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Black Hawk Down: Deluxe Edition

DVD consumers have been barraged with the "special edition" — the two-disc set with 12 hours of supplements, the three-disc set with four audio commentaries, and the four-disc set with enough supplements to feed the needy. But let's just face it — the special edition has become less and less special. And not just because every popular movie seems to need to have supplements. Normally what's to be found on SEs are regurgitated half-hour "making-of" spots developed for cable TV, as well as folks on commentary tracks who say little more than how much they enjoyed working with their co-stars. Few discs nowadays really tell us something about the film or the events it may have been based on. Thus, we extend thanks to director Ridley Scott and DVD producer Charles de Lauzirika — they've shown how to make solid DVDs out of current films. No matter what some folks may have thought of their previous two efforts (Gladiator, Hannibal), the DVDs were solid two-disc editions. And with the second release of Black Hawk Down in a three-disc "Deluxe Edition" set, they've delivered something that comes very close to definitive, with supplements that are not only informative and interesting, but also provide perspective on the historical events behind the story. Derived from Mark Bowden's best-selling book of the same title, Black Hawk Down is the cinematic account of an October 1993 incident when a U.S. military raid went wrong in Mogadishu, Somalia. The Army Rangers and Delta Force (two of America's upper-echelon fighting units) were sent in to collect two lieutenants of a Somali warlord, but upon their insertion a younger Rangers fell while repelling from a helicopter. This was the first of many disastrous events that occurred during the planned 30-minute incursion that turned into 36 hours of trying to get the men out in the face of heavy resistance. The worst of it came when the Somali forces, which the U.S. considered to have inferior firepower, downed two Black Hawk helicopters. Though the motivations for the assault are touched on only lightly, it's because the film is told through the eyes of the men, commanded by Maj. Gen. William Garrison (Sam Shepard) and led in by Army Ranger Sgt. Eversmann (Josh Harnett), Delta Force operatives Norm 'Hoot' Gibson (Eric Bana) and Sanderson (William Fichtner), and through Rangers like Grimes (Ewen McGregor), a man who acted as a desk clerk until he was sent in because another man injured his arm playing ping pong. Director Scott focuses on the realities of the soldiers' conflict, with bullets and RPGs fired around their heads, unsure of who they can shoot at, their only instruction being that they can shoot only if they are being fired upon. Black Hawk Down one of the great war films because it has no interest in saying these men were fighting the good fight, nor does it question the nature of war. By portraying the swirling anarchy of such an incident with little to no politicking, and by trying to relay the incidents — as told in Bowden's account — as accurately as possible, Scott succeeds at creating a great portrait of the chaos of war.

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The original single-disc release of Black Hawk Down from Columbia TriStar featured just a few extras — trailers, filmographies, and a "On the Set" featurette. The follow-up three-disc "Deluxe Edition" is sure to please the film's fans and DVD collectors. The anamorphic transfer and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio appear unchanged, but where this set shines is in the supplements. Disc One includes three audio commentaries — the first with Ridley Scott and producer Jerry Bruckheimer, the second with Mark Bowden and screenwriter Ken Nolan, and the third with Task Force Ranger veterans Master Sgt. Matt Eversmann, Col. Tom Mathews, Col. Danny McKnight, and Col. Lee Van Arsdale. All three tracks are fascinating, with the second two doing a good job of talking about what the filmmakers got right and wrong (mostly the former). Meanwhile, Ridley Scott has proved himself to be one of the better director commentators, and he is exceptionally honest about what he does. Also included on the first disc are filmographies — but that's just the first disc. Disc Two features a 150 min. documentary on the making of the film, "The Essence of Combat." Broken into six parts and covering all phases of production, it's a solid piece of behind-the-scenes work, showcasing sections on the actor's combat training, Hans Zimmer's score, and the special effects. Next up is a section called "Image and Design," which holds "Designing Mogadishu," a 15-minute look at the production design, accompanied by a still gallery. Seven minutes apiece of "Storyboards" and "Ridleygrams" (Scott's own storyboards) can be viewed alone or next to their respective scenes, with production audio or optional commentary by Sylvain Depretz. Next up is "Jerry Bruckheimer's Black Hawk Down Photo Gallery" (6 min.), narrated by Bruckheimer, while "Title Design Explorations" is a three-minute piece with optional commentary by Flavio Campagna that looks at the different title credits that were tried out. Eight deleted or alternate scenes (approx. 20 min.) feature optional commentary by Scott. Finally, Disc Three includes an "Historical Archive," which includes the History Channel documentary "The True Story of Black Hawk Down" (92 min.) and the Frontline episode "Ambush in Mogadishu" (55 min.) accompanied by a mission timeline that breaks down the events of the day into its major sections. "Q and A Forums" include an interview at the BAFTA with Scott, Bruckheimer, Josh Harnett, Ewen McGregor, Jason Isaacs, Mark Bowden, and Col. Tom Mathews (11 min.), an interview at the Motion Picture Editor's Guild with Pietro Scalia, who won an Academy Award for his efforts (10 min.), and an American Cinematheque interview with Scott and Bruckheimer (12 min.). And the "Promotion" section offers the theatrical trailer and ten TV spots, some bonus trailers, a poster-concept gallery, and a music video. For all the "special editions" out there and still to come, few come as close to feeling as authoritative as this one. Three-disc digipak with paperboard slipcase.

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