The film Black Hawk Down is back in the spotlight with Sony Home Entertainment’s lavish new retrospective and the first 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray edition of the Ridley Scott war film that reached theaters a few short months after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Emotionally wrenching, politically volatile, and technically sublime, Black Hawk Down ushered in a new era of combat filmmaking as it detailed the infamous downing of two U.S. UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters in Mogadishu and the protracted efforts to rescue their crewmen – efforts that escalated into the most intense close combat involving U.S. forces since the Vietnam War.
The film was based on Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War (Signet Books), the 1999 non-fiction bestseller by journalist Mark Bowden and based on his reportage for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Bowden recently spoke with Deadline about the ongoing echoes of the films, which featured a deep cast led by Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor, Eric Bana, Jason Isaacs, Orlando Bloom, Sam Shepard, Ty Burrell, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, and, making his feature-film debut, Tom Hardy.
DEADLINE: Ridley Scott formally trained as a painter and often approaches his film as moving canvases. Do you see ways that comes across in Black Hawk Down?
BOWDEN: I was amazed at how carefully and deliberately he composed every scene. I still have some of what they call “Ridleygrams” on my office wall; these are still shots from the film that he has drawn over, suggesting alterations of color or small changes for CGI. I also remember Ridley, who is a terrific sketch artist, roughing out frames from the film on paper before he ever started shooting. It made me realize how he conceptualizes a story visually, right from the start.
DEADLINE: Revisiting the film now, are there things in it that you perceive differently or didn’t perceive at all the first time?
BOWDEN: Most combat seen by US forces today is, like the battle depicted in Black Hawk Down, small, special ops units conducting raids, inserted, and supported by helicopters. So this is what most recent war films show. The first time we saw these tactics depicted realistically on screen was Black Hawk Down. So the film still seems very current. It is also better than most films on the subject, so what you see when you watch it today — 18 years later — it seems familiar, but better.
DEADLINE: Ridley Scott began his feature-film career with a movie about war and soldiers, The Duelists in 1977, and he’s revisited those themes in movies like Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven, Robin Hood, GI Jane and, of course, Black Hawk Down. His combat sagas don’t march in formation with their contemporary counterparts…
BOWDEN: Black Hawk Down has influenced every film about war since. The colors, the sound, the sound track, the camera angles, the editing … I have not seen a movie about war in the last 18 years — and there have been a lot of them — that doesn’t owe a debt to Ridley’s movie. The influence goes beyond conscious imitation, I think. When Ridley imagines a story, he puts such an original stamp on it that it comes to define the way we all think about it.
DEADLINE: What’s your favorite thing about the movie now? And has that been the case since its release? What would be a candidate for your least favorite thing?
BOWDEN: As the author of the book, I have always been struck by how well the film captures the story’s central story and spirit. My favorite moment in the movie is the scene where Jamie Smith dies after medic Kurt Schmid (Hugh Dancy) struggles in vain to clamp his severed femoral artery. It was a powerful and central moment in the book, and the film does it justice. Dancy is brilliant in that scene, as are his supporting cast. I also think the scene early in the film when the captured Somali leader Osman Otto (George Harris) schools General Garrison (Sam Shepard) on how little he knows about the country is both important, and well done. It is also, for something that might have been a throwaway moment in a lesser film, shot stunningly. My least favorite moment (which would not strike most viewers in the same way) is when Garrison (Shepard) tries to mop up the blood on the operating room floor near the movie’s end. Never happened, and, to me, knowing Garrison, never would.
DEADLINE: If Black Hawk Down had a follow-up film today what might it explore?
BOWDEN: Some of the young Rangers who fought in Mogadishu later went to war as old hands in Iraq and Afghanistan. I can imagine a movie set in one of those more recent conflicts where characters from BHD are seen at the end of their careers, say, for example, fighting in Fallujuah, or conducted a special ops raid that goes sour. It would powerfully illustrate, plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.