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Red Dawn – Collector’s Edition (Blu-ray Review)

Red-DawnRed Dawn is one of those quintessential 1980s “super 80s” films that has lived on with nostalgia goggles long since it dropped in on us back in 1984.  It features an all-star cast of the era, including Patrick Swayze (Road House), C. Thomas Howell (The Outsiders), Lea Thompson (Back To The Future), Ben Johnson (Terror Train), Harry Dean Stanton (Alien), Ron O’Neal (Super Fly), William Smith (Conan The Barbarian), Charlie Sheen (Platoon), Jennifer Grey (Dirty Dancing) and Powers Boothe (Tombstone) and comes from legendary writer-director John Milius (Apocalypse Now, Conan The Barbarian).  Shout Factory is putting out the 4th iteration of the film on Blu-ray, adding it to its coveted Collector’s Edition series in the Shout Select line of films.  It’ll add a new featurette and be available March 21st.

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Film 

The tale of what-could-have-been had the Cold War gone another way. When Communist paratroopers descend on a Colorado high school football field, a group of students wages an all-out guerilla war to save their town — and their country.

Yep, everyone knows this one or if they haven’t seen it, they’re well aware.  People shout “Wolverines!” and they know they aren’t talking about the the University of Michigan’s sports programs or a group of adamantium mutants.  This is the crazy alternate reality film of the time that played into very real fears of the Cold War era in America.  In a way this is sort of the 1980s take on something like Philip K. Dick’s The Man In High Castle that had an alternate World War II outcome.  Instead, this is the “what if” for a potential World War III.  Proving a little sillier now, it still kinda works.

This film, for the most part, seems to have found its fandom in the very primitive natures it delivers.  Kids defending the country and shooting up the Russians.  Black and white, blasting guns and ‘sploding things.  However, John Milius is a much smarter writer and director than that.  If you peel back a layer, you’ll see that he starts things like that, but casually starts developing the Russians a little more as it goes on (Granted, they’re not perfect and pretty cold) and the kids start to deal with loss and finding out how much a war truly can wage and “cost”.

What’s really nifty is the cast they’ve assembled for the film.  Its a very up and coming one of people who would either become icons or at the very least, icons of the 80s.  A young Patrick Swayze leads the pack and just shows such a level of commitment even back then.  Funny enough, he’s here with Jennifer Grey 3 years before they’d blast off into Dirty Dancing.  Charlie Sheen has a little heart throb role here as well as C Thomas Howell.  Lea Thompson adds probably her first iconic 80s role to the bucket in this one.  And I gotta say, she is a total badass in this film and gives maybe the finest performance of all.

Red Dawn is a film that works in a couple fashions.  You can choose to look deeply at the film as something that bolsters the “rah rah, yea war” mentality on to find out for itself how dark, sacrificial and hard the trials of such actions can be.  And then, you have this other side of the coin where the film really just works on a surface level of an 80s pure action movie with a lot of familiar big names of the era.  Either way, its hard not to find some enjoyment of the film either on a deeper thought or popcorn level.

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Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail: Red Dawn features a transfer that comes from what is likely the same HD master used on the previous release with maybe a few incremental improvements.   The image can appear kinda soft and smooth at times while also sometimes appearing a bit crisper and sharper.  There are some rougher moments in here, but overall the image is doable and probably the best its ever come across.

Depth:  Overall, the image looks pretty okay, some of the outdoor daytime action sequences really open things up.  Movements are smooth and cinematic with minimal blurring or jitter occuring.

Black Levels:  Blacks are deep and a bit consuming when darkness is present with much more apparent grain in those scenes.  No crushing witnessed an detail does tend to disappear into dark things like hair, clothing, shadows or surfaces.

Color Reproduction:  Colors are more on the natural side with some dinginess, though there are some areas where a green or red pops through.  Orange in fire and lamplight do look pretty strong.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are natural and keep a consistent appearance throughout.  Facial detail in closeups come through nicely, medium is a bit more smooth but okay.

Noise/Artifacts: Some grain as well as dirt/specs throughout.

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Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English 2.0 DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English

Dynamics:  This 5.1 mix is likely a carry over from the previous release as well.  Doing some research on that edition it sounds like it is.  Things are okay, but a bit muffly and dated sounding in their execution.  Its not the crispest mix on the docket.  It does the trick just fine, but sounds to the ears something more closer to a regular Dolby Digital presentation that that of a lossless one.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension:  Explosions, gunfire, engines and more give a nice thump from your subwoofer.  Not overdone, but a bit pedestrian in its impact.

Surround Sound Presentation:  While the track is rather mediocre, the speaker work does come through quite well, with gunfire free flying from front to back.  Accuracy to what is going on onscreen is quite well woven and some of the most fun you can have with the film.

Dialogue Reproduction:  Dialogue is loud and audible, though a bit muffled like the rest and not carrying a precision you’d want from something like this.

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Extras 

Red Dawn – Collector’s Edition comes with a reversible cover featuring the original poster artwork.  Aside from “A Look Back At Red Dawn”, all of the bonus features are ported over from the previous Blu-ray release.

A Look Back At Red Dawn (HD, 1:09:08) – Featuring stories from co-star Doug Toby, casting director Jane Jenkins, production designer Jackson DeGovia and editor Thom Noble.  Its lacking major players from the film, but still manages to be pretty interesting.

Red Dawn Rising (SD, 23:02) 

Training For WWIII (SD, 9:49) 

Building The Red Menace (SD, 9:37) 

WWIII Comes To Town (SD, 13:27) 

Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2:29) 

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Summary 

Red Dawn is still some solid entertainment 31 years later.  Maybe not John Milius best, but one of his most memorable.  It returns to Blu-ray from Shout! Factory in roughly the same image and audio it had before in its three previous iterations.  The only new is an almost feature length documentary retrospective on the film.  If you’re a hardcore Red Dawn fan or have never owned it, pick this version up.  If not, you may just want to find a way to watch the new feature.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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