Review: 'Black Hawk Down' explodes on 4K UHD

Posted May 07,2019 - 04:59 PM

If there's one constant in human evolution, it's the devastating effect of war on our society. Whether it's muskets and the Colonists forging their independence from the British or the United States changing warfare forever by dropping an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, war has lasting effects on humanity.

So too, do movies made about these wars have lasting effects on film audiences. Whether it's Full Metal Jacket and the Vietnam war or Pearl Harbor and World War II, it seems that every conflict has a film that comes to encompass that war. For the Somalia incursion, the film that has come to be synonymous with early 1990s war efforts is Black Hawk Down.

Not surprisingly, director Ridley Scott lends his gritty visual style to the film that many have claimed is as close to approximating real war efforts as has ever been put on the silver screen. The accolades and critical feedback has done nothing to dissuade that argument over the last 20 years.

The film follows an elite group of American special forces soldiers who are sent to Somalia to capture a violent warlord, but the mission quickly goes sideways. Outnumbered by the Somali militia forces, the soldiers find themselves literally fighting for their lives.

I was a senior in high school when the true events surrounding this film took place, so you could say that I wasn't exactly in touch with them at the time. I remember watching the film when it came out in 2001 and being unable to believe that this actually happened, but that I had no memory of it at the time.

Of course, 1993 was sort of on the cusp of the 24-hour news cycle and the Internet was barely a thing. So, these type of events did have a way of slipping through the cracks of our collective consciousness. The fact that it was a mission that did not end so great for the United States probably only fueled the media's desire to sweep it under the rug a bit.

But thankfully, the embedded journalist wrote his book and it eventually made its way to Ridley Scott and Jerry Bruckheimer's laps and we will forever have this film to serve as a memory of this period. The film is filled with a young cast that was just hitting their collective strides as actors at the turn of the millennium, so it boggles the mind to go back and see them all together flexing their talents.

Josh Hartnett takes the lead (although it is very much an ensemble cast) and his emotional response to the events in the film still resonates with the audience today. It's a bit odd to see the path that his career has taken in the last 20 years as it looked like he was the next big Hollywood leading actor, only to see his work take him to TV and more independent films. But here, Josh Hartnett is at the top of his game and the audience experiences every visceral moment of the conflict through his eyes.

The rest of cast from a very young Ewan McGregor to a grizzled Sam Shepard give the film a real sense of realism thanks to their performances. While it's easy to overlook the great acting from an ensemble cast, each member delivers a strong performance capturing the chaotic nature of war.

I hadn't seen Black Hawk Down in probably a decade or so and I was anxious to see both how the film holds up and how it performs in the new format. I'm happy to report that both the emotional crux of the film and the special effects still combine to create an experience that hits the viewer in the gut.

The new HDR 10 visual track is a new transfer from the original camera negative and you will immediately notice the difference between the 4K UHD version and the Blu-ray. The film takes place both during the day and at night, so the crisper colors and the richness of the blacks take the experience to a whole new level. Being an action film that is almost 20 years old, I was concerned that the special effects would show their age in 4K resolution, but the decision to go back to the original negative is a wise one that should ease your fears.

Also, Ridley Scott is known for his practical effects, so there really is very little CG that needed to be updated in the process. The result is a gritty film that retains the film grain as intended by the filmmakers. In other words, the film has never looked better and is truly a showcase film for 4K UHD.

While I can sing praises about the video enhancements of the new format, the real winner is the audio with its brand new Dolby Atmos audio mix. Black Hawk Down is a film that naturally has a lot of action sequences, but there are also several quiet moments throughout to offset the frenzied action. The Atmos mix handles these two extremes expertly so that you won't be constantly diving for the volume button to find the right level.

Also, the Atmos mix really gives the firefight aspect of the battle scenes a life that truly immerses the viewer into the scene. You feel the bullets as they whizz by and you have to catch your breath at times and remind yourself that it's only a movie.

While the included bonus features have all been released at one point or another over the years and the many releases, it's nice to have them all corraled into one collection. They are robust and they really do make the 4K UHD feel like the ultimate version of the film. I will also mention that both the theatrical and extended cuts get the 4K UHD treatment which is rare for these type of catalog releases. While I have always favored the longer, extended cut if you happen to prefer the theatrical cut, rest assured that it's also available with the 4K video track and Dolby Atmos audio mix.

There is no question that if you enjoy Black Hawk Down, then you will need to pick up the 4K UHD version. It is now the ultimate version of the movie and it will surely impress you with its phenomenal new transfer and Atmos mix.