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In the heartland of the United States of America, Russian and Cuban paratroopers begin to drop outside while classes go on in the high school. When the soldiers begin killing everyone in sight, local teens take to the hills to avoid the new totalitarian regime established in their little town and, as we later learn, throughout the world. As country folk, they are well familiarized with survival tactics and hunting, which allows them to carry out sophisticated acts of military sabotage, upsetting the balance of power in town with their guerilla warfare.
For more about Red Dawn and the Red Dawn Blu-ray release, see Red Dawn Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on October 18, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Director: John Milius
Writers: John Milius, Kevin Reynolds
Starring: Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell, Lea Thompson, Charlie Sheen, Darren Dalton, Jennifer Grey
» See full cast & crew
Red Dawn Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, October 18, 2012
It is World War III down there. People are being killed.
That's a pretty succinct description of what awaits in Red Dawn, Director John Milius' controversial but powerful and extremely effective filmed envisioning of World War III on American soil and the rebellion that follows. And isn't it funny how the passage of time can so drastically alter one's perspective on a film and the story inside. No doubt that for many youths of its day, Red Dawn was the quintessential rah-rah Action flick, a fantasy come to life, a tale of living off the land, of good friends, of danger, and killing some commie baddies. The movie still evokes a sense of togetherness and is quick to entertain with its well-designed action scenes, but the passage of time and life experience sure does give the movie a far more harrowing, emotionally wrecking sort of feel. The film's core remains even if the threat of Cold War-turned-hot Communist invasion from a defunct Soviet Union and smaller Central American/Caribbean nations has obviously lessened. Through the prism of its era-inspired action, the picture champions ideals of freedom, self-sufficiency, awareness, preparedness, resourcefulness, and moral courage to stand up for ideals and a way of life, even in the face of unrelenting terror, murder, and long odds. No doubt the film remains politically divisive considering both its subtle and obvious conservative actions and libertarian ideals, but no matter one's opinion there's no denying the movie is far deeper than the superficialities of its shoot-em-up elements and far more emotionally involved, gritty, and well-made than its reputation perhaps suggests.
Soviet troops invade Poland. Cuba and Nicaragua amass large armies. El Salvador and Honduras fall. Mexico is in a state of revolution. NATO dissolves. The world is in chaos, and in a quintessential small American town in Colorado -- and all over the nation -- the world suddenly plunges into World War III when Soviet and Western Communist nations invade by air. A group of schoolchildren, led by the slightly more mature Jed (Patrick Swayze), escape a surprise enemy airborne attack and secure guns, ammunition, provisions, and various supplies before heading deep into the mountains. There, they hunt and fish and sustain themselves, living far from the conflict that rages below, a conflict they do not understand nor realize its scope. Without any knowledge of what's happening, several of them venture back into town. They find it occupied by foreign troops and under a constant bombardment of Communist propaganda. Arms-owning and other "troublemaking" civilians have been rounded up into reeducation camps, amongst them Jed's father (Harry Dean Stanton). Shocked by what they have seen and learning that they are being hunted down by the KGB, the boys take up arms and employ guerrilla hit-and-run tactics against the enemy. They become a formidable force, known as "The Wolverines," against better-equipped and highly-trained foreign troopers. Can they sustain themselves indefinitely against the sheer force of overwhelming odds and a growing enemy desire to see them eliminated?
Indeed, Red Dawn offers a myriad of styles for audiences of different ages and persuasions, but the movie finds its true power in the context of its drama and themes more so than its skilled and exciting action. The picture emotionally drains audiences connected with the characters and, more importantly, their existence and decay in the figurative darkness of warfare. It depicts with startling accuracy and attention to detail the process of survival, the physical demands of in-field training, and more important, the mental challenges faced by those plunged into chaos and forced to deal with a life suddenly overturned and forever altered at the drop of a parachute and the discharge of a gun. The movie offers a good cross-section of characters in various stages of both physical and emotional preparation for the tasks and lifestyle that await them, and it's those dichotomies from where the personal drama and deeper themes arise. The film even takes its time to develop and evolve certain enemy characters as well, critical in shaping what seems so often lost in the film, which is an arguably anti-war (or, perhaps, cautionary tale) message that speaks to man's inner struggles, emotional instabilities, and the decline of human decency in the face of terrible circumstances as well as the dire need to rediscover humanity even in the most challenging situation. One of the film's final scenes depicts an enemy combatant lowering his weapon, gesturing a sign of safe passage, and wishing safe journeys on wounded members of the opposition. That moment brings the film full-circle and into a completely different realm, away from the run and gun action and solidifying the picture's depth and honesty as a legitimate depiction of the brutalities of war as they effect the inner man -- men from both sides -- and not merely the physical body.
Aside from its darker elements such as the fear of the sudden departure of the status quo and challenges that arise at a moment's notice and forever change a person inside and out, Red Dawn does display some exciting action scenes and espouses various ideals, including the importance of individualism and self-sufficiency. As to the former, Red Dawn is one of the more technically sound pictures in its depiction of warfare, and fictional warfare in particular. Director John Milius insists on as much authenticity as possible, and that comes through in everything from costumes to weapons, from tactics to the Wolverines' "on-the-job training." Milius captures the essence of combat and perhaps, at times, over-stylizes it, favoring ever-so-slightly sexy, highly heroic, and occasionally black-and-white depictions of combat. He perhaps, even, offers a few wildly unbelievable scenarios, but generally the movie appears very sound in its technical merits and true to the themes and overall darker posture that develops with the drama through the course of the film, even in the midst of early and mid-movie patriotic go-get-em action scenarios. Red Dawn also subtly condemns overreaching government and takes a very pro-gun stance. The movie features a scene in which invaders are tasked with securing "form 4473" from the sporting goods store, a government gun-purchasing document and an easy means of identifying legal and law-abiding gun owners for the purpose of rounding them up into the reeducation/indoctrination/prison camp centers depicted in the film and removing a likely source of armed rebellion from the equation. Milius incorporates this and some of his other more highly charged political thoughts with more care and subtlety than he does some other elements, but on the whole the movie takes on a decidedly one-sided stance, which in a way is quite refreshing no matter one's opinion of the content. The movie charts its own course and Milius seems to pay no mind to those who would disagree with the film's leanings and championing of certain ideals, an admirable sticking-to-the-guns stance considering how the film clashes with the stereotypical Hollywood image.
Red Dawn Blu-ray, Video Quality
Red Dawn drops onto Blu-ray with a fairly good, well-rounded 1080p transfer that's certainly flawed in places but generally pleasant for a low-cost catalogue release, even one that's been on the Blu-ray radar since the format's inception. The image is speckled over the establishing shots, and they remain throughout though not quite so thickly. The opening title flyover appears pasty, but definition, sharpness, and clarity improve drastically when the action shifts to the ground. The image isn't going to dazzle, but its stability on large screens and general crispness will satisfy longtime fans. Details are quite nice, whether clothes and faces or rocky terrains and dense foliage. There are some softer shots, but such are the exception. The image displays a moderate grain field and rarely shows signs scrubbing. Colors are steady and accurate, never too bold nor too reserved. From bright white snow to darker apparel, the palette is such that it goes largely unnoticed, which means its effective in reproducing clothes, objects, and the film's various seasonal vistas. Blacks are adequate and flesh tones never drift very far from the natural. Perhaps the image's greatest drawback is the presence of unwanted edge enhancement. It's not excessive but is enough to distract in some shots. Otherwise, this is a fair presentation; it should have been better, but considering the low price point it's hard to argue too much with what is a good, not great, end product.
Red Dawn Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Much like its video counterpart, Red Dawn's DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless soundtrack isn't going to be mistaken for a new, explosive Action presentation, but the older, somewhat stale ingredients are nevertheless mixed together to passably good end results. The opening theme proves quite impressive; though perhaps a hair muddled, it enjoys a very strong, robust listening environment presence, nice spacing, fine surround usage, and a noticeably fine sensation to the electronic elements within the music. Gunfire sounds rather muffled and not too terribly aggressive in terms of volume, but the basic sonic signature does remain true to older home video presentations. Automatic weapons fire does hit hard with some more potent bass in chapter fourteen. Tank shells and RPG projectiles often whiz through the stage to fine effect, seamlessly zipping from one end to the other and all but making the audience dodge. Distant gunfire effortlessly drifts through the stage at times while natural woodland ambience, the background audio propaganda heard at the imprisonment camp, and other assorted ambient effects easily set the stage for several crucial scenes. Dialogue remains clear and focused up the middle. This is a good track that mostly disappoints with that muddled gunfire, but overall it's definitely a step up from older presentations. Longtime fans who know the movie inside and out should appreciate the track's benefits but also recognize the room for improvement.
Red Dawn Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Red Dawn features several older supplements. No top menu is included; all supplements must be accessed during film playback.
Red Dawn Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Red Dawn often seems misunderstood as a one-sided pro-war picture when, indeed, it seems to evolve into something of an anti-war picture by film's end. The seeds are there throughout and they sprout slowly, even through all of the go-get-em and shoot-em-up "Wolverines!" elements that wrongly define the movie beyond the superficial. Red Dawn is a far deeper picture than those run-and-gun action visuals suggest. It's a potent Drama about the terrors of war and coming of age in a world suddenly shattered and drastically altered in the blink of an eye. Without question, it also overtly and subtly alike constructs and champions ideas both as they relate to the hardship on the body and the survival of the soul in war, and it's through those elements that the movie finds its real purpose as a story that's not against war in a completely blanket sense of the term but that certainly speaks out as a warning to what happens in war. Red Dawn may certainly be enjoyed, or despised, as a goofy and implausible 1980s Action flick, but understanding the movie's deeper thought processes and not just watching its violence turns the experience into something else entirely and shapes it as a classic movie that's strongly acted and one that's better than most in its ability to paint both dire and hopeful pictures almost simultaneously. MGM's Blu-ray release Red Dawn features decent video and audio. A few old supplements are included. Red Dawn has never looked or sounded better for home viewing, even with its technical faults. Considering the price and the likelihood that this is it for the foreseeable future (even with a remake on the horizon) this release comes recommended.
Red Dawn: Other Editions
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• Official Theatrical Trailer for Red Dawn - August 10, 2012
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