Release Date(s)2001/2009 (May 7, 2019)
Studio(s)Scott Free/Revolution Studios/Jerry Bruckheimer Films/Columbia Pictures (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: A+
In October of 1993, CNN gave us all a window seat on one of the (then) most disturbing moments of recent history. As we sat transfixed in our homes, the bodies of American military soldiers were dragged through the streets by an angry group of men, women, and children. Author Mark Bowden saw these events too, and wanted to know more about what lead up to them. The story he uncovered became the basis of a bestselling, non-fiction page-turner, Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War... and eventually this film as well.
Black Hawk Down is the story of the ambush of U.S. military soldiers in Mogadishu. It doesn’t try to point fingers, or even turn American soldiers into heroes. It simply tells the truth (although sometimes with Hollywood flourish) about the events of October, 1993. It seems that several teams of soldiers were attempting to capture a militia warlord, who had been stealing shipments of food aid from the U.N.—food meant to ease widespread starvation and political unrest in the region. But through a series of tactical mishaps during the raid, a Black Hawk helicopter was shot down, leading to an unfortunate change of mission and a horrifying night of bullets, blood, and grief.
Groundbreaking director Ridley Scott joined über-producer Jerry Bruckheimer to bring the story to life on screen and it’s riveting to watch. The film moves with break-neck speed from start to finish, with an extraordinary ensemble cast that includes the likes of Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor, Tom Sizemore, Eric Bana, Jason Isaacs, Tom Hardy (his first film), William Fichtner, Ewen Bremner, Orlando Bloom, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Jeremy Piven, Sam Shepard, and many others. Because it’s thankfully not a film with an agenda beyond accurately depicting its subject matter, Black Hawk Down doesn’t get bogged down with politics. This is simply the story of a group of men who were doing their jobs... and ended up fighting for their lives.
Black Hawk Down was shot photochemically in Super 35 format using Arriflex cameras and spherical lenses. It was subsequently finished on film in the 2.39:1 aspect ratio. Scott and cinematographer Sławomir Idziak (known for his work on Three Colors: Blue and Gattaca) shot the film with a high contrast look and a unique color palette, with warm browns for the Somali environment and cool blue-greens for the U.S. military base. Those colors are lush at all times, going against the desaturated convention so often used now for war films. The previous Blu-ray presented the Theatrical Cut of the film only in 1080p HD, but it was an early HD presentation (from 2006), likely mastered from a 2K scan. As such, the video was a edgy and lacking in fine detail. Texturing was more muddy than you see on modern Blu-ray transfers, which are usually mastered from 4K or higher scans. Contrast was also crushed on both ends by design, but the limitations of Blu-ray are such that a lot of detail was lost both in the brightest areas of the frame and in the shadows. The Extended Cut of the film has only been available on DVD previously (it was released in 2009). It’s about 8 minutes longer and—image wise—that disc is not even worth talking about here.
For Sony’s 4K Ultra HD release, we have a full native 4K scan of both the Theatrical and Extended Cuts from the original camera negative (both versions are included via seamless branching). The improvement in overall detail and refinement is absolutely remarkable. There’s still a strong wash of photochemical grain, as there should be (it’s the intended look), but the image really comes alive with subtle texturing and detail. You see this in faces and facial hair, in uniform fabrics, in sand, walls, metal surfaces, and bricks. The detail is just much tighter. The image is further enhanced by the high dynamic range grade (HDR10 only) and wider color gamut, both of which give the image a significantly more life-like appearance. Shadows are deeper but actually have more detail than was visible on the previous Blu-ray and DVD. Likewise, the brightest areas of the frame are just shy of eye-reactive, but they too offer more detail (the flames in the pig roast on the base early in the film are a perfect example). Coloring is both richer and more natural too—skin tones are especially improved. This is just a spectacular image upgrade over the previous discs. This film has absolutely never looked so good before.
Primary audio on the 4K disc is presented in English Dolby Atmos (7.1 TrueHD compatible) for both versions of the film. Now, the thing to remember here is that lossless 5.1 LPCM (in 16 bit, on the Blu-ray), lossy 5.1 Dolby Digital (on the Blu-ray and Deluxe Edition DVD), and 5.1 DTS (on the Superbit DVD) is the best we’ve had previously for this film. Listening to the LPCM mix now (the uncompressed option), while it had fine dynamic range and low end, it does sound a little contained by today’s standards. Even so, those mixes were all considered reference-grade for their time. The new Atmos mix is reference-grade too and it’s also a strong improvement over those earlier tracks. The whole soundstage is more open and natural sounding—there’s more room in the mix, if you will. It also has a much fuller and more robust tonal quality. Surround positioning and movement are at once more precise and also smoother, almost liquid. As usual, the height channels serve to more fully enclose the listener in the sound environment. They’re constantly active with subtle atmosphere and more specific audio cues too, for example when the helicopters pass overhead. I’m struck by the effortlessness of this mix. It’s natural and dynamic—muscular and agressive almost without seeming it—and Hans Zimmer’s score sounds great too. This is a fine upgrade of previous mixes.
The additional audio options are a little complicated. The Theatrical Cut features English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, along with 5.1 Dolby Digital in French, Quebec French, Hungarian, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Castilian Spanish, Latin Spanish, and Thai. The Extended Cut, on the other hand, offers English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix, along with 2.0 Dolby Surround in Czech, Polish Voice Over, and Latin Spanish, and 5.1 Dolby Digital in Quebec French, Italian, Portuguese, and Castilian Spanish. Whichever version of the film you watch, the subtitle options are the same. They include English, English SDH, Arabic, Bulgarian, Traditional Chinese, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, Greek, Hindi, Hungarian, Italian, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Slovene, Castilian Spanish, Latin Spanish, Swedish, Thai, and Turkish.
There are no extras on the 4K disc itself, but the package includes the film in 1080p HD on Blu-ray. The bad news is that this is the same Theatrical Cut Blu-ray as before, not a new master from 4K, and there’s no Extended Cut. The good news is that there’s a new Blu-ray bonus disc. Disc One contains (carried over from the Deluxe Edition DVD):
- Audio Commentary with producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Ridley Scott
- Audio Commentary with author Mark Bowden and screenwriter Ken Nolan
- Audio Commentary with U.S. Special Forces Veterans
Scott and Bruckheimer discuss the film in-depth. Recorded separately, each talks about what brought them to the project, what they were attempting by making the film and the effect the filming had on the public, considering the historical events were still so fresh in people’s minds. On the writer’s track, Bowden and Nolan talk story like old chums, bringing up the differences between the script and the reality, and what subtle changes were necessary in order to convey the story cinematically. The highlight though is the commentary with several of the original Task Force Ranger veterans who were involved in the real events. They dissect the film between fact and fiction, and share their own stories and memories about the events.
Disc One also contains The Essence of Combat: Making Black Hawk Down documentary (in the original SD, also carried over from the Deluxe Edition DVD – total running time 151:20). It consists of 5 parts, with a “play all” option:
- Getting It Right (23:11)
- Crash Course (29:56)
- Battlefield: Morocco (30:03)
- Hymn to the Fallen (17:57)
- Digital Warriors (23:09)
- After Action Report (24:58)
It’s produced by longtime Ridley Scott documentarian Charles de Lauzirika, an old friend of The Bits, and it’s terrific. Some of this content is more interesting than the film itself and just about every aspect of the production is covered. The disc also has Sony’s early Blu-Wizard viewing option which allows you to watch this content in the context of the film.
Disc Two (which again is new) contains most of the rest of the previous extras (most in the original SD) including:
- Black Hawk Down: On the Set (24:08)
- The History Channel: The True Story of Black Hawk Down (91:35)
- Frontline: Ambush in Mogadishu (55:02)
- Question & Answer Forums: BAFTA (10:25)
- Question & Answer Forums: Editor’s Guild (10:30)
- Question & Answer Forums: American Cinematheque (11:43)
- Target Building Insertion (5:44 – 6 side-by-side angles with commentary)
- Deleted and Alternate Scenes (8 scenes – 20:01 in all with optional commentary)
- Denez Prigent & Lisa Gerrars’s Gortoz a Ran – J’Attends Music Video (3:54)
- Image & Design Galleries (4 video galleries – 29:31 in all with commentary)
- Theatrical Trailer (HD – 2:24)
- Original TV Spots (10 spots – 6:35 in all)
- Photo Galleries (3 still & artwork galleries)
That’s nearly everything that was included on the Deluxe Edition DVD, but not quite all. First, the Interactive Mission Timeline (from Disc Three of the DVD) is not included. The Target Building Insertion sequence no longer has the interactivity it did on DVD (also on Disc Three). Rather than allowing you to select individual camera angles and audio tracks, you simply see the 6 camera composite with commentary by default. Also missing are a pair of Easter Eggs that were on Disc One of the Deluxe Edition DVD – Ken Nolan’s DVD Commentary Dos and Don’ts and a Tom Sizemore Outtake. So don’t get rid of the Deluxe Edition if you want to keep this content.
On the other hand, the Ridleygrams are there, Bruckheimer’s photography is in there, the title design gallery, etc. Again, the content was produced by Charles de Lauzirika and it’s as great now as it was when we first experienced it back in 2003. Hats off to Sony for porting at least most of it over to a Blu-ray bonus disc, and for including the trailer in full HD. Finally, the package includes a Movies Anywhere Digital code on a paper insert.
This is really one of the most significant picture and sound upgrades of a previous Blu-ray release yet on the Ultra HD format. It’s a shame that the HD version of the film isn’t remastered from the new 4K scan too, that the Extended Cut isn’t in HD, and that a few extras are missing, but those are really the only strikes on an otherwise impressive package. Perhaps the most impressive stat here is this: You can get all of the above for just $20 on Amazon at the moment. Don’t hesitate, even for a moment. Black Hawk Down is a reference quality presentation and a must-have release on 4K Ultra HD.
- Bill Hunt