Welcome to Framed, a column at Cinematical that runs every Thursday and celebrates the artistry of cinema -- one frame at a time.
A group of Delta Force soldiers and Army Rangers head into the midst of conflict in Mogadishu, Somalia. What should have been a quick mission to capture several of Somali warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid's lieutenants turned into a blood-soaked nightmare that left 1,000 Somalis and 19 American military dead. Ridley Scott's 'Black Hawk Down' isn't really concerned with addressing any of the humanitarian questions surrounding U.S. politics/military as it is with diving right into the action. Scott is interested in the brutality of war -- along with all the logistics and gory details -- versus any kind of character development. It's a visceral journey made all the more intense by cinematographer Slawomir Idziak's gritty lens and emotional hue.
Following suit from last week, instead of pointing out a single frame in the movie, I'd like to focus on two key points that make 'Black Hawk Down' visually interesting. There are several frames to check out in the galleries after the jump.
Color and Frames Within a Frame
Matthew Merkovich takes an obsessive look at 'Black Hawk's' intuitive color palette by using the Mac application, Thumber. The result is similar to Brendan Dawes' 'Cinema Redux' series, which is definitely worth checking out. By capturing 60 frames per row in one second intervals, Dawes creates a single image that is akin to a cinematic color chart. It's a unique way to examine the film's emotional timeline and pacing -- with all the key story elements "highlighted." In Merkovich's piece, you can see the progression from the brown and orange hues representing the grimy and dangerous elements of the opening combat, to the alienating blues and greens where the nighttime battles break out -- finally moving into the bright blues which signify the end of the struggle ... within the film anyway.
Also interesting is the way that Scott and Idziak use aerial shots -- a staple of most war films. While these shots are used to show the beauty of the majestic landscape -- sort of like the quiet before the storm -- as well as the action overhead between aircraft (we get a little bit of both in the very beginning of the movie), the majority of the aerial shots in 'Black Hawk Down' are used to depict the carnage that develops. It's not all random blow 'em up Bruckheimer, however, as the map-like photography is used to place you in the middle of the action and show you the scene as it unfolds from the tactical perspective of those in the fight. Aside from the authenticity of this viewpoint, the filmmaker strived to achieve a certain kind of beauty, which he does, in a very abstract sense (they're almost reminiscent of watercolor paintings or illustrations). Scott actually consulted the U.S. Military, not only to gain their permission to use Black Hawk helicopters, but for their expertise in aerial coordination -- along with his own coordination and camera pilot. Maj. Brian Bean, the Operations Officer from the 160th SOAR for the task force deployed to Morocco, had this to say about the collaboration between crews:
"We've integrated very closely with the film's aerial coordinators. They attend all our briefs, we fly together, communicate on the same radio frequencies ... we're all on the same page. And on the artistic side, a member of our Task Force stood next to Ridley Scott, making sure we understood his vision and executed it to our standards and safety."
Nothing was left to chance and though the aerial views can be taken at face value -- there's a creative element that has obviously been considered, which matches the rest of the film's artistic merit.
These are just a few of the things that make 'Black Hawk Down' a visually stunning film -- something that's often unexpected when it comes to movies about the devastating violence of war. Each shot is well-crafted and composed to match the movie's fast-paced action, which adds an air of authenticity and helps propel the film's gripping narrative. Idziak's unique cinematic perspective and color scheme adds another texture and dimension to Scott's depiction of the tragic events.