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Category:    Home > Reviews > Action > Drama > War > Black Hawk Down (U.S.Non-Superbit DVDs vs. Superbit Korean Set)

Black Hawk Down (DVD Comparison)


                                             Picture:     Sound:     Extras:     Film:

Basic Edition                              A-              B+            C-         A-

Deluxe Edition                            A-              B+            A+        A-

Region 1, 3, 4 Superbit Deluxe      A                A             A          A



Ridley Scott’s 2001 film Black Hawk Down is nothing short of an amazing, unforgettable experience that puts the viewer right into the boots of the men that went through the ambush in Mogadishu in 1993.  The film is still stretching towards its audience as it was slightly washed to the side being released shortly after the unforgivable attack of 9-11.  Perhaps now is the time to finally have a DVD worth owning.


It also does not help when the film has been released in multiple versions here in the U.S. on the DVD format all of which are inferior to the Region 3 disc released in Korean, but more on that later.  Most critics that felt the film was one-sided completely lost the point of the matter, which was to attempt to recreate the experience exactly as it was from the perspective of the U.S. troops involved.  Many of those men assisted in the actual direction of the film and were utilized in recreating a very true and personal film. 


Director Ridley Scott became involved and was a wise choice because he is quite capable of taking large-scale events and making them cinematic without losing dignity.  He was also on a roll with the success of Gladiator (2000) and Hannibal (2001), which was more of a commercial success.  The film was also co-produced by Jerry Bruckheimer who is notorious for bringing larger than life stories onto the screen with most of the money retained on-screen.  After The Rock (1996) and Armageddon (1998), it was nice to see Bruckheimer use a more visceral filmmaker like Ridley Scott versus Michael Bay.  What remains a constant in his productions though is the beautiful look of the film, despite the graphic and gruesome nature of the filmed event.  This was part of the heavy criticism with the ‘look’ of Pearl Harbor (2001).  This same type of bashing was familiar with Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket (1987), when some felt that the war images depicted a glorious sensationalism of violence, death, and war in general.  This is absolutely absurd since beauty lies in everything, even when life in particular is not altogether pleasing.  A perfect sunset can fall no matter what events are taking place that it is falling upon.


It’s pretty amazing when a director can have a cast of semi-known and known actors, but when you watch the film you rarely sense it.  No actor was given more screen time than the film required.  Everyone is treated more like an equal.  Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor, Tom Sizemore, Eric Bana, and Orlando Bloom are all familiar faces to us, but this type of film requires the use of everyone in equal roles in order to make the film accurate and to work on the level it needs to.


The mission was to have 123 elite U.S. troops drop into Somalia and capture two of the top lieutenants under the powerful renegade warlord (Aidid), but find themselves under heavy attack from a force of armed civilians.  The title comes into play when two of the Black Hawk helicopters are sent down to the ground after being hit with land to air missiles, which turns the operation around and make the new mission saving the lives of the men now wounded and in the middle of absolute chaos.    


The purpose of this review though is not really to pick apart the film as much as it is to compare the film’s release in three different DVD versions.  First there was the bare bones initial U.S. release, which contained the film with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio and a decent 2.40 X 1 anamorphic transfer.  Most fans were upset that the film did not include more supplements, especially since they knew that this film begged for audio commentary or some sort of material involving the production and the actual real story. 


Well, those fans got their wish several months down the road as Columbia TriStar announced a Deluxe 3-disc edition of the film, which would contain basically the same picture and sound information as the basic edition, but this time it would add three separate audio commentaries from Ridley Scott/Jerry Bruckheimer, Author Mark Bowden/Screenwriter Ken Nolan, and Veteran Task Force Rangers.  Those three commentaries alone were worth the investment as the first track offers the director and producer giving more of the technical information about the film, track two offering more on the book to screen transformation, and finally the actual people that were there giving their thoughts on the depiction and accuracy of the film. 


For those that debate the historical accuracy of this film these three tracks should pretty much answer any questions about the film.  Ridley Scott addresses the certain artistic liberties taken, while the screenwriter and writer of the book for which the film is based talk about why certain changes were made, and finally the vets pretty much talk about just how authentic the film looks and feels.  However, for those who are not easily pleased there are still two more discs for your enjoyment that even go further.


Disc Two offers a 150-minute “The Essence of Combat: Making of Black Hawk Down” documentary that is lengthy, detailed, and entertaining.  Yes, it does run nearly three hours and that’s still not all.  The rest of Disc Two is devoted to more of the actual production itself including 8 deleted and alternate scenes with optional commentary.  Then there is the “Designing Mogadishu” featurette, which deals with the transformation into making the set look real and finally there are storyboards with optional commentary.  A few other items such as photo galleries and scrapbooks round off Disc Two making it one of the most in-depth extra discs in all of DVD land.  There is still more…


Disc Three goes even beyond and delivers the History Channel’s “The True Story of Black Hawk Down”, which once again goes over some of the same material, but gives a more broad and overall context of the actual events.  PBS also put together an episode entitled “Frontline: Ambush in Mogadishu”, which is also on this disc for even more depth and dimension to the story.  Next we are taken into the Mission Timeline giving a more detailed account of what happened and when.  For those that like watching the actual people talk about the events they will enjoy the BAFTA question and answers session, which puts Ridley Scott, Jerry Bruckheimer, some cast members and Mark Bowden in front of people that just saw the film and have some thoughts about it.  This is a nice extra few films get.  Disc Three also contains a music video with Denez Prigent and Lisa Gerrard, who was responsible for her beautiful additions on the score for Scott’s Gladiator, also scored by Hans Zimmer, who has established a great working relationship with Ridley on his past few films. 


If you are not worn out after all these extras than you deserve a medal for that!  However, there remains one problem in general.  While this Deluxe Set is terrific on the extras portion it was always lacking in the overall deliver and never offered the stunning cinematography by Slawomir Idziak or the Oscar Winning sound design onto the DVD format like it should.  Columbia TriStar has set the standards with their Superbit Edition titles, which bring the film to the format with the entire DVD concentrated to a better transfer and better sound.  By utilizing the entire disc for just the film the transfers look warmer, more saturated, and refined.  The other addition is the better DTS audio option that outperforms its Dolby Digital counterpart. 


There is often a lot of debate when it comes to Dolby Digital and DTS audio with the only complaint towards DTS being that the sound is more toyed with and altered, which is completely preposterous.  In theaters films are encoded with Dolby and DTS audio, but for home viewing the DVD’s take up a lot of space with DTS utilizing the higher kilobits per second and delivering less compression.  Anything that is less compressed is going to be fuller, more dynamic, and certainly smoother.  The result is a more lifelike presentation where gunshots sound realistic.  Other directional effects sound smoother going through the sound field making this a presentation of dynamic proportions.  DTS also presents a more predominant lower and higher end giving more life to the film.  Both the basic and Deluxe Set of Black Hawk Down in the U.S. never took full advantage of that and only supplied the film with Dolby Digital audio.  What a mistake, therefore the film was never engaging as it was in the theater and by doing so the film just does not play out like it should.  The film becomes more muted with sound being fainter, dialogue sounding muffled, and the beautiful score by Hans Zimmer not registering in the higher and lower ranges like it should. 


Alas there is an answer!  Most U.S. consumers are blind to the fact that outside the U.S. things are much different on the DVD market.  Often time foreign releases of American titles have different supplements or better picture/sound.  Of course it becomes hard to keep track of what gets issued where and certain Copyright laws make it difficult.  Not to mention the Region coding in non-U.S. areas, which won’t play on U.S. Region 1 machines.  Some titles like the Jurassic Park series, which was a Universal film in the U.S., was distributed by Columbia TriStar as part of their Superbit Collection in Japan.  Other times, as the case with Eyes Wide Shut, the European cut delivered the film in the preferred non-censored version.  This makes All Region DVD players more sought after if you know what you are getting into. 


As for Black Hawk Down there was a Superbit Deluxe set released in Region 3, which is from Korea, but the odd thing is that it plays in Region 1 just fine.  This has been identified as being playable in Regions 1 & 4 as well.   This is a set worth looking into if for none other than just better picture and sound.  However, you will certainly find more than you bargained for.  Read on…


The Superbit Region 1, 3, 4 Deluxe set is similar to the Region 1 disc with all of its supplements except the commentary tracks.  Those are missing from that disc because it is a Superbit title, which offers the film only on that disc in a higher bit rate transfer with both Dolby Digital and DTS audio options.  Finally the film that won for Best Sound can be realized at home!  There is literally no comparison when it comes to these two audio tracks.  After listening to the DTS track no one in the right mind would ever switch back to the Dolby Digital.  The sound is much smoother, more natural, and far more engaging in DTS.  Gunshots penetrate the sound field and helicopters make full circle through the surrounds with more definition that before.  Dolby has such limitations that the experience was not the same, but now this DTS option puts the listener right there.  This is a powerful film that incorporates lots of action and intensity, which deserves the best audio option in order to recreate that feel.  


Black Hawk Down is a also a very color rich film presented in an anamorphically enhanced 2.40 X 1 scope transfer that looks good in all versions. A very golden palette makes the film appear gritty with the African landscape looking charred and burnt.  Flesh tones have a smoother look when comparing the Superbit release to the two U.S. releases.  Detail is rendered far better with dirt specs on the ground or sweat on the face having a more lifelike quality.  Blacks are deeper and never take away from the glossy look when used on objects like the helicopter or even the African actors’ complexions.  Without a doubt the film has a more lucid texture on the Superbit Edition, which is one other reason to forget about the Region 1 issues. 


So is the Region 1, 3, 4 only worth acquiring for the better picture and sound?  Not hardly!  The Superbit’s disc also throws in a bonus disc, the films entire soundtrack on CD featuring one of 2001’s finest scores by Hans Zimmer, one of his personal bests at that.  Plus, there is a booklet within the case that reviews the soundtrack and its tie-in with the film itself. That booklet also contains some more storyboards and the reverse side of the booklet is a foldout poster for the film!  Pretty awesome stuff!  Too bad the U.S. always gets left out of the goodies, but this is one DVD set worth going through the hassle of seeking after.  The biggest bonus of all is that this set retails for about $30, where the U.S. release is near $40.  The bottom line out of all this is that if you already own the basic U.S. edition you definitely want to upgrade to the Superbit set.  If you own the Deluxe Set than you might want to consider making the slight upgrade and depending on your feelings for the commentary tracks you might want to sell off your copy and retain the Superbit set.  If you do not own any version of Black Hawk Down on standard DVD, then you MUST consider getting the Superbit set, because you will spend less and get more, much more.


Up next, Sony issued a 50GB High Definition Blu-ray edition of the film and be looking for that review soon.



-   Nate Goss


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