The B-Movie Isle: Shout Factory’s Red Dawn (Shout Select)
The B-Movie Isle/Adam discusses the 1980’s Teens at War Action Classic; Red Dawn!
Shout Factory’s new emblem Shout Select has quickly made it’s name for itself with titles like The Adventure of Buckaroo Bonzai across the 8th Dimension, and To Live and Die in LA. Their newest release John Milius’ Red Dawn is another score for the new label that’s batting 1.000 at this point. Read on…
The mid-to-late 1980’s was a very strange time to be a kid. It was a conservative era with Reagan in the office. The “Cold War” in full effect. It seemed like kids could watch anything they wanted and were encouraged to watch violent entertainment (As long as you weren’t listening to Rap. Little did our parents know…) Cartoons were adapted from R-Rated films (see: Rambo and the Force of Freedom and Robocop as sterling examples). It was only a matter of time that kids would get their very own Apocalypse Now.
Of course it would be from the writer of that 1979’s American Classic; John Milius. Milius co-wrote and directed 1985’s Red Dawn. For this reviewer and many like-minded children who were raised on a steady diet of Chuck Norris, Charles Bronson, Clint Eastwood, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone this was and still is a seminal film. Teenagers had Hamburger Hill, Platoon, Full Metal Jacket. We had Red Dawn. As much as I appreciate and love those Vietnam era films, this film will always be “my war film”.
The film begins with an almost Star Wars-style scroll setting up the beginning of WW3. What unfolds is pure Milius and lives up to some sort of demented Spielbergian style action film with a bunch of kids at the center of a war they no little to nothing about. The film preys upon the fears of middle class families circa 1984; Russian and Cuba invade the Mid-West, battle lines drawn in a war on American soil. The children revolutionaries of a small Colorado town seek freedom the same way William Wallace did hundreds of years before in Scotland.
I still remember my friends and me playing War and screaming “Wolverines!” at the top of our lungs as a battle cry. That’s with good reason. The 1985 PG-13 film plays like a kid’s dream of going to war. This is Milius’ idea of a Spielberg Amblin film. The film is designed and aimed to kids and not adults. Red Dawn though directed and written with a deadly serious somber tone, its has the realism of a science fiction film. The Wolverines take out Tanks, Helicopters, Platoons of Russians and Cubans soldiers. It’s wish fulfillment of the highest order. Milius has always been a crass sort of raconteur that blurs the line between fact and fiction with his legendary stories. Here it’s as though Milius is telling a camp fire story to a group of Boy Scouts… the entire audience just happens to be the Boy Scouts.
It helps that Milius has one of the best young casts of the 1980’s with Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, C. Thomas Howell, Lea Thompson, Jennifer Grey, Darren Dalton, Brad Savage and Doug Toby. Sawyze is the defacto lead and proves why he ascended to super star status so quickly (a few years later he would star in Dirty Dancing). As Jeb Eckert the leader and father-figure of this crew of rag tag revolutionaries Swayze is in his element. Milius shoots the actor like he was Robert Duvall from Apocalypse Now; swagger and confidence to spare. The rest of the young cast are perfect in their roles. Special notice should be given to both Thompson and Grey playing sisters hardened by the invasion. Milius not known for writing women’s parts gives them meaty roles that at first glance seem anything but.
The older cast is a who’s who of Milius and genre favorites such as Powers Boothe, Ben Johnson, Harry Dean Stanton, and Ron O’Neal. Stanton steals the entire show as he gives 200% for the one pivotal scene of the film. Regardless of your thoughts on the film, Stanton as Tom Eckert and his moments between Swayze and Sheen is heartbreaking. Milius gives everyone of his elder statesmen moments to shine. The best other than Stanton’s is O’Neal’s Col. Bella’s moment. His writing a letter to his wife is pure Milius; poetic words in the midst of harden war.
Ultimately, the film is a boy’s campfire dream of what war is. The ending moments feel like a junior version of Rambo 3. Two brothers in blood and in war (Swayze and Sheen) take on an entire town of Russian and Cuban soldiers. The ending is pure unadulterated Milius; poetically nihilistic. The Wolverines sacrificing themselves for the greater good of their Country. Knowing they will be heroes in the years and decades to come. It’s done with a Saturday morning cartoon sort of intelligence and speed that anyone that thinks this film is dangerous propaganda really isn’t seeing what it really is; a great dumb action film for kids.
Shout Select disc has a great transfer. The older transfer from the previous Fox Blu-Ray was outdated and looked to have been from the DVD days. This Transfer corrects all the ills of the original Blu-Ray release. In a word, it’s gorgeous. There are a few specs and scratches on the optical titles but that is to be expected from a 30 year old film. The transfer is light on grain but I’m unsure if it’s an artifact of DNR or the way the film was shot. I have seen this film recently (within the last five years) projected in 35mm and I distinctly remember it being grainy. It’s a solid transfer and the best that Red Dawn has looked on Home Video.
Shout Select has included all previous bonus featurettes from other releases and a new hour long Documentary A Look Back at Red Dawn. The new documentary covers a lot of ground and for any fan of the film it’s an interesting look back. The doc takes a very “nuts and bolts” approach giving us behind the scenes stories about the cast and mostly about Milius. My favorite of which is that Milius hated the editing room, directing and just about everything but writing a movie. The anecdote about Spielberg seeing Red Dawn is pretty great.
The Bottom Shelf
Anyone that love this crazed 1980’s action classic will no doubt love this new release that will having them screaming “Wooooooooooolverines!!!!” at the top of their lungs like Mr. C. Thomas Howell.