BLACK HAWK DOWN: DELUXE EDITION (Columbia/TriStar) D: Ridley Scott, w/ Josh Hartnett, Tom Sizemore. Three discs. Rating: NNNN
ridley scott adapts mark bowden's account of the 1993 battle between the U.S. army and the heavily armed population of Mogadishu, Somalia, into a stunningly detailed, electrifyingly intense film that runs an exhausting 140 minutes. It's like the opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan extended to a full movie. The Deluxe Edition, a three-DVD set, lives up to the movie: the making-of documentary is longer than the movie itself, andd there are three commentary tracks and a pair of hour-plus documentaries from the History Channel and PBS. And, as they say, much, much more.
As good as the transfer is, though, Black Hawk Down demands a theatrical setting for its full pin-you-to-the-seat effect. The bigger the better, since Scott has gone for absolute realism in his recreation of the battle. An annoying element in the making-of's clips by actors is how they all go on endlessly about how the film had to do justice to the men who fought the battle. We get the message by the 15th or so repetition.
The prize in the set is one of the most interesting commentaries ever: four veterans of the battle of Mogadishu (two of the film's technical advisers plus Sgt. Matt Eversmann, played by Josh Hartnett, and Col. Danny McKnight, played by Tom Sizemore) watch the movie and comment on the film's accuracy and lack thereof, finding it excellent overall. Scott's commentary is first-rate, and the 100-minute History Channel documentary gives a really solid context for the battle.
DVD EXTRAS Loaded (they aren't kidding when they say Deluxe) with more than six hours of extra material. Three commentaries, making-of documentary, The True Story Of Black Hawk Down, Ambush In Mogadishu, eight deleted scenes, storyboard gallery, production design featurette and gallery, multi-angle version of the building incursion sequence, theatrical trailer, TV spots, photo albums. English, French and Spanish versions, English, French, Spanish, Chinese and Thai subtitles.
THRONE OF BLOOD (Criterion/Morningstar, 1957) D: Akira Kurosawa w/ Toshirô Mifune, Isuzu Yamada. Rating: NNNN
knowing it had this in the cata-logue, Criterion might have held off on its Kurosawa samurai box set until Throne Of Blood was ready. Whatever the case, this remains a stunning adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth, with Toshirà Mifune as the usurping lord and Isuzu Yamada in a hauntingly strange turn as his wife. Criterion's good but variable transfer has some scenes showing much more grain than others, but not enough so it detracts from the viewing experience. Mifune gets one of the greatest death scenes in all cinema when Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane.
Criterion has done something interesting by commissioning two sets of English subtitles from two great Japanese-to-English subtitle translators. Linda Hoagland's (she's done seven Kurosawa films) are earthier, though Donald Richie's are more poetic. We can see the impact even the best-intentioned translator has on a film. Interesting that they chose to do it with this film, where so much of the drama plays silently.
DVD EXTRAS Scholarly commentary by Michael Jeck (rather breezier here than on his Seven Samurai commentary), theatrical trailer, booklet essays by Hoagland, Richie and Kurosawa scholar Steven Prince.
DIE ANOTHER DAY (MGM, 2002) D: Lee Tamahori, w/ Pierce Brosnan, Halle Berry. Two discs. Rating: NNN
die another day - bond 20 - is not one of the best, but it's a bit of a return to form after The World Is Not Enough. It's also loaded with fun allusions to other Bond movies, from Halle Berry's Andress-like emergence from the sea to the music sting from You Only Live Twice in the closing scene. It has a strong opening 90 minutes, from Bond's torture in a North Korean prison (a rare instance of credits being incorporated into the plot) to the demolition of the villain's frozen palace in Iceland. The film as a whole is solid but suffers from its over-reliance on monumental digital effects.
A good transfer, though DAD is not as visually impressive as Tomorrow Never Dies. The first disc offers three commentaries: one from Brosnan, who's very old-school and never mocks the product; a more interesting and informative track from director Lee Tamahori ("There's ostensibly a reason for Halle to take her top off in this scene") and producer Michael Wilson; and a visual commentary/trivia track that incorporates pop-up-video-style balloons and comments by various effects creators and actors.
DVD EXTRAS Three commentaries, DVD-ROM content. The second disc is loaded with big studio extras: an 80-minute making-of, featurettes on effects and gadgets, a breakdown of the opening credit sequence, Madonna's Die Another Day video, trailers and photo gallery.
TRUE PATRIOT LOVE: CANADA'S WAR STORIES (Morningstar, 1997-2002) D: Richard Nielsen. Seven discs. Rating: NNN
seven discs, almost 14 hours long, with DVD-ROM extras, this is the perfect gift for anyone who wishes that Ken Burns would take on Canadian history. This educational box par excellence brings together three series produced by Richard Nielsen that aired on CBC, Bravo and PBS: Far From Home: Canada And the Great War; No Price Too High: Canadians And The Second World War; and Test Of Will: Canada in Korea. It's not exactly an entertainment package, though. The compilers have Burns's style down but lack his very American impulse toward mythological grandeur. You can float in the gaseous self-absorption of Burns's series for a long time. The films in True Patriot Love are almost self-consciously mundane.
Each series follows the format Burns laid out for The Civil War. There's a chronological look at the events in the words of political leaders and the letters of various "ordinary" Canadians involved in the war. Original recordings are used if available; if not, actors do the voicing. There's a lot of very good footage of all three wars on display. I suspect a scene or two may have been recreated, but maybe I'm just suspicious of really clean documentary footage from olden times.
DVD EXTRAS Lots. The DVD-ROM content includes radio broadcasts, interactive maps, hours of newsreel footage, plus photo galleries, chronologies and time lines.
DEAD OR ALIVE (Kino, 1999) D: Takashi Miike, w/ Riki Takeuchi, Show Aikawa. Rating: NNNN
takashi miike is a japanese director in his 40s who's got about 50 films to his credit. Working at a pace that makes Fassbinder look like Dreyer, he's made 14 films in the last two years. You never know what you'll get from him - the slaughterhouse Guignol of Ichi The Killer, the chilling psychological horror of Audition or this berserk Shinjuku crime thriller.The jaw-dropping opening of Dead Or Alive, a relentless eight minutes or so, gives a fervid tour of the lower depths of Tokyo nightlife, complete with drugs, strippers, gluttony and a couple of gorily stylish killings. It plays like the greatest trailer ever made, but also establishes with alarming economy the morality of the film. It has none.
It then settles - that's the wrong word - into a more conventional thriller involving rival gangs and cops trapped between the factions. Though it never lives up to its opening, it has hallucinatory moments of beauty and terror. Rent before buying unless you're addicted to the Asian crime thriller.
DVD EXTRAS Interview with Miike, two theatrical trailers. English subtitles.
Also This week
FRIDA (Alliance Atlantis) Salma Hayek's Oscar-nominated biography of the noted Mexican artist.
BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER: COMPLETE SEASON 4 (20th Century Fox) The Big Bad episodes aren't that good, but oh, the stand-alones: Something Blue, Hush, Fear Itself, Where The Wild Things Are, Superstar, Restless.
GIANT, THE RIGHT STUFF, ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA, ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES (Warner) A new collection of two-disc SE's from WB, including the long-overdue release of Sergio Leone's epic Once Upon A Time In America in the director's cut and the proper aspect ratio. But the extended version of Robin Hood shows that Kevin Costner's pact with Satan has yet to expire.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb