Not being a big fan of Black Hawk Down, I can’t really tell you how many releases of the feature this makes from Sony. I know it’s a title, which has seen at least two prior offerings. There is nothing new here to recommend the extended cut over the previous three-disc monster edition; however, it may be the way to go if you’ve yet to add this Ridley Scott war film to your collection. I’ll be the first to admit that Scott does some of his finest work as director in this gritty combat picture; but his style is …lso the reason why I feel Black Hawk Down fails to deliver, and pack the same emotional punch of a Saving Private Ryan or We Were Soldiers. Most of the young stars involved in this film, and in the grisly fighting, stay masked under a thick layer of dirt and grime throughout the 152-minute running time. While that contributes largely to the chaotic and confusing authenticity during battle scenes, it hinders the audience from getting attached to any of the characters.
I know character development needn’t be sacrificed on the altar of battle realism; yet that’s exactly what happens in Black Hawk Down. It’s the kind of film, which needs Mark Bowden’s book on which it was based to fill in the gaps left by the dramatization. The contemporary war efforts mentioned above are proof this sacrifice is an unnecessary one. Still, as disorienting as the film is, you can tell Scott is a seasoned director, who knows his way around a camera. And who knows? Perhaps his style creates some of the most realistic battle scenes known to film. And if this is all he wanted to accomplish, then Scott’s film succeeds. But I can’t imagine a director actively indifferent towards how his audience feels about the characters. And if this assumption rings true in Scott’s case, then he can’t look back on Black Hawk Down pleased with how it all turned out.
The picture contains no marked improvements over the other versions. We get a 2.40:1 anamorphic presentation, and in spite of all the on-screen confusion, it’s still a gorgeous picture. Filmed with only the occasional burst of color, grit and grime are the orders of the day. Black levels run deep, as most of the film hides behind dust and shadow. The visuals create an authentic confusion, so watch closely. Slick and polished? I think not. But any annoyances noted are the responsibility of the director, and not this transfer.
There are two 5.1 audio tracks (English and French), and both handle battle scenes with equal ferocity. The English track is the original language, and – of course – the way to go. Again, there are no stunning improvements here, but Sony got it right the first time, so this fact is of no consequence. Most of the film’s intense fighting comes across as a 360-degree assault. One only wishes the visuals were as clear. Dialogue seemed a little harder to hear, so the up-down volume volley is not completely excluded. It’s just further proof of the emphasis Black Hawk Down has on action over character.
This area is where the release fails miserably compared to the previous three-disc edition. However, the only additional feature provided is a good one. The documentary FRONTLINE: Ambush in Mogadishu is a dandy, and serves to better acquaint viewers with the actual events. It’s a nice companion piece to have; and unfortunately, it’s entirely necessary in that “you’d be lost without it” sort of way.
I fully recognize there are those, who will love this film. Their affinity is not hard to understand. Scott is a capable director, who does his best to create an authentic war film that pays tribute to those putting their lives on the line every day for the safety of this country, and millions of the helpless and oppressed abroad. They’re under-appreciated – maybe not so much in America as elsewhere – and Black Hawk Down is a fitting representation of the necessity behind their presence overseas. How can we praise our involvement in Hitler’s downfall, yet condemn the call for justice in same, or similar, situations? Should we wait until the threat becomes larger, and millions more die, before stepping in to end tyranny? These are questions Black Hawk Down provokes. I just wish I could have gotten to know these heroic U.S. soldiers better along the way. Excellent picture and sound with not-so-excellent bonus materials – this disc is a good purchase if you haven’t already done right by the movie; but it’s entirely unnecessary if you have.
Special Features List
- FRONTLINE: Ambush in Mogadishu