When the commies invade the United States, WWIII will be fought by a group of teenage guerilla warriors in John Milius’ Red Dawn. Starring Patrick Swayze, Lea Thompson, C. Thomas Howel, Charlie Sheen, and Powers Boothe, the film may be classic 80s jingoistic action fantasy of American might, but it’s still a highly entertaining flick nearly forty years later! Now thanks to Shout Factory, the film scores an excellent native 4K Dolby Vision transfer that easily outpaces all previous releases. With solid audio and the same bonus features from Shout’s 2017 disc, this is an all-around worthwhile upgrade for Wolverines fans! Recommended
The world is in chaos. After global instability leads to the unification of Russian and Central American communist forces, they sight their weapons on the biggest target representing peace and democracy – the United States of America. When Commie paratroopers launch a sneak attack, a band of rural Colorado teenagers will hold the front line of freedom. Brothers Jed (Patrick Swayze) and Matt (Charlie Sheen) will lead a pack of inexperienced guerilla warriors picking and choosing their targets carefully. By destabilizing the local commie forces, their small town becomes the focal point of World War III.
Growing up in the 1980s, I lived through the end of the Regan era of rampant defense spending, Iran Contra, and the fall of the Berlin Wall. I'll leave the pontificating of American/Russian relations in the 1980s to the historians. However, as an action movie nut from that time period, I’ll say the 1980s was a great decade for action movies. From Rambo: First Blood Part II to Commando to Invasion U.S.A., America had a plethora of burly one-man-army super warriors to kick ass and preserve American freedom and democracy one machinegun bullet at a time. Of course, these movies were completely ridiculous fantasies.
In terms of total ridiculousness, Red Dawn was no different than its cinematic comrades. But in terms of believability, well, that depends on who you ask. After cooler heads prevailed, it’s easy to look back at a movie like this and bask in the silliness, but there was a subsection of the population that genuinely believed – and arguably still do – that invasion was imminent. Ever since the Cuban Missile Crisis of the early 1960s, those commies had to be lining up to invade. But that invasion never came and so these movies became relics of a bygone era of action-packed goofery.
And that’s what I love them for. I didn’t become a moderate-leaning pinko lib until I was in my twenties but throughout my childhood and formative years, I loved these movies and Red Dawn. For whatever reason, it felt like this movie was always on one of the local Detroit stations. Being from Ann Arbor, the call of “Wolverines” felt like a chant for the local champion college football team. Admittedly it was a weird thing to be proud of, but as kids, we’d shout it on the playground with pride. When the remake came to shoot in Michigan, we had a lot of hope that they’d take advantage of the area locations, sadly that didn’t happen and that flick has thankfully passed out of consciousness and into the oblivion of sub-par sequels and useless remakes.
As for the 1984 original Red Dawn, it might have a lot of period political baggage attributed to it, but who gives a damn anymore honestly? It’s an action classic. John Millius and Keven Reynolds’ script was tight and to the point drafting up a squad of believable characters fighting and surviving impossible situations. The cast is great with a Platoon of up-and-coming actors and actresses giving it their all. Basil Poledouris’ excellent score really gets the blood pumping. Red Dawn is totally ridiculous and silly, but it's still incredibly entertaining. WOLVERINES!
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra Blu-ray
Red Dawn invades 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray with a fully-armed two-disc release from Shout Factory. The 4K UHD is pressed on a BD-100 disc with the 1080p scoring a BD-50 disc that looks to be identical to the 2017 release. The discs are housed in a standard black case with identical slipcover artwork. The disc loads to a static image main menu with basic navigation options. The packaging indicates a Dolby Atmos track is on disc, but that is a misprint apparently, there is not an Atmos audio option.
Despite its popularity and longevity, Red Dawn has never really enjoyed an impressive disc release. From DVD to two rounds on Blu-ray, this fan-favorite was given a rather ho-hum treatment. Thanks to what’s reportedly a new 4K scan of the original camera negative, Red Dawn arms up for an impressive 2160p Dolby Vision HDR transfer. Some cooked-in issues still linger, but overall this is the best I’ve seen Red Dawn on home video. For much of the film, details are crisp and clear giving a full appreciation of textures, facial features, and production design. The New Mexico shooting locations are scenic and beautiful. Film grain is natural and cinematic without being intrusive or clumpy.
Dolby Vision HDR works wonders in a lot of areas for this film. Past releases struggled with crushed black levels and scenes with difficult shadows, but that’s not an issue here. Blacks are deep and inky and shadows offer more lighting nuance giving more depth to the show than on past discs. Colors are bold without being blown out with bright natural blues and reds and healthy skin tones. Whites are crisp without blooming.
While this disc is an excellent step up and a worthy improvement over past discs, there are a couple of trouble spots to report. The biggest issues come with the optical effects for subtitles. Because there are several sequences where characters are speaking Russian or Spanish, these scenes still look pretty rough. Details take a hit, grain is thicker, there’s a little more speckling in the image, and compared to scenes we just saw are a notable step back. These scenes have always been dodgy so that’s not too much of a surprise, but it’s still a slight knock for an otherwise excellent transfer.
Fans looking at the disc details might get excited to see Dolby Atmos listed, but don’t get too excited. That appears to be a misprint. The only audio tracks present are the DTS-HD MA 5.1 and DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo tracks carried over from the 2017 Blu-ray. And really I have no problem with that. These two tracks are generally excellent and pack a punch for those big action sequences. Dialog is clear throughout without issue and Poledouris’s score comes with more power than the old 2012 MGM Blu-ray. In this case, I lean towards the 2.0 track as the better of the two, but you can’t really go wrong with either track.
Sadly, in this case, there’s nothing really new in the stew for Red Dawn fans. All of the bonus features are carried over from the 2017 disc without any new extras to celebrate. What’s here’s decent enough and worth digging through.
Red Dawn is a genuine product of its era. Steeped in the global politics of the time, its American jingoism action fantasy filmmaking at its finest. Take this film out of the 1980s and you get that terrible 2012 remake that makes absolutely no sense. While this film may not age well for some, for 80s brats this is a classic! Silly, sure – but a classic!
After several sub-par disc releases, Red Dawn enjoys a splendid 4K Dolby Vision restoration. There are some cooked-in issues that still linger, but for the vast majority of the film, this is an obvious and clear upgrade. Audio offers the same solid DTS-HD MA 5.1 and 2.0 tracks as before with the same selection of bonus features. For fans eager for a worthwhile visual upgrade for Red Dawn this is a worthwhile pickup. Recommended