For decades it was the doomsday scenario. Cold War Americans lived in almost constant fear that the Soviets might drop a nuke on us and begin Armageddon. It was unthinkable that a conventional invasion could reach our shores instead. Red Dawn stirred its own mushroom cloud of controversy when it reached theaters in August of 1984. While the Cold War was actually closer to its end than any of us might have suspected, Red Dawn entered our collective consciousness as a shock to a system that had for some time moved beyond the culture of fear those older than myself knew growing up. By the 1970’s the air raid sirens and classroom drills were no longer commonplace in American cities. Growing up in Eastern Pennsylvania, it was
Red Dawn opens innocently enough in a high school classroom. Everything about the scene is incredibly routine and almost not worth a second glance. That is, until parachutes are seen floating to the ground through the classroom windows. Before you can say Alice Cooper, school’s out and the invasion is begun. From here on out you won’t have an opportunity to get comfortable in your easy chair. The scenes of the invasion are stark and brutal. A small group of the school’s athletes manage to escape to the woods. When they witness the brutality of the invasion force they decide to act. With no formal training, they embark on a sabotage and terrorist campaign against their town’s occupation force. Using the name of their football team mascot, they begin to leave their mark behind after each attack: Wolverines. Before long the Soviet forces make the Wolverines a top priority, and what happens next is some of the most disturbing footage you’ll ever see.
The violence against and by children raised a lot of criticism at the time, and theaters even dropped the film from their lineup to avoid protests. You have to give credit to these folks for not pulling any punches. It’s not only the battle footage that will disturb you. There is a particular scene when the Wolverines must deal with a traitor in their midst. It is here that you see just how much the invasion has changed who they are as human beings. You know that even if they succeed they can never be the naive high school students from a small town they once were. The film is almost too real at times and holds up today even if some of the cinematography is by now dated. The director was John Milius who himself is no stranger to ultra realistic warfare in films. He co-wrote the classic Apocalypse Now. The acting is probably the weakest link of the film, as these young actors go too often for the war movie cliché rather than anything matching their dramatic surroundings. All of these folks went on to some level of fame or other and are, for the most part, solid actors. It’s the choices that I question in these performances. The Wolverines are played by Charlie Sheen, Jennifer Grey, Patrick Swayze, Lea Thompson, and C. Thomas Powell. For some of the film the group team up with a downed fighter pilot played by Powers Booth.
Sadly we’re only given a Dolby Digital 2.0 track to work with here. I would have enjoyed hearing this film in a more spread out sound field. Instead we get a pretty serviceable stereo image that does an average job of delivering the goods. Explosions are of a very unimpressive quality here. It’s almost as though they have been muffled in some way. Dialog is clear and always easy to understand. The music shows the greatest sign of age, as there is a slight distortion on some of the louder higher pitched moments. It’s never enough to really detract from the film and works enough to maintain the actual intention of the sound from the original film.
On Disc 2 you’ll find the following:
Red Dawn A Retrospective: Looking At The Making Of The Film: The sound bites by the cast and John Milius are recent, and each has their own take on the film looking back after 20 years. They address the controversy, and the politics get a bit testy at times. There is also plenty of vintage footage both in front and behind the camera.
Building The Red Menace: What It Takes To Make World War III: There was a lot of construction, both in sets and equipment for the film. Here you get a pretty good look at the huge job it was to create the military camps and armory. The location of the small town had its own rewards and obstacles as well. A lot of time is spent on tanks and other vehicles that were created specifically for the film.
Military Training Featurette: As is true in many war films, the cast went to a actor “boot camp” to learn how to use the props and act like real soldiers.
World War III Comes To Town: Citizens of the