Wednesday, September 12, 2007

RED DAWN – COLLECTOR’S EDITION

At first, I thought that John Milius’ (CONAN THE BARBARIAN) Reagan-era exercise in Cold War paranoia was an odd choice for a "Special Edition" treatment, but then I remembered how much impact the movie had on my generation and how fondly I recalled it. Apparently someone at MGM also recognizes just how much of a generational touchstone it was, because the 2-disc RED DAWN – COLLECTOR’S EDITION (1984) is a great DVD set.

I’m not saying the movie is great, necessarily, but MGM Home Entertainment has done a hell of a job on this DVD.

The plot is simplicity itself: when the American Midwest is invaded and occupied by the combined forces of the Soviet Union and Cuba, a group of Colorado teenagers flee to the mountain wilderness, eventually becoming partisans who fight a guerilla war against the foreign invaders.

Starring a bunch of young actors who soon went on to major Hollywood stardom – Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell, Charlie Sheen, Lea Thompson, Jennifer Grey – as well as some veteran character actors like Harry Dean Stanton, Ben Johnson, Ron O’Neal, Powers Boothe and William Smith, RED DAWN is packed with solid performances. The script is ludicrous (much of the dialogue is corny) but the film is executed with a certain amount of conviction by the eccentric Milius, and his cast, and the audience is soon caught up in the story. The gorgeous location photography doesn’t hurt, either.

This new Collector’s Edition features, on the first disc, a new 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and Dolby Stereo sound mix. This disc also includes a somewhat tasteless – but undeniably fun – extra feature in the form of a "carnage counter," which, if you choose to activate it, keeps a running tab of every death, explosion, and act of violence in the film.

The second disc includes a great retrospective documentary which includes candid interviews with most of the primary cast – including Swayze, Sheen, Thompson and Howell – all of whom seem pretty proud of their association with the film. Director Milius is also interviewed. This doc is one of the best I’ve seen in a while, and is really worth watching. The disc also includes three other featurettes – one on building the "Russian" tanks and vehicles for the film, one on the military training the cast was given prior to filming, and, finally, a return to the town that was used as the primary location for filming. This includes on-screen interviews with a number of residents, who seem extremely pleased with their association with RED DAWN.

If you grew up in the Eighties, chances are that RED DAWN left an impression on you, positive or negative. If your memories are good ones, I highly recommend this new edition. The film looks great, the documentary is exceptional, and the price is reasonable.

I wish more "Special Editions" were this good.

BUY: Red Dawn (Collector's Edition)