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Red Dawn (2012)

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 3/5/2013

All Ratings out of
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Extras: No Extras

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 3/11/2013

We've spoken in the past about how I'm not a supporter of remakes (although we haven't talked about it much lately). I see no point in remaking classic movies, but I can see the merit of re-visiting a film which had a good idea but didn't raise it to its potential. In certain cases, I suppose that I can understand the desire to remake a movie and put a modern spin on it. As we all know, the world and technology are constantly changing and it's possible to take an older idea and bring it into the modern era. I have to assume that this was the thinking behind Red Dawn, a rehash of a movie from 1984.

Red Dawn takes place in Spokane, Washington, and it introduces us to the Eckert brothers. Matt (Josh Peck) is a hotshot high-school quarterback who likes to take matters into his own hands. Jed (Chris Hemsworth) is on leave from the Marines and has a decidedly different outlook on life. Their father, Tom (Brett Cullen), is the sheriff and expects the best out of both of them. After the big football game, there is a blackout. The brothers are startled awake the next morning by the sound of dozens of planes passing overhead. Venturing outside, they see soldiers parachuting to the ground. They grab Matt's friends -- Daryl (Connor Cruise) and Robert (Josh Hutcherson) -- and head for the family's cabin, where they are met by some other escapees, including Toni (Adrianne Palicki) and Danny (Edwin Hodge). They soon realize that the invading soldiers are North Korean, and that they have declared martial law in the city, even going as far as incarcerating those they find dangerous. The group decides that they must fight back in order to free or avenge their loved ones. Using guerilla tactics, they frustrate the enemy and begin to give the people hope that the invasion can be stopped.

I'm sure that many people consider Rambo: First Blood Part II to be the ultimate piece of Cold War fantasy filmmaking, but I would put the original Red Dawn up there as well. The film came at the height of the 80s fear of nuclear war and the thought of Russian and Cuban soldiers coming onto U.S. soil was all at once absurd, and yet eerily frightening. As I remember (I haven't seen the movie in years), it had a dark tone and Apocalypse Now scripter John Milius pulled few punches with the movie, despite its cast of pretty boys.

So, again, it's not far-fetched to follow the idea of re-visiting this topic and using a new enemy. While North Korea makes sense, the political climate isn't exactly the same, is it? We hear things in the news about that country testing weapons and making threats, but I don't think it looms on the minds of most Americans as the Soviet Union did thirty years ago. Being topical is not the same thing as being relevant. (The movie was actually shot in late 2009 and rumor has it that the invading country was originally going to be China.)

The lack of cultural resonance isn't the only problem with the movie. The story suffers from a bad case of "OK, now what?" syndrome. Once the "kids" convene at the cabin and then realize what they are up against, the movie becomes very episodic. We are basically treated to one scene after another in which they go to town, blow something up, and then flee. There are a few dialogue scenes thrown in and the expected tension between the brothers, but it's not long before something else is being blown up. This approach creates one pro and a lot of cons. The pro is that the film is rarely dull. (Note that I didn't say that it wasn't boring.) The kids seem to have no trouble finding plastic explosives and there is a big action scene every few minutes. However, this get redundant very quickly, as we wait for something truly interesting to happen or some sort of real drama to be created. However, even when one of our heroes finally dies, it feels very hollow. The movie isn't helped by the fact that the group rarely has to practice any real stealth on their missions. As the invaders allow those who are deemed safe to be out and about, the group simply has to blend into a crowd long enough to plant their bombs. The movie would have been much more exciting and interesting if more planning had gone into the missions.

This new Red Dawn can't be accused of not trying to be exciting. The finale is decidedly action-packed and, as you'll see below, the movie is very home theater friendly. But, I can't say that this is a "turn your brain off and enjoy the action" type movie, because even a brain which is set to stun needs engaging characters who have some sort of emotional motivation going on. The cardboard cutouts presented here are actually more interesting for the actors than for the actual movie, as we get a pre-Thor/The Avengers Chris Hemsworth, Josh from Drake & Josh presented as a jock/action hero and Tom Cruise's adopted son (who actually does very little in the movie and is still a better actor than Tom). Again, I wasn't a fan of the 1984 Red Dawn, so I can't necessarily say that this new movie is worse. I can say that if it weren't a remake of a movie which some see as a cultural touchstone, it would have gone direct-to-video.

Red Dawn offers a great example of how a snow globe can be used as a seismograph on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 36 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no distracting grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look accurate, and despite this being a somewhat dark film, the image is never overly dark. The picture is nicely detailed and the actors truly stand out from the backgrounds due to the image's depth. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. For such a mediocre film, this is one of the best surround tracks I've heard in a while. Again, there are constant explosions and they sound awesome. The subwoofer effects are palpable, but the stereo and surround effects are very smooth. They aren't overpowering, but rather detailed. They show good separation and we are able to pick out individual sounds. During the finale, we get a good sense of the various gunfights taking place, as shots come from all around us. A very impressive audio package.

In an odd move for a semi-known movie released by a major studio, there are no extra features on the Red Dawn Blu-ray Disc.

Review by Mike Long. Copyright 2013.