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The unsuspecting citizens of Spokane, Washington, wake up one morning to the shocking sight of foreign paratroopers dropping from the sky in a surprise attack on the United States. Soon, the entire city is under enemy control, but a group of courageous teenagers has decided to fight back, waging an all-out war against the invaders, to take back their town – and their freedom! (From MGM’s official synopsis)

Red Dawn (2012)
Red Dawn has served zero purpose since the early days of its pre-production, a problem that was only aggravated by its melodramatic post-production troubles. Red Dawn is a remake of a film that was entirely ingrained in the culture and politics of the 1980s. The concept that runs John Milius’ jingoistic, right-wing wet dream original – that of a Soviet superpower invading the United States – has practically zero parallel in this post-Cold War film. Already, screenwriters Carl Ellsworth and Jeremy Passmore are fighting an uphill battle. They probably should’ve just given up here, but no; just like the plucky heroes of the film they’re emulating, they pressed on. Bereft of modern political analogues and apparently aware that no one would watch an ‘80s-set remake when Milius’ film was readily available on home video, the screenwriters took a vaguely offensive route and chose an American ally as their replacement villain, apparently unconcerned that no major studio would ever risk political suicide by releasing a movie where China invades Spokane, Washington (the fact that they chose Spokane as the spot China chooses to invade is another issue altogether). Shockingly, however, this Evil China movie was actually made – on a decent budget and through a major studio.

Sadly for the people that were actually clamoring for a remake of a movie that is conceptually irrelevant in the modern world, said major studio, MGM, fell into financial ruin, filed Chapter 11, and were unable to release Red Dawn and Drew Goddard’s Cabin in the Woods ( Skyfall was also delayed). While the finished film sat on the shelf, the controversy surrounding its bad politics gained steam and the studio heads decided to spend a bunch of cash changing the villains from Chinese to North Korean, because no one in the world outside of North Korea really cares what North Korea thinks. Oh, and because Chinese people supposedly look just like North Koreans (the racist implications here are a term paper all their own). In turn, this choice created a whole new problem – the real world threat of North Korea invading US soil is about as likely as the real world threat of an army of kiwi birds invading US soil via the Beringia land bridge. Using the neutral evil of North Korea robs the film of even a smidgen of credibility (alongside, the fact that they invade freaking Spokane…). In the end no one really seems to have liked the decision.

Red Dawn (2012)
But movies tortured by post-production/pre-release noodling almost always garner interest from film fans that often paint them as martyrs of the studio system. As the behind-the-scenes news unraveled, there was a feeling that MGM’s financial problems had robbed audiences of two possibly great films – Red Dawn and Cabin in the Woods. Sadly, the vast majority of movies that were buried or vastly re-edited by a meddling studio end up being nominal interesting at best and soul-crushing disappointments at worst*. Cabin in the Woods was, for the most part, an exception to the rule ( mostly alongside other horror films and a handful of comedies), while Red Dawn ended up being just as stupid as we feared it would be. Now then, having established that Red Dawn is a brain-meltingly wrongheaded and stupid film on every thematic, conceptual, and narrative level, I have probably also established that none of this surprises me. So what was I hoping to get out of this experience? Well, idiotic doesn’t necessarily equal unentertaining when it comes to B-plus-level action films. Despite the story problems, there was no reason to think Red Dawn wouldn’t work in the same way any number of dopey STV Dolph Lundgren movies do. My mistake.

Director Dan Bradley can shoot a good action scene and with good reason – he has spent the vast majority of his career as a stunt coordinator and second unit director on a long series of action films, including Raimi’s Spider-Man films and the Bourne movies. The only other celebrated second unit action directors I can recall that also dabbled in first unit direction include the late David R. Ellis, who peaked with only his second film as lead director ( Final Destination 2), and John Glen, who made some of the worst James Bond films. For whatever reason, these similar skill-sets don’t seem to overlap enough to create good movies. Bradley struggles through Ellworth and Passworth’s sub-Disney Channel teen dialogue and character development, but gets to the frenetic action quickly enough most viewers probably won’t turn it off in disgust. His control of action, aside from an overuse of shaky-cam that he learned working with Greengrass, is strong enough to briefly suspend disbelieve as asinine event after asinine event unravels. Though, seriously, almost none of what is happening makes any level of acceptable sense and there’s nothing at stake besides a bunch of kids we’re given little reason to care about. Bradley’s dependence on Greengrass-isms is a continuing problem for the non-action scenes (the camera really doesn’t need to shake that much during a conversation) and even his quick-clip editing doesn’t keep the eventless sections of the script from dragging the film down.

Red Dawn (2012)
The cast is most likely the thing that ended up getting Red Dawn in theaters. When it was shot back in 2009, Chris Hemsworth hadn’t appeared in Thor or The Avengers and Josh Hutcherson hadn’t appeared in The Hunger Games (coincidentally, Hemsworth also starred in Cabin in the Woods). These two superstars-in-the-making are joined by a motley crew of recognizable and unnaturally pretty actors/actress in their late teens/early twenties and grizzled character actor veterans, including the always dependable Jeffrey Dean Morgan (who doesn’t even show up for a little over an hour). The unnaturally pretty young’ins stand no chance against the lame dialogue and lack of character aspects, but make decent ciphers for the script’s outdated sense of patriotism and moral black & whiteness. So long as they are discussing tactics or fighting inept military types and not arguing about their feelings, the pretend teen actors are entirely tolerable.

Red Dawn (2012)

Video


Bradley and cinematographer Mitchell Amundsen shot Red Dawn on 35mm film, then, apparently displeased with the look of film, processed the hell out of the colour to make it look more digital. This 1080p, 1.85:1 transfer has no major issues to report it just looks a little weird at times based on Bradley and Amundsen’s photographic choices. The 35mm stock can be seen in a sheen of fine grain and minor inconsistencies in the heavier black levels, which are purposefully crushed as part of the high contrast look. Details are plenty sharp, though the documentary-style camera work isn’t the best arena for the finest textures and lines – the focus is too rough to capture every little embellishment. The biggest wide shots, assuming the camera is holding still, do feature some impressive, deep-set elements, but often overall darkness encompasses the more delicate highlights. Edge enhancement is not a problem, however, and neither are obvious blocking effects. The palette is very teal and the hue takes the place of most greys, greens, and blues. The warmer, contrasting hues are more yellow, almost mustardy, turning a bit more orange during the nighttime scenes. Despite the largely homogenous look, there are nice, subtle variations that blend into one another very smoothly. The red of the digitally composited North Korean flags and various brick buildings is the key and constant poppy element with just about every other colour falling into either the teal or mustard category. Seems unlikely from a film with the word ‘red’ in the title, right?

Red Dawn (2012)

Audio


This DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is one of the few things that even people who hate the movie can probably get behind. The minute North Korea starts invading, the whole system springs to life with fiery explosions, squealing car tires, revving car engines, flying bullets, and airplanes zipping through every channel. The aggressive sound doesn’t overwhelm the track and there’s still plenty of dynamic range between the bursts of noise. Elsewhere, the mix makes good use of squeaking Humvees and overhead helicopter blades announce the impending doom of the ‘unstoppable’ army. The strong sense of dynamic impact is also heard in any of the ‘guerrilla tactic’ sequences, where the quick punch of gunfire cuts through relative silence. Composer Ramin Djawadi’s score is also very well represented on the track, including some rich, widely separated strings, bombastic brass, and heavy, punchy drums that give the LFE further cause to vibrate. The softer music often sits in place of ambience, but the rear and stereo channels rarely fall entirely silent and even feature some decent directional enhancements.

Extras


There are a few Fox trailers here, but, otherwise, this is about as naked as a Blu-ray can come. It’s as if the behind-the-scenes story was embarrassing or something.

Red Dawn (2012)

Overall


Red Dawn has an interesting, almost entirely unexplored subtext. Hemsworth’s character gives a couple speeches comparing the Wolverines’ tactics to the Vietcong and the Mujahideen, but no one really compares the North Korean occupation to the various American military occupations of countries. The possibility is there and the original film made use of the Vietnam metaphor, but clearly none of the people involved in this goofy, shallow, and surprisingly boring movie were interested in something like moral or political ambiguity. Too bad. This Blu-ray release looks pretty good and sounds fantastic, but features absolutely nothing in terms of extra material, which is a waste, because the production history is much more interesting than the film itself.

* Note: I am including films that were censored due to MPAA objections or similarities to current events (films altered following 9/11, for example) as a separate category here. The vast majority of uncut versions of previously censored films are almost always preferable.

** Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.


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