When communist paratroopers descend on a high school football field in Colorado, a group of the school's students wages an all-out guerrilla war to save their town -- and their country! An all-star cast, including Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen and Harry Dean Stanton, delivers powerful performances in this gripping story of courage and patriotism. Cinematography by Ric Waite (Cobra, 48 Hrs.).
Unless you grew up in the 1980s, it's kind of hard to describe the Cold War paranoia. Not only did World War III seem like a distinct possibility, it appeared as if it were only a question of How and When rather than If. Therefore, a ton of the era's films and TV shows featured the Russians as the bad guys, and there were a number of movies that gave viewers scenarios of how the next World War might unfold. Few of those presentations were as popular as Red Dawn, which opened as the top movie in America upon its release and had a healthy popularity on home video in the years that followed. Of course, Red Dawn also has the distinction of being the first PG-13 movie to be released into theaters, a fact that certainly didn't hurt its box office (viewers were all kind of curious to see what the distinction would be compared to a PG film...turns out, it wasn't a whole lot).
In retrospect, the plot seems kind of silly, although as a high school teenager roughly the same age as the kids in this movie during the 1980s, my friends and I took this all in as if it really could happen when we went back to class Monday morning. Russian and Mexican (who have teamed up with the Soviets) paratroopers land outside a small town Colorado high school one morning and immediately start opening fire on teachers and students alike. It isn't long before they've taken over the entire town, bringing the locals in line by either shooting or sending the area's more problematic citizens to an internment camp.
While the above is taking place, a group of teenagers, led by the older, college-aged (but not in college) Jed Eckert (Patrick Swayze), has gone into the surrounding woods, including Jed's brother Matt (Charlie Sheen) and Matt's high-school pal Robert (C. Thomas Howell), in order to both stay alive and...eventually...fight back against their Soviet oppressors. Later on, the group has to take a pair of young gals (played by Lea Thompson and Jennifer Grey) under their protection (although the ladies prove to be able to take care of themselves), and these "Wolverines" (a name taken from their high school mascot) will also join up with a downed Air Force pilot (played by Powers Boothe), who will assist them in a number of raids against the Russians.
Of course, it helps if you try not to ask yourself too many questions about the story and just sit back and enjoy it for what it is. I'm sure I'm not the only one who questioned how the Russians could arrive in the middle Colorado without any prior notice or warning to the locals, to say nothing of how the movie treats the soldiers like a bunch of barbarians when they immediately start shooting school children (as much as we hated the Russians back then, I'm not even sure 1984 audiences bought this story development, to say nothing of how silly it seems today). While the action sequences were no doubt a big reason for Red Dawn's success, it's probably the interaction between the kids, and the survival elements they face, that made the movie a cult classic. Particularly strong is a sequence in the film where they realize one of their own has betrayed them and they now have to address how they're going to deal with the situation.
Sadly, there's a number of reasons (which can be read in the specs sections that follow) why this latest Shout Factory release of the movie may not be worth the upgrade. Still, regardless of whether you decide to pick up this Blu-ray, the older 2012 release, or just decide to rent it some evening, the film is worth a look if you've never seen it.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Red Dawn invades Blu-ray in this "Shout Select" release from Shout Factory. The 50GB Blu-ray is housed inside a standard Elite keepcase along with an insert advertising other "Shout Select" releases. The keepcase slick is reversible, with new artwork on one side (which matches the slipcover also included with this release) and the original theatrical artwork on the other side. There are no front-loaded trailers on the Blu-ray, whose main menu is a still shot of the new artwork on the box cover with menu selections horizontally across the bottom of the screen.
The Blu-ray in this release is Region A locked.
Red Dawn was shot on 35mm film and is presented here in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Sadly, this latest release has a transfer that appears to be struck from the same master that MGM used on their prior Blu-ray edition of the movie back in 2012.
There's still a ton of dirt and debris on the print, mostly noticeable in the establishing, "wide" shots that lead-off many sequences in the film. The quality of detail is also all over the map, with some scenes looking quite good and colorful, while others appear dark and noisy. This affects facial features as well, as some moments have the actors' faces having a natural look to them, while others have them appearing with a more glossy, waxed-over appearance.
I don't own the 2012 edition (so I couldn't provide comparison screenshots here), but I have read comments online that indicated that the bitrate used here is lower than the MGM version, no doubt a result of Shout needing to put the new 60-plus-minute bonus feature on this release.
Red Dawn is really in need of a new transfer taken from an original negative. Sadly, this isn't what we get here. The video quality here appears to be no better than the earlier release.
The featured track here is an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio one and, like the video discussed above, this appears to be the same 5.1 lossless audio track that appeared on the 2012 Blu-ray release of the movie. For an audio track of an older movie, the track here is nicely rendered, with a lot of use of the surrounds for things like explosions. There's some low-end rumblings as well that I didn't expect, but were appreciated.
Dialogue, on the other hand, is a little more problematic. While there are no blatant glitches to speak of (and certainly no issues with popping or hissing), the spoken word doesn't quite have the crispness of what you'd get in a present-day release. Still, listeners/viewers will have no major issues with the track, and it's serviceable enough.
In addition to the lossless 5.1 track, an English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio track is also available. Subtitles are available in English SDH.
A Look Back at Red Dawn (HD 69:08) – This featurette is the only new extra on this release and it's a mixed bag. While it's lengthy and not all that uninteresting to watch, it also lacks participation by any of the "major" players in the movie. Of course, star Patrick Swayze has passed, director John Milius is in semi-retirement after some health issues (he had a stroke a few years back), and I don't have to tell you about Charlie Sheen, but most of the rest of the cast and crew are absent as well. Those who do make an appearance here consist of Casting Director Jane Jenkins, Editor Thom Noble, Production Designer Jackson De Govia, and star Doug Toby ("Aardvark").
Red Dawn Rising (SD 23:02) – Although this featurette is a decade old now and standard def (although Shout has boosted these featurettes to HD, they're still window-boxed and otherwise unenhanced, so I'm listing them as SD so there won't be any confusion about their quality), it's still the best one on this release and features comments about the film from Director John Milius and stars Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, Lea Thompson, C. Thomas Howell, and Powers Boothe.
Training for WWIII (SD 9:49) – Director John Milius, CIA Film Liason Chase Brandon, and members of the cast discuss how the actors were trained for the military action that takes place in the movie.
Building the Red Menace (HD 9:37) – John Milius, Director of Photography Ric Waite, and Tank Designers/Builders Renaud Veluzat and Andre Veluzat talk about the weaponry used in the film.
WWIII Comes to Town (SD 13:27) – Bet you didn't know that Red Dawn was shot in Las Vegas. No, not Las Vegas, Nevada...Las Vegas, New Mexico! Find out why it was the perfect location for the movie in this featurette.
Theatrical Trailer (HD 2:29) – The original theatrical trailer for Red Dawn.
With both the transfer and the audio seemingly recycled from the prior Blu-ray release, fans who already own Red Dawn may not want to pick this one up, as the only thing different about this title is a single new featurette (albeit one that runs over an hour). On the other hand, if you don't own this title in 1080p yet, this is probably the disc you want to go with. With that in mind, I'm filing this one in the Worth a Look category.