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Ridley Scott tells an unsentimental war story

Director captures '93 Somali mission in 'Black Hawk Down'

Ridley Scott
"Black Hawk Down" director Ridley Scott: His movie is "hideously timely."  

By Andy Culpepper

LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- "Black Hawk Down," the new film about the disastrous 1993 humanitarian mission in Somalia, isn't a documentary, but moviegoers might be forgiven for believing it is.

Besides drawing factual information from Mark Bowden's best-seller of the same name, director Ridley Scott created a gritty, you-are-there atmosphere that has been compared to the D-Day invasion scenes in Steven Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan" (1998).

Scott's film takes moviegoers from discussion to execution of the mission in which American forces launched a raid against members of a hostile Somali faction loyal to warlord Mohamed Aidid. The operation was expected to be a precise, surgical strike.

But something went wrong, and in a street battle that followed in Mogadishu, hundreds of Somalis lay dead, along with 18 U.S. soldiers.

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In the film, Scott embroils viewers in the spectacle of Black Hawk helicopters airdropping their human cargo into the midst of what becomes, in seconds, a hell on Earth. Think horror mixed with deja vu, as if the scenes unfolding were news reports from Afghanistan -- except the Americans find themselves trapped and ambushed.

Scott, 64, acknowledges as much.

"It's hideously timely in that we do the movie, which is about a [historical] event, then which becomes a replay virtually blow-for-blow where we are now," he said.

Noted for carefully composed images

War movies are something relatively new for Scott, who's known for his carefully composed, often rain-drenched images. He first gained wide success with the science-fiction thriller "Alien" (1979) and followed up that movie with another science-fiction film, "Blade Runner" (1982), and a fantasy film, "Legend" (1985).

But the British-born director has had varied subject matter since then, striking a blow for feminism with his dark buddy/road picture, "Thelma & Louise" (1991), starring Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon; dealing with his own perfect storm in "White Squall" (1996); and directing Demi Moore in a very different type of military movie, "G.I. Jane" (1997).

Scott also gave new life to the Roman epic with best picture Oscar winner "Gladiator" (2000).

Black Hawk Down
"Black Hawk Down" concerns a disastrous 1993 humanitarian mission in Somalia.  

Characters in "Black Hawk Down" are based on actual people who died in battle, and surviving friends and colleagues gave Scott and his cast considerable input. The director suggests he didn't find the process stressful.

"No, no, not really," he insists. "But you can't think about that." The goal, he said, was to make the film as accurate as possible in dramatizing the lives of soldiers on the firing line.

'You can only leave questions'

Both sides, he notes, were damaged by the incident. The United States pulled out and became gun-shy about committing to similar operations. Somalia remains a lawless land -- one suspected of being a training ground for terrorists.

The film, however, does not point fingers.

"I can't, at the end of it, come up with answers," Scott said. "I don't even come up with opinions. You can only leave questions. So if you're left with questions at the end of it, that's good."

But, he said, he hopes the heroism of soldiers trying to save their colleagues comes through in the movie.

"I'm really happy because I think we avoided sentimentalizing the events," he said. "[We] tried to do justice to the guys who were actually there."


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