Red Dawn: Collector’s Edition
Studio: Shout! Factory
Mar 13, 2017 Web Exclusive
My first experience with Red Dawn came as a tape rental as an early teen. The back of the box proudly boasted about how the movie opened “with one of the most shocking sequences ever filmed.” Said scenes involve a communist invasion force—naturally, because this was 1984—parachuting into rural Colorado, gunning down civilians left and right, firing rockets at their pickup trucks, and generally taking over their Podunk town. Most shocking movie opening ever? I wouldn’t say that. Most ridiculous, though? Just maybe.
But so opens Red Dawn, a very memorable (and very ‘80s) entry into the action canon, which combined Cold War paranoia, teenage angst, and a Stallone-ian level of gun violence into a kind of Lord of the Flies with heavy weaponry. Helmed by John Milius (writer of Apocalypse Now, director of Conan the Barbarian), the movie follows a group of high school football players who narrowly escape the full-scale Soviet invasion of the United States by camping out in the mountains outside of town. Eventually tiring of hiding out, the boys—and two young ladies, who join them later—fight back, transforming from innocent youths into a crack squad of guerilla warfighters. Dubbing themselves “The Wolverines” after their high school’s team mascot, they proceed to kill a bajillion Soviet soldiers in surprise attacks, and become the face of the American resistance.
The whole premise feels even sillier when you’re watching the film, especially as none of our young, handsome heroes grow the least bit of stubble while living in the forest for months, and handle pilfered grenades, machines guns, and RPGs like a bunch of adolescent John Rambos. It would never have worked had it not been for the movie’s incredible young cast, who were all hired as their stars were just beginning to rise. Patrick Swayze leads our pack of mini murder machines, with Outsiders co-star C. Thomas Howell playing his blood-crazed buddy. Also part of their high school hit squad are Charlie Sheen (in his first significant role), Lea Thompson (pre-Back to the Future), and Swayze’s eventual Dirty Dancing co-star, Jennifer Grey. These kids convincingly convey the sort of shellshock that the end of civilization as you know it (and, of course, single-handedly killing dozens upon dozens of enemy combatants) would bring about. The supporting cast is absurdly good, too, with Hary Dean Stanton, Power Boothe, Ben Johnson, Ron O’Neal, Lane Smith, and Vladek Schlabel showing up in small parts. Also helping matters is that the action is very well done, with plenty of big explosions that are on par with the better Chuck Norris and Arnold Schwarzenegger films of the same era. Red Dawn may be far from the most plausible action movies of the 1980s, but it’s easily among the most memorable.
Shout! Factory’s new Collector’s Edition Blu-ray comes with some badass cover art, but the real attraction for fans is A Look Back at Red Dawn, a new, one-hour retrospective doc that, despite lacking all of the principal players, is an insightful and reasonably comprehensive behind-the-scenes chronicle of the movie’s making. Also included are a quartet of archival featurettes that are held over from older releases, as well as the movie’s theatrical trailer (which includes some footage that didn’t make the final film.) The HD makeover looks quite good, but it’s really the new documentary that makes this a recommended pick-up for any Red Dawn fan out there.
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