Stars – Patrick Swayze, Lea Thompson, Charlie Sheen, Jennifer Grey, Ben Johnson , Harry Dean Stanton , C. Thomas Howell , Ron O’Neal , Powers Boothe
Director – John Milius
Released by Shout Select
Reviewed by Steven Ruskin
Director John Milius plays almost directly to the mindset of an adolescent boy growing up in the 1950s or 1960s. He does so in remarkably dark detail. The threat of the big bomb dropping or an invasion by the Russians was very real then. By the time he got the chance to put this up on the screen in the mid 1980s some of those in the theaters would recognize this boyhood fantasy of survival amidst an attack. Scenarios such as rounding up rifles, ammo, knives, bows and arrows and other equipment from a local sporting goods store or camping supply house and heading out into the hills or up to the safety of a rooftop in a more urban environment had to have occurred to them as young boys when they played war. Back in the day kids armed with all the latest toy replicas made by Marx or Hasbro would run through the streets. TV commercials showed juvenile commandos scaling up dusty hills yelling their cries of victory as they shot off the latest cool Tommy gun. At those same theaters there had to have been kids completely unfamiliar with those childhood daydreams who must have been knocked for a loop by the opening sequence.
The film begins in a bucolic setting in Colorado. The kids at Calumet High school are in class. Windows look out on a stunning mountain landscape. Without making any sound at all parachutes begin to descend. There are quite a few of them and the men underneath the billowy plumes are dressed in uniforms. They carry machine guns. The sound suddenly ratchets up as the teacher opens the door, goes outside to talk to them and gets shot down. It’s a powerful opening. A small group of high school kids make a break for it in a truck. They hide out in the hills. The town is occupied by a force comprised of Latino soldiers and a few Russian officers. Many People are rounded up and held in fenced in pens. Some are killed. A few are laying low in their houses. The image though that tips the scales and reverberates with even more power than that first one is seen by the boys as they make a tentative trip back into town to assess the situation. Patrick Swayze (Point Break) and his brother Charlie Sheen (Platoon) see their father amongst a group of shattered men and women locked inside a huge fenced in enclosure. Their father who is bleeding from several head wounds is played by Harry Dean Stanton (Cool Hand Luke). They exchange a few words. He tells them they have to get out of there and fast. As they leave he cries out, “Avenge me! Avenge me!” They stop by one house on their way out. Ben Johnson (Last Picture Show) entrusts two heirlooms, his granddaughters to the boys to look after as they retreat back up into the mountains. Red Dawn then becomes the story of how this group begins to fight back.
The cast is filled with young actors who would go on to become stars. They work very well together making up a believable collection of students forced to go far beyond what they thought they were capable of. Patrick Swayze, Jennifer Grey, Lea Thompson, Charlie Sheen and Thomas Howell all went on to big roles after this film. Two adult actors deliver stand out performances, too. Powers Boothe as the American soldier who joins up with them as a father figure / leader gives a nice balance to the mix. The pack of kids are so gung ho they are almost feral in their ferocity. Many of them wear battle style scarves and bandannas. When they ride horses they look as comfortable as western outlaws. These kids move easily with all manner of weapons. They adopt the name of their football team, The Wolverines for themselves. Boothe has a weariness about the fighting that they will only begin to feel after he leaves. Ron O’Neal who will always be known for playing Superfly (1972) is one of the commanders of the Cuban troops. His character was once part of his people’s uprising against an invading force. He feels an identification with the boys that he can’t help. Both of these men give a shade of poignancy to the plot. The film is clearly a fast paced action tale full of fighting, explosions and killings yet there are moments particularly at the end when we see the toll this has taken on the few surviving members of The Wolverines.
Milius delivers in a big way on the action scenes. He states in his included interview that he added the fighting and large battle set pieces to the script he was given to direct. Milius has always had the reputation for being something of the big chief war mongering hawk with a military fixation. He wears it proudly and was absolutely the right man for this film. The cast all talk fondly, and maybe even a little fearfully of his methods of getting the film done in their interviews. While it is well known that much of John Goodman’s character Walter Sobchak in The Big Lebowski (1998) was based on him it needs to be said that he crafted a heartfelt story about surfing and growing up in his film, Big Wednesday (1978). Red Dawn may be a bit of a guilty pleasure but it holds up well today and is still an exciting story.
Video – 1.85:1
This is a completely satisfying picture. Colors are nice and strong. Black levels hold their own and do not get into any noise or fuzzy territory.
Audio . DTS-HD 5.1 with subtitles offered in English
As expected this is a very active and robust soundscape. Riffle shots will shoot over your head and ping into the distance behind you. Helicopters that fly off screen to the right or left will carry on in the speakers till they fade out. The sound in the battlefields will play through all of your speakers if you have a multi unit system. The subwoofer will also get a nice workout. Mixes like this are a joy to experience. Please turn this one up and give it some gas.
Extras – NEW “A Look Back At Red Dawn” – A 70 minute feature Including Brand-New Stories From Co-Star Doug Toby, Casting Director Jane Jenkins, Production Designer Jackson DeGovia and Editor Thom Noble
Archival Featurettes: “Red Dawn Rising” “Training For WWIII” “Building The Red Menace” “WWIII Comes To Town”
Original Theatrical Trailer. The original poster art inside the case is reversible with the new graphic.
The new documentary and the older interviews are all combine to paint a detailed and compelling picture of how this film was made. The cast was put through all kinds of military style training not to mention the rather unique methods that Milius had as a director on this film. The only wrinkle is that some of the scenes from the film that are edited into the new “Look Back” feature go on too long.
On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic :
Blu-Ray – Excellent
Movie – Excellent