13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

in October we started this blog to explore a different way of experiencing movies at home — one that doesn’t involve spinning 4K Blu-ray discs or streaming movies from Netflix and other services. I’m talking about the server-based Kaleidescape movie system. You can read my impressions of the system in A Marriage Made in Movie Heaven) and my previous Kaleidescape-based movie reviews here.)

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13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi begins with the words, “This is a true story,” not “based” on one, with a screenplay by Chuck Hogan that is based on the book from Michael Zuckoff. It steers mostly clear of the politics surrounding the attack and tells the story from the perspective of the people who were on the ground during the attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi on September 11, 2012. Regardless of the politics, four Americans lost their lives that night: Ambassador Chris Stevens, Information Officer Sean Smith, and CIA operatives Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods, both former Navy SEALs who were civilian contractors working out of a secret CIA Annex near the compound.

The first act does a commendable job of setting up the main characters and the situation on the ground in Libya, but it’s when all hell breaks loose that the film really gains its footing. I’m not a big fan of Michael Bay films, finding them to be mostly mindless adventures, but here he delivers a compelling drama with well-orchestrated stunts and action sequences that complement the story instead of burying it. The film takes a balanced approach that’s atypical of his signature films.

It’s been six years since this film was released and, in that time, I’ve watched it countless times on Blu-ray and Ultra HD Blu-ray since it’s one of my favorite films in the past 20 years. I’ve also taken the time to read Zuckoff’s compelling book and I am impressed with how Hogan and Bay stick to the facts. At the time of the movie’s release, many critics accused Zuckoff of playing fast and loose with the facts, but these criticisms are mostly based on the unnamed CIA station chief who refused to be interviewed by Zuckoff. He claims there was never a “stand down” order given, but forgive me if I don’t believe someone from the CIA — this is the organization that claimed the Hunter Biden laptop was Russian disinformation and we all know how that turned out. As I see it, they lie so much they forget what the actual truth is. I’ll take the word of the men who risked their lives on those two fateful days to save American citizens who were left woefully unprotected on foreign soil over that of a bureaucrat from a spy agency.

The film has had two video releases over the past six years: The 1080p Blu-ray released in 2016 and 2019’s 4K disc, which looked great. I can’t say that I detected any noticeable difference when comparing the Kaleidescape download with the 2160p-encoded version on disc. There’s plenty of detail, inky blacks, and a rich color palate, but this is a Michael Bay film so colors are intentionally oversaturated, giving some skin tones an orangish cast. The saturation is intended to make blue and green really pop and heighten the contrast of the overall image, so don’t adjust your display — this is how it’s supposed to look.

The Dolby Atmos track is simply amazing from beginning to end. The experience is so lifelike you’ll find yourself ducking behind the couch to avoid falling mortars and gunfire from every angle during the frenetic third act. When explosions rock the foundation, you feel like the ceiling is falling to pieces all around you. Yet through all of this mayhem the score doesn’t get drowned out and dialogue is always intelligible.

The following bookmarked Kaleidescape Scenes and all are excellent for showcasing a home theater setup, delivering active surround sound along with deep sub-20Hz bass.

“Picked Up a Tail”
“The Attack Begins”
“The Road to the Annex”
“The Second Wave”
“Downtime’s the Worst”
“Mortars”

Considering how many times I’ve watched this film over the past six years, you could say I really enjoy it. I had originally downloaded 13 Hours from the Kaleidescape movie store to use two of its scenes — “The Second Wave” and “Mortars” — as go-to demo material for my subwoofer reviews but ended up watching the entire film yet again. I just can’t seem to get enough.

Regardless, the men who gave their lives to save others on this mission are true American heroes and this film delivers a brutally realistic portrayal of what it means to make the ultimate sacrifice. While critics were lukewarm on the film when it was released, audiences disagreed and rated it much higher, giving the film a large audience on home video. It certainly helps that 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi delivers one of the finest A/V presentations one could ask for and it’s nice to have easy access to it via the Kaleidescape system.

Studio: Paramount
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
Download Size: 84.8GB (4K UHD)
HDR Format: HDR10
Audio Format: Dolby Atmos
Length: 144 mins
Director: Michael Bay
Starring: John Krasinski, James Badge Dale, Pablo Schreiber, David Denman, Dominic Fumusa, Max Martini, Alexia Barlier, David Costabile

Sound & Vision

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