Updated: Jun 27
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
The U.S. Consulate and a secret CIA base in Benghazi, Libya are under attack from Islamic militants on the anniversary of 9/11.
“13 HOURS: THE SECRET SOLDIERS OF BENGHAZI”
4K Ultra HD, Digital copy; 2016; R for strong combat violence throughout, bloody images, and profanity; streaming via Amazon Video/Prime, Apple TV (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)
Best extra: “For the Record: Finding the Truth Amid the Noise”
HONESTLY, I’ve never been a fan of Michael Bay movies.
The majority of them have been eye candy designed to titillate the senses and nothing more. Bay’s career began in music video and commercials before he landed his first feature film, action-comedy “Bad Boys” (1995) starring Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. His biggest box office success has been the “Transformers” franchise, which has made a bundle – more than $4.3 billion, fueled by an international box office that craves his brand of explosion-fueled action and cutting edge special effects.
But in 2016, Michael Bay took on “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi,” a fact-based action drama based on journalist and professor Mitchell Zuckoff’s report of the Behghazi terrorist attack in Libya on September 11, 2012. It’s clearly Bay’s best work since “The Rock” (1996) starring Sean Connery and Nicolas Cage.
During the Benghazi attack, U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed. The book “13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Happened in Benghazi” was a New York Times bestseller told through the voices of the American security contractors who survived. “This is a story close to the ground from the people who actually lived it, the men who fought it and who lived and, tragically, some who died,” Zuckoff says during the featurette “For the Record: Finding the Truth Amid the Noise” included on an enclosed bonus disc that houses more than 60 minutes of extras.
Zuckoff’s storyline never veers from the battle to save 34 Americans at the ambassador compound and the secret CIA base in Benghazi. His narrative stays clear of what happened or didn’t happen in Washington D.C. with the Obama administration and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, or what was said on TV news and talk shows.
Zuckoff first met the surviving team members, part of the Global Response Services, CIA’s security staff in hostile environments established after 9/11. The Benghazi team was made up of former Marines, Navy SEALS, and Army Rangers. Zuckoff interviewed everyone individually, “So I could hear each one’s version,” he says. It continued for two months as he recorded participant’s personal history from birth up to what happened that night in Libya. Afterward, they reconvened and rehashed the attack as a group.
“We as a team decided the story wasn’t being told [about] what actually happened that night. We felt compelled to make sure the story gets out there [and] is told the right way. It’s not about the politics; it’s the story of what happened on the ground.” — GRS survivor and former Marine Mark “Oz”’ Geist
John Krasinski (“A Quiet Place”) plays ex-SEAL Jack Silva, a pseudonym to protect his real identity. He arrives at the Benghazi airport for another security tour, leaving his wife and three kids back home. “I got a chance to meet the guy who I’m playing, and it was a tremendous honor,” says Krasinski. One other survivor involved with the book and movie decided to follow the same path and did not give out his identity.
During the summer of 2012, Benghazi was a “lawless place with no functioning government,” Zuckoff says. A number of different militias were fighting for power, collecting the guns and the large weapons that had been left behind by the toppled Gaddafi administration. The rising Islamic militias were within a stone’s throw of the U.S. Diplomatic Outpost. “Anything could happen and a lot of nights, it often did,” Zuckoff says.
Two years to the day after the Benghazi attack, screenwriter Chuck Hogan turned the adapted screenplay into Paramount Studios. Five weeks later, “13 Hours” got the greenlight. The studio forwarded the work to director Michael Bay, who was "looking for a change of pace," Hogan says.
“It became instantly clear how passionate Michael was for these guys and how involved he was with the Special Forces community,” says Producer Erwin Stoff. Bay has a long history working with the military, going back to filming “Pearl Harbor.”
The director also visited CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., and talked to the upper GRS staffers about his vision for the film, says Joost Janssen, former Navy SEAL and GRS operator. “I think this movie is very important Michael, to tell the story of true heroism of people who put their lives on the line every day. Actually, he shows what that really means,” Krasinski says.
Former Navy SEALS conducted an actor’s boot camp starting each day at 6 a.m. and didn’t finish until sundown, making sure cast members maneuvered like real GRS staffers using weapons. Ex-military and GRS staffers were also recruited as stunt doubles, since many days there were over 300 extras, with practical effects exploding to duplicate an active war zone.
As expected, the visuals from Bay and cinematographer Dion Beebe look amazing, sourced from a variety of formats including 6K Redcode RAW digital cameras, traditional 35mm in spots, digital aerial footage from drones, and Sony’s Alpha 7s, which at the time was the most light-sensitive camera in the industry for those super dark nighttime scenes. Most of the action was captured on the island of Malta subbing for Libya. Sadly, the high-res footage was mastered in 2K (2.39:1 aspect ratio) and then upconverted for its 4K presentation on disc and streaming. Overall sharpness is still first-rate, while the rapid-fire editing makes it tough to focus on single shot more than a few seconds.
HDR10 and Dolby Vision toning provide more defined highlights, especially with clouds, while giving nighttime battle sequences more depth and clarity. Overall brightness has been toned down a couple of notches since the 4K can extract more definition in dark areas. The color palette has also been dialed toward earth tones, away from the garish orange found on previous versions. The explosions are intensely bright, still with plenty of orange and red fireballs. This 4K is a worthy upgrade from previous HD versions.
The Oscar-nominated sound mix remains superb. It was mastered in a Dolby Atmos all-enveloping soundtrack on 4K, streaming and the older Blu-ray. It features deep, deep bass responses during explosions, while the soundstage highlights bullets zipping throughout the room from front to back and above placing viewers within the battle. A minimalist electronic score from Lorne Balfe (“Mission: Impossible – Fallout”) is barely noticeable, an intentional choice to achieve a better sense of realism.
“13 Hours” didn’t shatter any box office records. In fact, it barely broke even, receiving mixed reviews from critics and a public still reeling from the events. But most importantly, Michael Bay and company “took the project very seriously and was very respectful to us,” says GRS survivor and former Marine John “Tig” Tiegen.
― Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer
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