounts of the day, watching these two together is pretty intensive, so it might be best to watch this on a different day to allow both to settle in. To have two quality documentaries such as these shows someone really cared about what they were doing with this release.

TARGET BUILDING INSERTION

Target Building Insertion – Multi-Angle
Because the fastroping from the helicopters was so dangerous and the aerial shooting so complex, they filmed this sequence with multiple cameras to reduce the number of retakes -well, so says the introduction. You can view six different angles, with one being a composite of all cameras. Viewable with either production audio or commentary from Terry Needham.

Q & A FORUMS
Three separate press forums asking questions and discussing BHD with the cast and crew at BAFTA (10:27), the Motion Picture Editor’s Guild (10:31) and American Cinematheque (11:44).

PROMOTION

Trailers
For Black Hawk Down, Spiderman and Men in Black II. If I want to be picky, I would say that perhaps this DVD set didn’t need trailers for other films, especially the likes of Spiderman and Men In Black II to spoil the style they’ve set up with the extras.

Poster Concepts
68 variations of the design, some looking very typically Hollywood blockbuster, some aspiring to an arthouse look, some looking like book jackets. Plenty could have made the grade.

Music Video - Gortoz A Ran – J’Attends (3:55)
A nicely shot, wailing voices type of song perfectly suited to the film's setting. At the end of the clip it jumps to an ad for the soundtrack...

  Overall  
Contract

Black Hawk Down, now available as a 3 DVD set to replace the original single disc version, is a harrowing and emotionally taxing film, with thorough and rewarding bonus material.

The film offers up a slice of constant audio and video mayhem probably not experienced in the home cinema market before, and the two DVDs of further viewing are the perfect compliment to enhancing your appreciation of the film and your understanding of the real event.

Technically, it’s a stylish looking film with a fantastic transfer and a sonic bombardment that is well considered rather than OTT. This will be gracing countless screens as demo material, without doubt.

This easily deserves a DVDnet Gold rating, and makes the top of my 'Best DVD of 2003' list.


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  •  DVD NET Gold Review List 
      And I quote...
    "Serves up a slice of audio and video mayhem probably not experienced in the home cinema market before, and the two DVDs of further viewing are the perfect compliment to enhance your appreciation of the film and your understanding of the real event."
    - Vince Carrozza
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Sony DVP-525
    • TV:
          Sony 68cm
    • Receiver:
          Sony STR-DB1070
    • Speakers:
          Wharfedale s500
    • Centre Speaker:
          Polk Audio CS245
    • Surrounds:
          Wharfedale WH-2
    • Subwoofer:
          DB Dynamics TITAN
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard Optical
    • Video Cables:
          standard s-video
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