I would love to have been a fly on the wall during the pitch meeting for “Red Dawn.” Let’s take some of the most popular all-American teen stars, some of whom are from the Brat Pack and pit them against foreign invaders trying to take over America. Imagine! The All-American brat pack fighting terrorism! No one would dare fuck with Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen! People will come in droves! That said, “Red Dawn” is a childhood favorite and one my brother and I watched over and over whenever it was on television. Yes, it’s goofy, and violent, and a jingoistic fantasy, but it’s also a fun, action packed, and interesting concept with its “Rah Rah America!” patriotism heavily steeped in a “What If?” narrative.
Set in something of an alternate point in America’s future, a small town in Colorado is unprepared when Cuba and Russia team up to invade. Slaughtering most of the civilians and planting prisoners of war in concentration camps, a group of teens make a run for it in the wilderness of the country. There they form a small community where they hide out, survive, and eventually stage a rebellion against the invaders. “Red Dawn” has no real concept of reality, but does take itself very seriously, which makes it so much more fun than it has any right to be. The casting is brilliant, with folks like Charlie Sheen, Patrick Swayze, and Jennifer Grey delivering very stern and sincere performances as teenagers turned freedom fighters. The primary heroes and protagonists are brothers Jed (Patrick Swayze), Robert (C. Thomas Howell), both of whom have a keen experience with the wilderness.
They also the much needed team spirit that allows them rally troops around them. Eventually after resources begin to wear thin, they gather their six friends to not only fight back once and for all, but begin looking for new forms of shelter and food. Director Milius has a good time flipping American tropes on their head. The football captain becomes the leader of the rebellion, while the local drive in for the town in to the concentration camp housing prisoners of war. The group of freedom fighters even name themselves “Wolverines” after their high school football team. Milius keeps a lot of the film’s dramatic weight on movie stars like Lea Thompson, and Sheen, but also balances out the heavier themes with supporting characters like Powers Boothe and Harry Dean Stanton, both of whom provide very welcome walk on roles. In today’s climate, and even in the eighties, “Red Dawn” was a movie that divided many politically.
But if you stand back and not look too deep in to it, it’s a fun, exciting, and raucous fantasy for the “Rambo” decade. It’s tough not to sit through this without finding something new to love. “Red Dawn” is now available from Shout! Selects and comes with reversible cover art. Most of the bonus features are from the previous blu-ray release, with “A Look Back At Red Dawn,” a one hour look at the making of the film with stories from co-star Doug Toby, casting director Jane Jenkins, production designer Jackson DeGovia and editor Thom Noble. There are no big stars from the movie, but it’s still rather in depth. There’s the twenty three minute “Red Dawn Rising,” the ten minute “Training for WWIII,” the ten minute “Building the Red Menace,” the thirteen minute “WWIII Comes to Town,” and the original theatrical trailer which is presented in High Definition.