'Red Dawn' is surprising in that it skews much darker than many other 80s action films. When you read the synopsis for this movie it's hard not to chuckle. A tiny town is besieged by communist paratroopers and a rat-tag gang of high school students commence guerilla warfare to get them out. What seems like it's going to be a tongue-in-cheek kill-the-commies-America-rules flick ends up being a dark, melodramatic piece of patriotism. Yes, it comes across heavy-handed at times, but 'Red Dawn' goes all-in on this premise and doesn't let up. That should be admired, even if it is a bit ham-fisted at times.
This isn't just an isolated incident either. Apparently World War III has descended upon America. We aren't privy to what's going on around the country, but we know it's bad. It's actually a lot like 'The Walking Dead.' The entire country is suffering and going through the same exact thing, only we get the story on a much smaller scope.
'Red Dawn' doesn't waste any time getting right down to business. An idyllic small town day is turned upside down when a group of communist paratroopers swoop in on the town and start mowing down townsfolk with machine guns. Their shock-and-awe tactics work. They take the town, imprison most of the citizens, and set up headquarters.
A group of students is able to escape into the mountains nearby. Jed (Patrick Swayze) leads the group as they stock up on supplies, guns, and ammo and then head into the wilderness. Jed is flanked by his brother Matt (Charlie Sheen). The two of them have a close bond. Other members of the group include Robert (C. Thomas Howell), Daryl (Darren Dalton), Aardvark (Doug Toby), Danny (Brad Savage) Toni (Jennifer Grey), and Erica (Lea Thompson).
The siege on the town lasts for months. The group of kids decides that hiding out isn't enough. They've got to take matters into their own hands. They start ambushing soldiers and fighting back. The gun battles are actually pretty jarring. Rarely is there any set up to an action scene. The scene fades out and then fades in and everyone is shooting and communists are falling left and right. It's quite a chaotic experience watching 'Red Dawn.'
Again we have to come back to the serious nature of the film. The movie never devolves into a punch-line laden action movie. What it tries to portray is real people fighting for their lives, families and country against a very real and dangerous threat. Light-hearted scenes are rare. It wants to be taken seriously.
Sometimes this overt seriousness gets the movie in trouble. Leah Thompson's sulky performance produces a few cringe-worthy moments. However, Jennifer Grey's performance really carries some heavy weight, especially in her final scene.
What director and writer John Millius has tried to do is bring the gravity of a war film down on a bunch of young, unsuspecting kids and see how they handle it. The results can be corny at times, however, what ends up emerging is a movie that is better than it should be. A movie that embraces its solemnity and treats every scene like that of a dramatic World War II film. It may seem like it should be a guilty pleasure 80s romp, instead it feels a lot weightier than that.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This is an MGM release that is meant to coincide with the theatrical release of the remake coming to theaters very soon. The disc included is a 50GB Blu-ray Disc. It's housed in a standard eco-friendly keepcase. This release also comes with free movie cash that can be used for up to $7.50 toward a movie ticket for the remake. It's a region A release.
The 1080p presentation of 'Red Dawn' is certainly a mixed bag. At times the visuals from the mid-80s look really detailed and well done. Other times things don't appear quite so hot. It's quite an inconsistent ride from beginning to end, to say the least.
As with many catalog titles from the 80s the print is far from perfect. There are blemishes all over the place, including a couple spots in the movie where dark brown spots appear on the print and move over the scene as the camera pans from one side to the other. Flecks and specks pop up frequently. Noise covers darker areas. Blacks crawl with white noise that isn't seen otherwise.
Detail is hit and miss. Sometimes faces will exhibit very nice detail, like smile lines and freckles. Other times skin looks waxy and dull. There are quite a few times where skin tones appear anemic and too gray. Whether it's an overuse of DNR I can't positively say, but I would venture to guess that could be the culprit. Edge enhancement is noticeable in quite a few scenes and will be noticed even if you aren't exactly watching for it.
Colors are a little dull, but that's to be expected from a movie from this era. I just couldn't get over how inconsistent the transfer was from one scene to the next. It's a serviceable transfer and looks better than previous DVD releases, but there's quite a lot that could be done to make it better.
'Red Dawn' has one of those quintessential 80s action movie mixes. Much of the gun fighting and explosions lack the real booming LFE that modern day action movies have. Even so, it still manages to put out a somewhat solid DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless presentation.
Dialogue is clear, but like the action sequences, it lacks low-end support. Dialogue instead sounds a little high and hollow. The clarity overall is rather good though. Even whispers are able to be heard. The movie's soundtrack travels through the soundfield adding some nice depth.
Explosions, while not as heavy-sounding as action movies nowadays, still sport some solid LFE when it's needed. Pans aren't silky smooth, but they get the job done. Rear speakers do harbor quite a bit of action during the more action-packed scenes. Gunfire and tank shells travel through the sound stage with minimal difficulty. Sometimes the movie's gunfire and music get cluttered, prioritization and spacing could be better. Fans won't be ecstatic about this presentation, yet it provides a decent listening experience.
There's a seriousness here that's commendable and even admirable. 'Red Dawn' takes what sounds like a cheesy "The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming" premise and turns it into a realistic look of World War III as viewed through the eyes of a group of guerilla military teens fighting to survive. It's unexpectedly dramatic overtones provide a unique experience. The video is so-so, and the audio is passable. It's still an upgrade from the DVD, but you might want to give it a look before buying.