Updated: Mar 26
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
“BLACK HAWK DOWN”
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 2001; R for intense, realistic, graphic war violence, and for profanity; streaming via Amazon Video/Prime, FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play (4K), iTunes (4K), Movies Anywhere, Vudu (4K), YouTube
Best extra: PBS Frontline documentary “Ambush in Mogadishu”
THE MISSION should have been simple: 140 Rangers and Delta Force commandos were to nab a Somali warlord’s two lieutenants – except everything changed when two Black Hawk helicopters were shot down. Based on journalist Mark Bowden’s explosive account of modern warfare, “Black Hawk Down” follows every step of the ensuing 16-hour firefight.
Director Ridley Scott was in London watching CNN when he first saw what had happened on the streets of Mogadishu. “A body or two were seriously mauled, and people were kicking and beating them. It certainly got my attention, and then I realized, oh my God, these were American troops,” says Scott during the 140-minute documentary, “The Essence of Combat: Making of Black Hawk Down.”
Bowden was shocked no other reporters had or were investigating the bloody military operation of October 3, 1993. “It’s as if it had slipped into the forgotten pages of history,” he says. The journalist from the Philadelphia Inquirer first contacted the U.S. Rangers that survived the “Alamo” standoff against thousands. A dozen men were initially interviewed at Fort Benning, Georgia, the Rangers’ home base. At first, the U.S. Army wasn’t particularly forthcoming, but eventually gave Bowden the green light.
Producer Jerry Bruckheimer bought the movie rights after reading the newspaper articles. Screenwriter Ken Nolan was hired to rework Bowden’s first draft script.
“It was this incredible, second-by-second first-person account of the war I had never read before,” Nolan says. “It puts you inside the soldier’s boots and makes you run along the streets with them.” Some elements of Bowden’s original script made it into the film, but adapting an 16-hour event with over 100 characters into a two-hour movie was a huge challenge. Nolan ended up combining a number of characters and events.
“I think people are drawn to the action and drama of the story certainly, but you form a strong emotional attachment to these young Americans – some who are only 18, 19 and 20 years old, who have been thrust into this terrible and impossible situation, and forced to fight for their lives. On a human level, anybody can identify with their desperation.” — Journalist Mark Bowden
The first-rate cast includes Josh Hartnett (Eversmann), Ewan McGregor (Grimes), Tom Sizemore (McKnight), Eric Bana (Hoot), William Fichtner (Sanderson), Jason Isaacs (Steele) and Ioan Gruffudd (Beales). A dozen more actors also trained for weeks under military advisor and associate producer Harry Humphries to ensure seamless weapon skills and military body language to mimic the Rangers and Delta Force. Plus, the actors were shipped off to three different U.S. Army bases for special training as either as a Ranger, Delta Force or a Black Hawk pilot.
Scott and his crew selected Morocco – which he also used for “Gladiator” – a secure on-location desert backdrop for Hollywood production for over 20 years. Cameras began rolling in March 2001, continuing until into the extreme heat of the summer. “Black Hawk Down” premiered in Los Angeles three months after the 9/11 attacks.
The film received high praise from critics and was honored with four Oscar nominations including Best Director and Best Cinematography, and winning for Best Film Editing and Best Sound.
3:30 p.m. - Code named “Irene” the mission is on.
Sony knows how to do it right. This 4K Ultra HD presentation (2.39:1 aspect ratio), which includes the Theatrical and Extended Versions, are both a knockout. Sourced from a new 4K master scanned from the Super 35 camera negative (Scott supervised), the imagery has a powerful three-dimensional appearance. It highlights Scott’s hyper-contrast and color palette of orange/green and deep blues. Black levels are some of the deepest and darkest you’ll see on 4K, a product of the expansive HDR10 & Dolby Vision toning.
Natural film grain prevails – especially during the opening sequence introducing the horrific humanitarian crisis facing the people of Somalia. Scott purposely jacked up the grain during the chemical film process for the beginning, then toned it back down to normal range for the rest of the film creating a balanced, cinematic look.
Overall sharpness is superb, as wide shots uncover an extra level of clarity – not evident on the Blu-ray – as an American helicopter hovers over hundreds of Somalis, while another camera tracks a warlord’s jeep, with a clan member stationed behind the machine gun. In the background, a crowd races toward a truck unloading food at a Red Cross distribution center. Then the jeep’s high powered machine gun opens fire on them, while a U.S. soldier manning the Black Hawk guns could only watch. The U.N. order of engagement was simple: No return fire unless the Somalis shot at a soldier or at the helicopter first.
The new eight-channel Dolby Atmos soundtrack is earth-shattering as helicopters and rocket-propelled grenades whiz overhead from height speakers. Scott collaborates again with composer Hans Zimmer (“Gladiator” “Hannibal”) for a score full of acoustical and electronic elements blended with North African and Middle Eastern themes and instruments. The haunting “Gortoz A Ran” is sung in Breton Celtic by Denez Prigent. There are music clips from “Tall King Dub,” performed by Badawi; “Suspicious Minds,” performed by Elvis; “Right Turn” from Alice in Chains, and “Voodoo Child” (Slight Return) performed by Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Overall, this is a nice sound upgrade, with a powerful bass response, and clear and direct dialogue for the Oscar-winning sound.
The three-disc set includes hours of bonus features that didn’t make the cut for the original Blu-ray set in 2010, but was a part of the 2003 DVD box set. The 4K disc provides seamless viewing between Scott’s original theatrical cut (the best version) and the extended cut, which runs eight minutes longer.
The enclosed Blu-ray features the 2K-mastered presentation from 2010, with three commentaries, one with Bruckheimer and Scott. The second with writers Nolan and Bowden, who followed the story from the day it happened. Bowden initially talked to 12 soldiers who survived the brutality, overlapping their stories into a powerful series. When it was posted online, he received thousands of additional tales from Americans and Somalis. Two years later, he expanded his findings into a book.
The final commentary track includes first-hand accounts from members of the actual task force, Master Sergeant Matt Eversmann, Colonel Tom Matthews, Colonel Danny McKnight and Colonel Lee Van Arsdale. Their experiences and insight underscore what Scott and his crew had to do to compress the story into a gripping, dramatic film.
The third bonus disc resurrects the documentaries, photo galleries, Q&A sessions, and storyboards that appeared on the 2003 DVD set.
The best is the PBS Frontline documentary with dozens of interviews from U.S. military survivors, Red Cross workers, and military leaders recounting Somalia’s downward spiral with over 300,000 dying from starvation; President Bush sending 25,000 U.S. troops to distribute food and re-establish order six weeks before Bill Clinton took office; and the Clinton administration’s desire for a joint U.N. task force (21 nations involved) to oversee the Somalia crisis.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” says Red Cross worker Khalil Dale. “There were people with gunshot wounds, and mounds of dead bodies waiting to be buried.”
Frontline also reveals Mohamed Farrah Aidid’s forces were actually being supported and trained by Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. Four months before the failed U.S. raid, 24 Pakistani soldiers were ambushed. The U.N. Security Council responded with an emergency resolution, and Clinton ordered U.S. troops back to apprehend Aidid.
Black Hawk Super Six-Four is overrun by Aidid’s forces and Mogadishu residences.
Six weeks later, Aidid was still on the loose. U.S. intelligence had narrowed the manhunt to a targeted building near the Olympic Hotel off Hiwadag Street. That Sunday afternoon, October 3, the mission was finished in nearly 15 minutes. Twenty-three of Aidid’s followers were cuffed with plastic straps and escorted to waiting U.S. vehicles. Then an RPG hit the tail of a Black Hawk helicopter. “It was like slow motion. I remember that bird just spinning out of control,” says former U.S. Ranger Sgt. Randy Ramaglia. “[I was thinking] ‘Wait a minute. It’s not supposed to work like this. We’re Americans.’”
By the next morning, 18 U.S. soldiers were dead, 80 wounded and one a prisoner. During the raid, over 1,000 Somalis died.
The Blu-ray also includes an excellent Q&A after a screening of “Black Hawk Down” at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts in London. Director Scott was on stage along with producer Bruckheimer, journalist Bowden, actors Hartnett, McGregor and Isaacs, and military technical advisor (Ret.) Col. Tom Matthews, who says his mission was to make sure the film, “Kept true to the valor, heroism, dedication, and patriotism that those soldiers exhibited that day.”
Bruckheimer says the military eventually appreciated Bowden’s efforts; his work is now on the recommended reading list. Plus, he and Scott made a number of trips to the Pentagon, getting support from the highest levels.
Matthews chimed in to say, “Ridley, Jerry and Mark’s efforts and the actors you saw up on the screen, did a phenomenal job portraying a very dirty situation, urban combat, direct-fire missions, block by block, house by house. It speaks for itself.”
— Bill Kelley III, High-def Watch producer