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Black Hawk Down

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


Black Hawk Down was released in 2001 to the usual hype and rode the promotional merry-go-round like most blockbusters. This is always worrying. The hype is often unmatched by the experience, and as a viewer you are left wondering what the hell the hype was all in aid of. Fortunately, Black Hawk Down fell just the right side of the hype border. Too often, stories based on actual events are drastically rewritten for dramatic event, twisted so that the US forces either triumph, or at the very least come up smelling, if not of roses, then at least of gardenia.

In October 1993 American forces were charged with the task of taking out Somali warlord, Mohamed Farrah Aidid. Aidid essentially ran the capital, Mogadishu, and all aid that was being delivered, particularly food, was confiscated by his army, and therefore did not reach those for whom it was intended. Right or wrong, The White House decided that enough was enough, and planned a hit and run type mission right in the capital city that would ensure an end to his rule. Delta Force, Army Rangers, and the 160th SOAR were rallied to capture Aidid quickly and with a minimum of fuss. What was planned to take about 40 minutes ended up taking over 20 hours, and costing many lives. The question is, why?

It is debatable as to the merit of the mission; and today, more than ever, debate continues over the very presence of the United States forces in countries such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. As we have seen more than once in the last ten years, the involvement of the United States in military style missions is not necessarily a guarantee of success. For all their might, bravado, and desire to put the world to rights, too often they underestimate the situation. In the raid that Black Hawk Down recounts, they underestimated the resolve, and even the military strength, of the local Somalis and their loyalty to Aidid. I guess taking on a foe on their own turf is something that should not be underestimated. It would seem the Yanks are still to learn this lesson.
"We just lost the initiative."

OK, enough USA bashing. For all their faults, and their poor judgement, Black Hawk Down highlights two important traits that are worthy of praise. The first is the unquestioning way in which these special forces guys commit to their orders. I guess this is a good thing, but it does tend to mean that the guys in charge get to make some pretty dumb decisions without someone saying, "OK, but what if we did it this way instead?" Now, I don't claim to have even the vaguest of ideas how to run a war, or how best to launch raids against renegade warlords, and maybe it is just me, but surely there is a better way to conduct these missions? It could be argued that the United States (and Allies) should step back and let these situations handle themselves, but maybe that is too simplistic a way to view the world. The second thing that Black Hawk Down displays is a soldier's loyalty to his fellow soldier, and adherence to the notion that no one gets left behind, even if they are dead.

If it is a straight-up war film you want, look elsewhere. Sure, all the hardware is there, and a lot of it gets a lot of use in this film, but this is more a movie about digging yourself out of a huge hole, while trying to save some face doing it. There is plenty of graphic violence and gore, but it is within context and not gratuitous. The cast give great performances, (even if Eric Bana's accent grates from the first word), the direction from Ridley Scott is masterful, the supporting crew do a great job, and the music from Hans Zimmer tops the whole thing off. The first 30 or 40 minutes are easy, but when the action hits, you can be assured that it never lets up. Looking and sounding great on DVD, this is a must for film lovers who enjoy movies loaded with tension, and a fine balance of action and drama.


Presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and 16x9 enhanced, Black Hawk Down looks mighty fine. The two most noticeable things are the cleanliness of the transfer, and the muted, dusty colours that Ridley Scott used to add to the confusion and dark situation on the screen. There are no problems with colour bleeding or cross-colouration, but the whole muted, dusty look, takes a little time to get used to. Skin tones are accurate, and there is plenty of on-screen blood for those that delight in such things.

The image is very clear and detail is great. Shadow detail is a little on the dark side, but I suspect this was deliberate. As with the muted colouring, the inclusion of shadow detail adds to the sense of confusion on-screen. Black levels are excellent, and there is no evidence of noise. Along with a clean transfer, there is no evidence of aliasing, and only some slight edge-enhancement. There are absolutely no marks or speckles whatsoever, and the image is free from dirt and dust. There is some evidence of grain, but not enough to distract.

Subtitles are accurate to the spoken word, and the Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 audio I can only assume is accurate, Señor. It does sound, at times, like a typical overdub though and the voices sound a little too loud and clear.

The layer change occurs at 76:55, and in one of the few quieter patches, but is noticeable all the same.


Wow! The audio transfer on offer here is simply superb. While DTS 5.1 audio would have been interesting as a comparison, the Dolby Digital 5.1 is near perfect. I can find almost no fault with it. The volume was a little down on what I would have expected, but that's what volume controls are for, right? The low-level frequency sounds are wonderful and the almost constant rumble that runs through the movie is magnificent in maintaining the tension. All dialogue is perfectly in synch, but on occasion was a little hard to make out due to the constant hammering of the surrounds and subwoofer during the almost constant, explosive soundtrack. The rear speakers are in constant use, and make the rifle shots, shouting, screaming and explosions sound like you are right in the middle of it. The crash scene is quite ear-blowing.

The accompanying music is atmospheric and well scored. There are a few contemporary songs included, briefly, but it is the orchestrated mix of Arabic music and classical instrumentation, especially the mournful oboe and cello, which sealed to for me. Played occasionally while the action is in slow motion, this is most effective.

Whilst the whole sound is slightly front heavy as per a movie cinema, no one with 5.1 hardware is going to find fault with Black Hawk Down. Those responsible for the audio are obviously quite keen to show us what they can do.


The extras on offer with this release are a bit light on, but I suspect there will be an eventual Special Edition released, which should redress this issue.

Theatrical Trailers: Two Dolby Digital 5.1 trailers are on show, and both are in aspect ratio 1.78:1 and 16x9 enhanced. The Spider-man trailer looks and sounds great during the 2:21 presentation, as does the 2:17 trailer for Jet Li's, The One.

Filmographies: Not surprisingly, this lists the film histories of the main cast and crew. The text screens are not accompanied by sound.

Black Hawk Down: On The Set: This 24:03 presentation looks as though it was made for television. Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and in Dolby Digital 2.0, it contains comments from the cast, crew, and a few ex-servicemen appointed as consultants. It goes behind the scenes and shows the cast in preparation for their roles, but does not offer any new insights into the actual 1993 event, besides the desire for all involved to do justice to the memory of those that died.


Black Hawk Down is a fair and balanced look at the events that took place in October 1993. It is easy to sympathise with the characters as they are merely following orders, and it is easy to see why many of the Somalis didn't want the US there. This is not a new situation. The audio is fantastic, and the video is rather good too. The performances are solid, and the music score is lively, subtle, and atmospheric at all the right times. The extras are a little light on, but I suspect that there may be a future Special Edition release that will include more. At a little over two hours, it is the perfect length. There is no let-up once the action kicks in, and most importantly the result is a fair and balanced representation of the actual event. And not a John Rambo in sight - well maybe a few.

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      And I quote...
    "A winning combination of action, drama and tension, with lots of guns, gore and an enemy that luckily can’t shoot straight. "
    - Terry Kemp
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