RED DAWN (1984) — The Cold War Heats Up on New Shout Select Blu-ray — with Screen Comparisons

Shout Select’s new Red Dawn Collector’s Edition Blu-ray hits shelves tomorrow.

In a startlingly abrupt and surreal opening sequence, a small-town Colorado high school class is interrupted by Russian and Cuban paratroopers landing in the schoolyard and opening fire on their history teacher. It’s nothing less than a full-scale invasion, and a group of teenagers manages to escape to the mountains with guns and supplies, forced to become ragtag guerrilla warriors in World War III.

It’s a well known film and probably needs little introduction. But Red Dawn has had a bit of a rough time lately, between a terrible remake (the less said about that, the better) and modern reanalysis in an era in which extreme nationalism and xenophobia have taken root and poisoned American culture.

Now more than ever before, the film’s themes are frequently criticized as overtly politicized or jingoistic, and on this rewatch I picked up on some themes I hadn’t noticed before. The entire narrative is of course a powerful and obvious defense of the right and need to bear arms, but there’s also subtle criticisms of gun control (the invaders steal gun registry records to identify which civilians may be armed) and lax border security (invading Cubans have infiltrated the country via Mexico).

But in the context of an 80s movie about the Cold War erupting into all-out war on US soil, I feel like this all still works. This is a story about kids fighting off a foreign invasion at home, and on that front it’s pretty incredible action fantasy, especially as a challenge to comfortable suburban kids faced with the question of how they’d respond in a similar situation. In today’s movie climate which too often glorifies and caters to man-children, it’s good to be reminded of empowering stories in which girls and boys must grow up and take on adult responsibilities.

The film is notable not only for introducing the PG-13 rating (in the wake of movies like Gremlins and the Indiana Jones franchise angering parents and challenging the violence quotient of PG), but also as a starmaking vehicle for its assemblage of burgeoning young actors. It features an unforgettable cast that includes Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, Lea Thompson, Jennifer Grey, Powers Boothe, and C. Thomas Howell, anchored by supporting turns from veterans like Ron O’Neal, Lane Smith, Ben Johnson, and Harry Dean Stanton.

America has changed a lot in the last three decades and some aspects of Red Dawn haven’t aged well, but the theme of young American insurgents on US soil, repelling a hostile invasion force? That will never cease to be inspiring.

The Package

Shout Select’s new disc claims to be the film’s definitive release, and I agree. This edition pools all previous content and a new documentary into a snazzy package with new and old reversible art and a pretty awesome slipcover.

The Transfer

Unlike many Shout Factory and Scream Factory releases which tout new remasters, the press releases for Red Dawn haven’t mentioned any upgraded visuals. So naturally the first question on many collectors’ minds is whether this is the same image as previous Red Dawn Blu-rays.

The answer is yes… and no.

After isolating and comparing many frames from different parts of the movie, I’ve determined that the images do indeed seem to be exactly the same transfer and quality — with one surprising difference.

Can you see it? Probably not.

Left: Old MGM Blu-ray / Right: New Shout Select Blu-ray

The picture on the new Shout disc is shifted a few pixels to the left, introducing a very slight black edge on the right. It’s such a small difference that it feels nitpicky to even mention it (many TVs slightly crop the edges anyway), but that’s the clearest, most accurate answer to a question many are asking. By practical standards, the picture is exactly the same.

Special Features and Extras

The big draw here is the new 70 minute documentary looking back on the film’s production. At a glance, it would seem that everything else is identical.


The disc indeed brings back all previous bonus content — but in improved form. These DVD featurettes were previously presented in hideous interlaced versions. For this disc, they either deinterlaced those videos or used a better source. This is something that Shout Factory actually does often, where most distributors (including MGM themselves) would simply slap the old content on and call it a day. These have never looked better.

· NEW — A Look Back At Red Dawn (69:08)
Unquestionably the star of the package, this new documentary explores a lot of behind-the scenes stories and thought process behind the film’s creation. Unfortunately it’s kind of disappointing that neither director John Milius nor any of the film’s many well-known stars participated — of the cast, only supporting actor Doug Toby is involved. He’s joined by casting director Jane Jenkins, production designer Jackson De Govia, and editor Thom Noble.

Archival Features — with improved PQ!
· Red Dawn Rising (23:02)
· Training For WWIII (9:49)
· Building The Red Menace (9:37)
· WWIII Comes To Town (13:27)

· Original Theatrical Trailer (2:29)
There’s one slight change here; the new disc’s trailer opens with a modern, digitally-sourced extended MGM logo instead of the vintage one.

The Verdict

Shout Factory’s habit of mining MGM’s catalogue and re-releasing titles already on Blu-ray has grown more transparent lately, but is usually pretty welcome thanks to the incredible quality of the discs that result.

While this edition of Red Dawn is the definitive home version of the movie, it’s also one of their least essential re-releases so far, with only a slight upgrade over the film’s previous editions.

A/V Out.

Get it at Amazon:
Red Dawn — [Shout Select Collector’s Edition Blu-ray]

Except where noted, all screen images in this review are direct captures from the disc(s) in question with no editing applied, but may have slight compression inherent to file formats. All package photography was taken by the reviewer.

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