Release Date(s)1984 (August 16, 2022)
Studio(s)United Artists/Valkyrie Films/MGM (Shout! Factory/Shout Select)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B
Who doesn’t love a John Milius film? Virtually every project the man touched is suffused with testosterone-fueled gusto. Most are entertaining and a few of them damn so. Red Dawn itself is a product of pure Reagan-era/Cold War paranoia, a teenaged mash-up of Apocalypse Now and Lord of the Flies. The story (by Kevin Reynolds of Fandango and Waterworld fame) is as simple as it is unlikely: The Soviet Union, suffering from political and economic instability, decides to launch World War III in the form of a surprise invasion of the United States, assisted by a magically powerful Cuban military. The invasion runs straight up the Rocky Mountains, thus cutting the country in half. But in a small Colorado town, members of the local high school football team—the Wolverines—decide to fight back, employing classic guerrilla tactics to hold the line until U.S. Military reinforcements can arrive to drive the invaders out.
Now, I should say right up front that I’ve always enjoyed this film. And the last time I reviewed Red Dawn (see my take on Shout’s 2017 Blu-ray), I noted that while the film was dated, that was actually a good thing. I’ll be honest though, watching it again now, the film has lost a bit of its luster. Maybe it’s the passage of time, maybe it’s the kooky political tension in America 2022, maybe it’s the unnerving creep of fascism around the world, or the fact that we’ve all just endured years of weird BS. Whatever the reason, Red Dawn’s premise—which has always seemed preposterous—is starting to feel a little on the nose. (In a strange case of life imitating art, destroyed Russian tanks in Ukraine have recently been spotted tagged with the word “Wolverines” in spray paint.) But to the extent that Red Dawn’s popularity endures, it’s because the film fully embraces that premise, offering characters with strong arcs, genuine emotion, and an uncompromising examination of the costs and consequences of war. It also serves up Powers Boothe and Harry Dean Stanton in their prime, as well as Jennifer Gray, Charlie Sheen, Patrick Swayze, Lea Thompson, and C. Thomas Howell right before each of their careers really exploded in the late 80s and early 90s.
It also looks better than ever has before. Red Dawn was shot on 35 mm film by DP Ric Waite (Footloose, 48 Hours, Cobra) using Panavision Panaflex cameras with spherical lenses, and it was finished photochemically at the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. For its release on Ultra HD, Shout! Factory has commissioned a new 4K scan of the original camera negative and graded the image for high dynamic range (HDR10 and Dolby Vision are both available). The film’s cinematography has always been workmanlike, but the gritty style fits the film well. Image detail is greatly improved, though still a bit wanting in the internegative elements employed to create optical titles, subtitles, and dissolves. Grain levels are light-moderate to moderate but remain organic and are generally well controlled. Red Dawn has never been a particularly vibrant film, but its colors in HDR are richer and more natural than ever and the grade deepens the shadows while revealing much more shadow detail. The Dolby Vision option in particular really enhances the viewing experience, moderating the previous Blu-ray’s tendency toward black crush. This isn’t quite a reference-level image, but it’s beautiful and certainly represents a best-ever visual experience for this film. And it appears that Shout! has used a BD-100 to give that image abundant room to breathe.
Audio wise, the disc offers what seem to be the exact same English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio mixes that were included on the previous Blu-ray. But—though the release was never promoted as such—the packaging claims to include a new Dolby Atmos mix that isn’t actually on the disc. That’s an unfortunate error and also a shame, because the title could certainly benefit from upgraded audio. As it stands, the surrounds are used lightly for effects and atmosphere, but the 5.1 soundstage is mostly front and center. That stage is at least nicely wide, with robust bass in action set pieces. The Basil Poledouris score is presented in excellent fidelity and the dialogue remains clean and discernible. Optional English SDH subtitles are available.
There are no extras on the actual 4K disc, but Shout! Factory has included the film on Blu-ray as well and the good news is that it’s definitely mastered from the new 4K scan—this is not the same disc they released in 2017. The previous Blu-ray image suffered from contrast haloing, slightly-too-edgy detail, crushed shadows, and blown-out highlights. There was also very little in the way of digital clean-up done (dust, nicks, and pops were constantly visible). Not so here—this HD image is much more natural looking, with beautiful color and detail. The disc’s special features, however, are identical to the previous release. All of the original MGM extras are here (including SD featurettes and a theatrical trailer) as is the new-in-2017 retrospective documentary in HD. The trailer has also been upgraded to HD. Here’s a list of what you get:
- A Look Back at Red Dawn (69:08 – HD)
- Red Dawn Rising (23:02 – SD)
- Training for WWIII (9:49 – SD)
- Building the Red Menace (9:37 – SD)
- WWIII Comes to Town (13:27 – SD)
- Theatrical Trailer (2:29 – HD)
The retrospective includes recent interviews with actor Doug Toby (Arturo), casting director Jane Jenkins, production designer Jackson DeGovia, and editor Thom Noble, who each share interesting stories about the original script, the production, and their own experiences working with Milius. A few rare production photos are included and the piece is illustrated with clips from the film. It should be noted that the reversible cover art from the 2017 Blu-ray is gone, though you do at least get a cardboard slipcover.
While time and recent events may have lessened the film’s appeal for modern audience, Red Dawn remains a unique and entertaining 1980s actioner that is very much a product of its time. The lack of a new Atmos mix aside, Shout!’s done a terrific job with this new transfer, so the decision to upgrade from Blu-ray to Ultra HD should be a fairly easy one for fans to make. If you count yourself among them, this release is definitely recommended.
- Bill Hunt