What better way to rile people up than show the high school football star mowing down foreign invaders? With that set-up, you can trim all sense of character and go gung-ho with plentiful AK-47s, a couple of tanks, and numerous dead Koreans… and Russians. Just because, that’s why.
It is hard to be more rudimentary than this, and even in comparison to the thin 1984 original, Red Dawn is struggling for purpose. The film carries a stock villain whose apparent only crime is being North Korean and landing in a Seattle suburb. We see American’s stuck in shipping containers and held against their will, but even before that the rebel “Wolverines” are on the assault. Red Dawn does not even see a need to show any torture, starving citizens, or other elements. In most cases, people are just wandering around the streets.
Hilariously, the teenagers who choose to fight back – including one Marine Jed (Chris Hemsworth) – end up in a Subway restaurant. There, they hold up the sandwich artist (literally called a sandwich artist by the kids) at gunpoint for some of that delicious bread. What kind of bread? Take your pick. They rattle off most available types in dialogue, as if the corporate line still matters in the midst of militaristic take over. If the North Koreans invade, at least we will have Italian cheese and herb.
Red Dawn’s shocks are blown in 20-minutes. There is something unnerving about seeing paratroopers rain down in a typical American neighborhood no matter the context, and here it is done well – to a fault. Jed then jumps into his Dodge Ram and mows him down some commies while driving through flames. Maybe instead of mountain ranges, the next Dodge commercial could plaster a few North Koreans across the windshield.
From there, the kids are on the run, building their forces while being betrayed needlessly by a shell of a character. Into an abandoned mine they go, striking back in ’80s montage style with plentiful explosions and brief shootouts. Ticked off, North Koreans bring in Russian Spetsnaz who proceed to do absolutely nothing short of sit imposingly on a stage. Soon, all the graffiti and dead bodies catch up with them, personal troubles boil up, and Red Dawn can more carefully stage its action. There is still no real sense of character, but hey, the explosions look good.
Red Dawn claims the invasion sprouts up all over the US, yet there is never a sense of scale beyond dialogue. Tanks are brought in via ineffectual means, trying to showcase something other than ground troops. A bombing run never even sees an actual plane drift across the screen, and apparently, the jets never serve a purpose at any other point in this war.
The film leaves the audience with no sign of a satisfying conclusion, just a message that take over should not be treated lightly (duh?) and a bunch of high school kids can take back ‘Murica when needed… especially when they play football. In Seattle. Because ‘Murica.
Razor sharp from the outset and then dwindling out of focus here and there, much of Red Dawn is appealing visually at a base level. Texture is sported with regularity (if not consistency), close-ups challenged by a lens that never settles down. Not only does it bounce and shake during action, even dialogue is twisted by an ever shifting focus. Some shots appear downright filtered in attempt to patch together a general look between edits. This was shot in 2009 and released in 2012, so who knows what happened in post during that shelving period.
Most shots will work with muted colors, flesh tones slightly raised. Daylight brings it with it a suite of gray and dry primaries. Even the massive banners meant to show the new regime are weakened to pale hues. At night, hints of teal slip in, although most scenes are handled with a somewhat wider palette than the usual glaze of a singular tone. It is appealing enough to get a pass and set a mood.
The longer the film goes, the better the black levels become, shifting from rather abhorrent deep gray to substantially thick dimensionality. By the end, and during a raid on a home base, they have come full circle and add a solid depth with a keen eye for shadow detail.
Captured on film with almost no visible film grain to speak of, Fox’s encode works well enough to the point where it remains unseen. Free of noise or any compression, the image breathes naturally. Contrast proves heavy enough. Clean material visually.
Red Dawn’s DTS-HD mix does everything well. Bar ambiance? Check. Forest ambiance? Check. Panning helicopters? Check. Positional dialogue? Check.
All of that, and no mention of explosions or gunfire? This one is a treat. Not only are the explosions beefy with the LFE punch, the debris field they create is spectacular. Passing objects sweep into the surrounds and split the stereos, making the entire effect seamless.
Gunfire whips around and becomes planted firmly in specific channels as requested by the camera. Also, as expected, the bigger the gun, the heavier the bass. Mounted machine guns rally off fire with well rounded, thick LFE that is hearty while adding weight. Rockets, bombs, and tank rounds exist on an equal level. The film is so fast paced, hardly anything has a chance to exist without audio domination.
Apparently, being held back a few years in production means someone inevitably loses the bonus materials, because Red Dawn has nothin’.
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