Tuesday, June 19, 2012

RED SCORPION (DVD & Blu-ray)

Some movies have real-world histories as compelling - if not more so - than the films themselves. In the case of the 1988 action film RED SCORPION, starring the titanic Dolph Lundgren (DARK ANGEL, COMMAND PERFORMANCE), that history involves volatile African politics and a first-time producer who would later become a notorious Washington lobbyist. Synapse Films' new DVD/Blu-ray combo not only offers a spectacular presentation of this exciting action adventure film, but through extensive supplemental features, places it - and its making - in historical context. It's fascinating stuff.

Nikolai (Lundgren), a Soviet Spetsnaz commando, is sent by his superiors to the small African country of Mokamba to infiltrate the local anti-Communist guerrillas and assassinate their charismatic leader. He manages to ingratiate himself with one of the rebels (Al White) and a foul-mouthed, Little Richard-loving American journalist (M. Emmett Walsh, BLADE RUNNER, CRITTERS), but when he sees how the Russians and their Cuban allies are killing and repressing the non-combatant natives, he begins to sympathize with the rebels. After failing his mission and being tortured by his "comrades," he escapes into the desert, where he is found and rescued by a mystical Bushman. After being dubbed "Red Scorpion" by the desert tribe for his hunting prowess, he returns to lead the rebel forces in an all-out assault on the Soviet military base....

Directed by Joseph Vito (FRIDAY THE 13TH - THE FINAL CHAPTER, THE PROWLER), RED SCORPION was Lundgren's fourth film, and second as leading man. It was produced by Jack Abramoff (from his own story), a staunch anti-Communist, who wanted to use the film to cast light upon Soviet activities in Africa, specifically, Angola. Budgeted at a modest $8 million dollars and with a distribution deal set up through Warner Brothers, the production headed to Africa. Unfortunately, through a series of unexpected delays caused by the unstable politics of the region and the technical needs of the production, the budget eventually doubled and the movie lost its backing from Warners. Vito and crew persevered, though, and the film was ultimately completed.

The movie itself is thrilling action-packed entertainment, with plenty of death-defying stunts (many performed by Dolph himself) and spectacular explosions - as well as tons of other practical special effects (including make-up "gags" by DAY OF THE DEAD's Tom Savini). Vito, who had also helmed the Chuck Norris hits MISSING IN ACTION and INVASION U.S.A. for Cannon Films, keeps things moving briskly, and even manages a few truly artistic shots and sequences. Dolph - whose "action star" career really began here - is excellent in the lead as the State-molded killing machine rediscovering his humanity, and veteran character actor Walsh is a hoot as correspondent Dewey Ferguson, providing both rude comic relief and social moralizing in equal doses. RED SCORPION is also a surprisingly visual movie, with some shots of the African wilderness and wildlife being genuinely beautiful and moving.

Although previously released on DVD in edited and pan & scan versions by both Fox and Simitar, this new DVD/Blu-ray combo from Synapse is about as great a presentation of RED SCORPION as we're likely to see, beginning with a gorgeous, 2K 1080p high-definition, restored and remastered transfer, presented at the original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.78:1. (The enclosed DVD features a standard-def, anamorphic transfer from the same source.) It is a damn-near flawless transfer, with bright, stable colors, sharp details, and a pleasingly film-like patina of grain. The audio is also superb, with a robust new Dolby DTS-HD MA 5.1 remix, and a very solid Dolby 2.0 Stereo option.

The extensive supplemental features include an informative (if slightly dry) audio commentary track by director Vito and Mondo Digital's Nathaniel Thompson; "Hell Hath No Fury," a terrific new on-screen interview with Dolph, where he discusses his early career up to and including RED SCORPION; "Assignment Africa," an in-depth video interview with producer Jack Abramoff, discussing the origins of the film and the difficulties of its production; "Scorpion Tales," a video interview with make-up artist Tom Savini; an animated still gallery; the original theatrical trailer and a selection of vintage TV spots. The package also includes an 8-page booklet with extensive liner notes by Jérémie Damoiseau, and reversible cover art.

If you're a fan of 80's action flicks, you'll definitely want to check this disc out. RED SCORPION is a lot of fun, very well-made, and Synapse's presentation is definitive. Highly and enthusiastically recommended.

BUYRed Scorpion (Blu-ray/DVD Combo)