Unrelenting

Saving Private Ryan introduced an audience to what war was. Black Hawk Down showed what war still is.

Black Hawk Down shatters the mythology of contemporary combat being clean or pure. After the publicity bluster of the first Iraq War – including trading cards – post-Vietnam anxieties dissipated. War was different for this generation. Black Hawk Down doesn’t relent to that artificial glamor. Nothing changed.

One of Black Hawk Down’s first licensed songs stems from the ‘60s, an eerie prelude to the familiar Vietnam-like firefight to come, just replacing humid jungles with equally humid urbanity. Helicopters, the untrained opposition, the confusion; all of this recalls the same conflict.

“It’s a beautiful day to fight,” says one soldier. He’s ready to go. Black Hawk Down mixes personalities. Some run toward battle, energized by their training and sense of right; they probably bought Desert Storm trading cards. Others fail in hiding anxiety. Then Josh Hartnett, the bleeding heart who understands the desperation of his opponent. He feels for their plight. The staging is definitive – a cruel, corrupt warlord steals food from a starving population – but Black Hawk Down establishes the dire circumstance, the poverty, and unfortunate nothingness of Mogadishu’s people. Ken Nolan’s script preserves balance.

Black Hawk Down establishes the dire circumstance, the poverty, and unfortunate nothingness of Mogadishu’s people

Typically, Black Hawk Down avoids the rudimentary patriotism or jingoism of most American war cinema. Hartnett considers going back into the fight, running toward transports as music swells and a flag drapes the background to embolden the duty-over-self mantra. Gruesome kills and slow deaths focus inherently on US forces; African foot soldiers die in piles, seconds long on screen. Still, Black Hawk Down shows a civilian carrying a tiny, bloodied child walking past the American convoy. It’s chilling.

In its structure, Black Hawk Down doesn’t lose its ugliness. Black Hawk Down runs on an action scene nearly two hours long, a fraction of the reality, yet tiring in the proper way. Ammo runs out. There’s no water. Sleep isn’t possible. There’s no rest for anyone, and any chance to breathe is shattered by way of explosions or rooftop gunfire.

Where post-Ryan combat films dryly copied the shaky, panicked cinematography, Black Hawk Down finds a necessary visual voice. Part of that lies in marvelous, sharp close-ups, but also in erratic angles, visually accentuating the catastrophe in fighting from the ground with rival forces perched overhead. Aerial views set scale. Militia approach downed US forces en masse from a multitude of directions. It’s bloody. Bodies sever, legs separate, arteries squirt, but the sights counteract the government’s then recent glorification of military service.

Then 9/11 happened and the circle began anew.

Video

Few films aim for this caliber of texture. With Sony’s 4K scan, the outrageous level of facial detail displayed earns this presentation a reference stamp. Sweat, blood, dirt; all of it pops from this dazzling visual display. Medium shots equal close-ups, and the Moroccan location shoot draws out sand grains en masse. Building texture cannot be missed either.

Not only does the benefit come from sharpness, but a major HDR pass too. Sunlight explodes into the frame. All of Black Hawk Down is lit for maxed out contrast, even at night. Impeccable black levels meet eye-catching highlights. By way of the source cinematography, some crush is evident. That’s fine given the intent, and the way Black Hawk Down leans on its extremes.

Graded with acidic-like tones, the bold amber, greens, and blues fill the runtime. This isn’t a disc for natural hues, yet deep color enriches what’s here. It’s often eerie, especially at night. In daylight, warmth is unbearable.

Shot on Super35, grain fluctuates, and in some shots, looks akin to the weight of 16mm. On UHD, compression more than handles this challenge. Even when facing smoke or haze, artifacting holds back, the benefit of expanded color as well as compression work.

Audio

What a disc. An absolute marvel of audio design, no hyperbole intended. As an Oscar winner for sound, the jump to Atmos only increases the flawless, masterful work. Before combat, bases fill with activity, from announcements calling people to general ambiance. The effect surrounds and holds a listener in place.

That will continue. Unrelenting in action, bullets match the envelopment of strewn fields. Arguably, Black Hawk Down becomes the champion of debris, full, rich, and real as chewed up sand falls through each channel. Helicopters zip above, with voices swapping speakers as needed. The way gunfire jumps between edits is certainly Oscar worthy, never losing track of a round.

Plus, dynamic range stretches wide. RPG rounds hit with jarring impact. Heavy machine guns fire with force. Through this, no dialog or other smaller element falls. Intricate balance keeps this together. Consider the sheer amount of sonic activity and this is truly special.

Extras

This is a the complete Black Hawk Down package, mirroring an earlier DVD release (and note nothing is new). Everything is on the dual Blu-ray set; nothing except a choice between theatrical and extended cut lies on the UHD – and go with the extended cut; it’s only a few minutes longer.

Three (!) commentaries begin with author Mark Bowden and screenwriter Ken Nolan, discussing the adaptation process. On track two, producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Ridley Scott. On the third, a harrowing account with actual veterans.

The nearly three hour Essence of Combat splits into six parts, each lengthy. While some of this falls to routine, it’s essential. Disc two holds two documentaries on the real events, one from PBS, the other from The History Channel. Those reach two and a half hours combined. A derivative “on the set” featurette runs a half hour, mostly a promo with the cast recounting the events. Sit down interviews run 11-minutes in a Q&A section. A scene breakdown includes a number of different angles, including commentary. Some 20-minutes of deleted scenes, four featurettes, and a slew of promo material (trailers and galleries both) bring this to a complete close.

Black Hawk Down
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
5

Movie

Black Hawk Down shattered the glory of modern combat with a ceaseless battle, careful dialog, and uniquely honest brutality.

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User Review
5 (1 vote)

The following six screen shots serve as samples for our Patreon-exclusive set of 44 full 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD: