Release Date(s)1984 (March 14, 2017)
Studio(s)United Artists/Valkyrie Films/MGM (Shout! Factory/Shout Select)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: B-
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B
Who the hell doesn’t love a John Milius film? Virtually every project the man touched is suffused with testosterone-fueled gusto. They’re certainly all entertaining and most of them damn so. Red Dawn itself is a product of pure 1980s/Cold War paranoia, a teenaged mash-up of Apocalypse Now and Lord of the Flies. The story is simple: The Soviet Union, suffering from political and economic instability, decides to launch World War III in the form of a surprise invasion of the United States, assisted by the built-up Cuban military. The invasion runs right down the Rocky Mountains, thus cutting the country in half. But in a small Colorado town, members of the local high school football team – the Wolverines – decide to fight back, employing classic guerrilla tactics to hold the line until U.S. Military reinforcements can arrive to drive the invaders out.
Let’s face it, Red Dawn is dated as hell, but that’s actually a good thing. A film like this could never work so well outside of the Reagan era. It’s also cheesy as hell, but come on: A Russian/Cuban invasion of the U.S.? Of course it’s cheesy! It could not be otherwise; the very idea is preposterous. But again, it’s a good thing. If you just buy into the premise and go with it, Red Dawn offers characters with strong arcs, genuine drama and emotion, an uncompromising examination of the consequences and costs of war, and a heck of an entertaining story. It also serves up Powers Boothe and Harry Dean Stanton in their prime, Jennifer Gray pre-nose job, Charlie Sheen and Patrick Swayze near the start of their careers, and Lea Thompson and C. Thomas Howell right before they went on to star in Back to the Future and The Hitcher, respectively. I enjoyed the heck out of this film when I first saw it as a teenager in 1984, and my appreciation of it has only grown since.
Shout! Factory’s Blu-ray presents the film in 1080p HD at the proper 1.85:1 aspect ratio, but this isn’t a new scan. It’s the exact same transfer MGM used for their 2012 Blu-ray release, right down to the same flecks of dust on the print, and even the same bit of edge enhancement that seems to have been applied during the scanning process. Shout! usually likes to do their own new film scans, so we can only assume that MGM prevented it in this case. What’s presented here is simply a new encode, with a new color-timing pass. The quality of both the MGM and Shout! presentations tends to vary from scene to scene and reel to reel, a product of the condition of the original film elements. Both are single-disc releases, and the Shout! disc has an additional hour of bonus content, so the bitrate is higher on the MGM release. But given improvements in the efficiency of encoding software and hardware since 2012, that doesn’t really mean all that much. Blacks here are deep and detailed, and colors seem vibrant and accurate. There’s light to moderate grain visible at all times. There are, however, subtle differences in the color timing between the two discs. There’s also more fine detail visible in Shout!’s image, but a bit more in the way of dirt and specks too, which suggests to me that MGM employed DNR on their BD presentation back in the day to remove dirt and reduce grain. The frame appears to be shifted over to the left just a tiny bit, as the edge of the frame is more visible on the right. Still, given the quality of the source material, I would say that Shout!’s disc offers a fairly decent image presentation – it’s really six of one, a half dozen of the other in terms of whether you prefer it over the MGM disc. I’d take the Shout! disc by a hair, for its slightly improved detail, but it’s close. Either way, there’s no doubt that this film could use a new 4K scan and restoration.
Audio wise, the disc offers the exact same English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix that was included on MGM’s disc. Surrounds are used lightly for effects and atmosphere, but the soundstage is mostly front and center, though it’s nicely wide, and offers good LFE reinforcement. Unlike the MGM disc, you also get an English 2.0 DTS-HD MA mix, though the MGM disc offered audio options in a few other languages as well (that aren’t here). Optional English SDH subtitles are included.
The good news is that Shout! Factory has carried over all of the previous MGM extras, which included 4 SD featurettes and a theatrical trailer. For this new Shout Select release, they’ve produced a new hour long retrospective documentary that’s here in HD. They’ve upgraded the trailer to HD as well.
- A Look Back at Red Dawn (1:09:08 – HD)
- Red Dawn Rising (23:02 – SD)
- Training for WWIII (9:49 – SD)
- Building the Red Menace (9:37 – SD)
- WWIII Comes to Town (13:27 – SD)
- Theatrical Trailer (2:29 – HD)
The retrospective, at the top of that list, includes new interviews with actor Doug Toby (Arturo), casting director Jane Jenkins, production designer Jackson DeGovia, and editor Thom Noble. They have interesting stories to tell about the original script, the making of the film, their own experiences, and particularly working with Milius. A few rare production photos are included and the piece is illustrated with clips from the film. Shout!’s BD packaging also includes reversible artwork, with a new painting on the front and – finally – the film’s original poster art on the reverse.
Red Dawn is an entertaining 80s action/war film, with a unique premise and a good deal of flag-waving patriotism and heart. Whether you consider it a guilty pleasure or not, it’s just a damn fun film. One could certainly wish for a new film scan, but Shout’s done a solid job here with the resources they had available, and the new documentary is worth your time. Whether it’s worth the upgrade cost for fans is a toss-up, but if you don’t already own the MGM BD this disc is certainly worth $22 on Amazon. If you can get it for even less, so much the better.
- Bill Hunt