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Based on the true story of a military raid on October 3, 1993, when American forces entered the Somalian capital Mogadishu. Their assignment was to capture Mohammed Farrah Aideed, a warlord whose militia has hijacked humanitarian aid intended for Somalia's starving population. A local tip-off reveals where Aideed's cabinet is meeting and a contingent of Ranger and Special Forces troops are despatched. When militia loyal to Aideed shoot down two of American's Black Hawk helicopters, the supposedly simple mission turns into a military disaster and a fight for survival by stranded US troops. 

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
In August last year when the single disc version came out, it was seen as a technically superb example of DVD arts and crafts, but there were rumblings amongst the DVD fans that this release didn’t do justice to the film. That was a valid criticism, and as if to prove how much more could be done, Columbia has come up with this three disc Collector’s Edition, saturating the most demanding with the longest attention span with a myriad features.

One of these not mentioned on the materials is Ken Nolan’s “dos and don’ts” about recording DVD commentaries; this is pithy and astute stuff, and presented in simple text ‘page’ format. I found it by accident when seeking to navigate back to a menu, under Angle Menus. His tips include things like: “Don’t be jokey with each other. It’s annoying. (Only stars can do this.)” Another one: “Don’t name drop or kiss ass. We all know Ridley is a genius. Don’t need me to say it.” And so on. 

Screenwriter Nolan and author Mark Bowden pair up for what is a rare display of respect from Hollywood to writers: their very own commentary track. They discuss how they each found the story and why they got profoundly interested in it. They also reveal some of the writers’ tricks and devices. But they also display a sense of humour that enlivens the track. Nolan also talks briefly about Eric Bana, and how his first saw him in Chopper, which he likens to Taxi Driver.

Four veterans of the action in Mogadishu gather for a separate commentary, and this will interest those who are interested in a) the military and weapons point of view, b) the political aspects that drove the decision to go in and c) anyone with a broader interest in the global context of military intervention in pursuit of a humanitarian cause.

On Disc Two – Hawk – the 7 minute Ridleygrams featurette is modest by comparison, but compelling, and one of my favourites. It shows in split screen the original storyboard sketch Scott made and the matching scenes in the finished film. The alternate ending (one of several alternate or deleted scenes) is also interesting for what Scott says about his choices. It’s in moments like this that Ridley Scott really delivers added value.

The major items on Disc Three – Down, are the two docos, one on the making of the film (from the production team) and the other on the historic event on which it is based, from the History Channel, needless to say. But there are also three edited Q&A sessions, which don’t really add much to the already full lode of information on the discs, but certainly add texture.

The multi-angle feature built around the crucial ‘insertion’ – which here refers to the choppers taking the troops into the target zone – is interesting for both fans and filmmakers, although I couldn’t get the angle switching to work very well. The commentary from 1st AD Terry Needham, a longtime Ridley Scott associate, is not as specific as I’d have liked, Needham preferring to talk generally about how great and simple it is to work with Ridley Scott. He should have read Nolan’s notes on making DVD commentary tracks.

The menus are attractive and dynamic, the music used for the navigation spaces is haunting and the content is almost overwhelming – but welcome, especially for those who have invested heavily in high end digital home entertainment systems.

Superbly transferred with great image depth, clarity and stunning sound, the film itself is a significant cinematic achievement. From the promotional tagline, ‘Leave No Man Behind’ to the final line of dialogue, spoken by Eric Bana’s character, Sgt First Class ‘Hoot’ Gibson, to the effect that he’s going back into battle as a Delta Force specialist “because of the man next to you,” Ridley Scott makes it abundantly clear that he’s making a buddy movie. It’s about heroes who don’t mean to be heroes but do heroic things by instinct, and about the American spirit in the face of defeat or disaster. For an Englishman, he does a darn good job of that, taking us into the 1993 battle of Somalia’s civil war on the side of the Americans who try to kidnap a vicious warlord, a man whose actions and supporters helped starve 300,000 Somalians to death. (In that context, criticising the Americans for interfering in an attempt to assist seems to miss a rather tragic point. Ditto Iraq a decade later. Ridley Scott’s commentary at one stage sounds as though he’s talking about Iraq in early 2003. He isn’t but he could well have been.) 

The pity is that its huge, technically, cinematically perfect recreation of the hideous, terrifying and insane battle ground of Mogadishu eventually – after just two hours of almost endless fighting - covers up the whole reason for the slaughter. Maybe that’s another of Scott’s points. That it’s all so pointless in the end, since nothing changes in this world, as people around the world hack each other and shoot each other and maim each other for causes and ends that get mulched in the process. We see it all on screen here, from the bullets to the blood, from the chaos and the spilt guts to the mulching of sanity. Nobody can fault the film for its traditional cinematic achievements; extraordinary veracity and visceral punch has been achieved; every aspect of filmmaking craft is at its state of the art best. I just wish more had been done about the politics and the self-serving ‘Animal Farm’ culture of the militia, to set the story in its full context. As it is, western democracy can be seen to be equated with American politics of violence in a foreign country. This is simplistic and the film could have avoided that response had it been more sensitive to the political perceptions that it triggers. But as I said at the beginning, this is really a buddy movie. So while it’s based on fact, and it goes a long way to document the circumstances, the film is not about the incident as such. It’s about the men.

Published May 8, 2003

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CAST: Tom Sizemore, Josh Hartnett, Eric Bana, Sam Shepard, Ewan McGregor, William Fichtner.

DIRECTOR: Ridley Scott

RUNNING TIME: 138 minutes (feature)

PRESENTATION: 2.35:1; Audio - Dolby 5.1

Original Widescreen presentation; Audio commentary by director Ridley Scott and producer Jerry Bruckheimer; Audio commentary by author Mark Bowden and screenwriter Ken Nolan; Audio commentary by 1993 U.S. Special Forces team veterans; Talent profiles

8 never-before-seen deleted scenes with optional commentary by director Ridley Scott; ‘Image & Design’ - 7 featurettes and features that explore the creation of the movie including ‘Jerry Bruckheimer’s on-set photography’, Ridleygrams’, storyboard to final film comparisons and extensive photo galleries; ‘The Essence Of Combat’ – 6 behind-the-scenes features including actor’s bootcamp and an in-depth look at the film’s visual effects and music.

‘Ambush In Mogadishu’ – a 60 minute documentary on the making of the movie with cast and crew interviews; ‘The True Story Of Black Hawk Down’ – a 92 minute History Channel documentary on the events that inspired the movie; BAFTA Q&A session with Ridley Scott, Jerry Bruckheimer and the cast; Editor’s Guild Q&A session with editor Pietro Scalia; American Cinematheque Q&A session with Ridley Scott and Jerry Bruckheimer; ‘Target Building Insertion’ – multi-angle scene deconstruction with optional commentary Gortoz A Ran – J’Attends music video performed by Lisa Gerrard and Denez Prigent; Poster explorations photo gallery Movie soundtrack TV commercial; Original movie trailer; Bonus movie trailers

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