Black Hawk Down is barely short of two and a half hours. During that running time, audiences are given nearly two hours of gunfire, bloodshed, and brutality.
Director Ridley Scott is able to keep the audience engaged in an incredible amount of action, gunplay that in the hands of someone else would be repetitive. Black Hawk Down never gives the audience a chance to breathe, much like the soldiers in Somalia fighting off rebel forces.
The film’s setup, that of soldiers relaxing and preparing for a brief mission before coming back, is rapidly paced. Despite a loaded cast including Josh Hartnett, Eric Bana, Ewan McGregor, Orlando Bloom, and more, in combat they’re difficult to distinguish. Once the guns start firing, picking out individuals is difficult, if not impossible. Scott chose to write the names of the soldiers on their helmets despite the inaccuracy, but it only goes so far.
However, in a way, that’s a positive. The amount of fighting, spread across numerous locales, is an excellent way to keep the film moving. As one location slows down, Scott can move to the next. Taking the usual war film approach, that of a few singular heroes, would make this feel too familiar.
Black Hawk Down screams production values, with regular explosions, countless rounds fired, a stunning amount of extras, and elaborate set pieces which put all $90 million on screen. It looks and feels authentic, able to put the audience into these battles with the soldiers.
Emotional content is high, even with the confusion in regards to characters. Performances are superb, and bullets hit soldiers and Somalians with brutal impact. Gore is high, and the film uses its R rating to push as much violence as is necessary. It’s hard to imagine this one being any more realistic or involving.
Black Hawk Down was one of the earliest Blu-ray releases, and does show its age slightly. This is a MPEG-2 encode with a few problems, the worst of the lot being black crush. The film is dark, which is fine, but the gray scale is completely gone, leaving only overly hot whites and crushed blacks.
There is also an overprocessed look to many of the scenes, including some light edge enhancement. It’s minor although notable. Some flickering is evident on the US flag patches on the uniforms.
On the other hand, this is a wonderfully detailed transfer, down to individual beads of sweat. Faces are loaded with texture, as the film goes on, cuts, bruises, and dirt are superbly clear (for better or worse). Sharpness is typically consistent.
As expected, this is a truly immersive PCM mix. Helicopters are heard flying through the soundfield, gunfire rings in all channels, and explosions are incredibly convincing in the low end. Dialogue is always clear and distinct, never lost to the action. The high end is remarkably clear, holding strong even when the gunfire hits its peak. Directionality is stunning. The only notable complaint comes from before the action starts, where helicopters fly by the screen with no noticeable surround accompaniment, a contrast to when the action picks up.
Is it possible to complain about a disc with three commentaries and a 150-minute documentary? Yes. Sure, the depth of the material here is incredible, but it’s still missing information (such as deleted scenes) available on an elaborate three-disc DVD set.
Whether or not you’ll miss any of it depends on the type of completionist you are. Author Mark Bowden and screenwriter Ken Nolan discuss the book and how it was adapted to the screen in their commentary. Ridley Scott and producer Jerry Bruckheimer have the technical aspects of the shoot covered, while veterans tell of their real experiences in the third.
The Essence of Combat is the documentary, split into six sections. This is an exhaustive piece, one that runs longer than the film itself. Fans have certainly seen it before, but it’s actually worth seeing again. Sony also included a long since discarded feature that lets the viewer select a playlist for the special features, but if you can just pick them from the menu, why bother? Apparently Sony saw the light too.