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DVD Review: RED SCORPION (BLU-RAY/DVD COMBO)



Studio: Synapse
Year: 1989
Cast: Dolph Lundgren, Al White, M. Emmet Walsh, T.P. McKenna, Carmen Argenziano, Alex Colon, Brion James, Ruben Nthodi, Regopstaan
Director: Joseph Zito
Release Date: June 12, 2012
Rating: Not Rated for (violence, language)
Run Time: 01h:45m:13s
Genre(s): action

"Take a memo to General Vortek. Subject: Escape. Message: I am still Spetsnaz." - Lt. Nikolai Rachenko (Dolph Lundgren)

RED SCORPION (BLU-RAY/DVD COMBO)

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Fans of late-1980s action flicks should be quite pleased with Synapse Films impressive restoration and overall treatment of Dolph Lundgren's Red Scorpion, available in a new Blu-Ray/DVD Combo pack carrying an uncensored version that can be had for less than fifteen bucks.

Recommended for all those who appreciate the genre.

Movie Grade: B

DVD Grade: A-

Red Scorpion represents the third installment in what was sort of a quasi-trilogy of 1980s military-themed action titles from director Joseph Zito, coming immediately after the jingoistic Missing In Action and Invasion U.S.A. Instead of Chuck Norris Zito used Dolph Lundgren in the lead here, casting the finely-chiseled towering land mass as Russian special forces soldier Lt. Nikolai Rachenko, one of the so-called "warrior elite" sent by his hard-nosed commander General Vortek (T.P. McKenna) to Africa to assassinate a supposedly troublesome rebel leader named Sundata (Ruben Nthodi). Rachenko's mission is to befriend Sundata's right-hand man Kallunda (Al White), with the only problem being Rachenko quickly realizing that the violent oppressors are the Russian/Cuban military and not the local African rebel force.

Explosive vengeful retaliation ensues, courtesy of Rachenko.

Lundgren is essentially doing a cranked up one-off of his Drago character from Rocky IV, with his monosyllabic Rachenko being quite the lethal killing machine in his own right. But what makes Red Scorpion slightly unique to the action genre of the period is the way Rachenko undergoes his almighty transformation, and the oft-cited comparisons to this being a loose variation of the Frankenstein mythos are not completely unfounded. At the outset he's a monster, made into an unrepentant killer by his creators, and it's only after seeing himself for what he really is that he turns the tables on them, raining down death and destruction in the process. No one will ever confuse a Dolph Lundgren film as acting's high water mark, but there's no denying the guy was built (literally) for a role like this. His somber visage is spot-on for a character like this, and his eventual redemptive journey - involving a mystical Bushman - is where Red Scorpion shows itself to be working admirably to be something more than just exploding huts and shootouts (though there are plenty of those here).

Don't bother to question why African huts explode in giant fireballs, because that means you are not appreciating all that Red Scorpion has to offer. Zito includes an Indiana Jones-style desert chase sequence involving trucks, motorcycles and grenades - set to Little Richard's Long Tall Sally - that still holds up as fun little thrill ride of a scene, augmented by M. Emmet Walsh's obscenity-laden reporter Dewey Ferguson, who is relegated to the "panicky passenger" character for this segment. There's no shortage of military carnage on display, ranging from havoc caused by a Russian Hind gunship to flamethrowers to a prickly torture scene where Lundgren's Rachenko becomes a human pincushion. The big finale is a mass of bullets and explosions, earmarked by a great Tom Savini effect involving a man getting his arm shot off.

Those who somehow missed out on this B-movie classic back in the late 1980s may go into this expecting a simplistically typical "vigilante soldier" action film and I suspect they be surprised by some of the gentler aspects to Red Scorpion. Not that this isn't a rough-and-tumble action film at its core - Lundgren utters a few catchphrase worthy lines and there is a lot of violence - but a huge portion of the story is devoted to his transformation. His scenes with the mentor-esque Bushman character Gao (played by an actual Bushman named Regopstaan) are some of Red Scorpion's best moments, as we are given a chance to see a very different, more sympathetic side of Lt. Rachenko. But don't worry, there's plenty of exploding huts and big machine guns.

IMAGE/AUDIO
Synapse has dolled up Red Scorpion nicely, with a brand new 2K high-definition restoration that turns this AVC-encoded 1:78:1 1080p transfer into something pretty darn special. For starters, all evidence of any age-related detritus is completely gone, resulting in a transfer that is close to immaculate, with no measurable appearance of nicks, specking or dirt. The film's original grain texture remains in place, and the absence of any heavy-handed DNR is not a concern here. Outdoor sequences showcase the colors wonderfully, and elements like the blue African sky or brown/greens of the savannah look particularly brilliant in 1080p.

The new lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround track - prepared specifically for this release - does a whole lot to add some heft to the action sequences, with a very aggressive set of rear channels cues that have bullets and explosions coming from every direction. Some of the punches still play a bit flat, but explosions and gunfire are where it's at, and this new mix carries that weight well. Voice quality is clear and the recurring Little Richard tuneage is appropriately full-bodied. Even the closing credit sequence sports a rather active surround experience.

The film's original stereo track is also provided, beefed up here as a lossless DTS-HD MA 2.0 offering.

ZEXTRAS
The packaging for this two-disc set (one BD, one SD) includes reversible cover art, and I think that's sort of geek bonus that just doesn't get offered nearly enough. Sure, it's pointless - but it's still a nice touch. Inside the case is a six-page booklet that provides a nice primer on Red Scorpion, written by film scholar/filmmaker Jeremie Damoiseau.

Supplements - which are the same for both BD and SD - kick off with a new commentary track from director Joseph Zito, moderated by Mondo Digital's Nathaniel Thompson. Most commentaries really could benefit from having someone keeping the content flowing, but Zito seems effusive and comprehensive enough that it's likely he wouldn't have had any issues doing this solo; no disrespect to Thompson, because he is more than well-prepared and serves enough solid questions about the production that it is fairly clear he's quite knowledgeable on Red Scorpion. Lots of great information on the production and fun stuff from start to finish.

Hath No Fury: Dolph Lundgren And The Road To Red Scorpion (24m:54s 1080p 2012) is a new crash-course segment on all things Lundgren from obscurity through this film, as told by the man himself. Lundgren yaks amiably into the camera, describing everything from his first encounter with Grace Jones, instant stardom and on through the rigors of the African location shooting for Red Scorpion. He comes off as a pleasant enough chap, and the 24 minute runtime just flew by. Assignment Africa With Jack Abramoff (13m:54s 1080p 2012) is an interview with the film's producer/writer, and while not as immediately engaging as Lundgren's segment there's still some interesting nuggets to gather here. Scorpion Tales With Tom Savini (10m:03s 1080p 2012) features the always affable Savini recalling his days in Africa during the production, with plenty of time to discuss his work on one of the film's signature moments involving an arm that has been shot off by a vengeful Lundgren.

Also included is Original Behind-The-Scenes Footage With Tom Savini (09m:11s 1080i), which is a collection of grainy narration-free home movie material shot by Savini during the production. A Motion Stills Gallery (06m:56s) - chock full of promo art, publicity stills and the like - the film's theatrical trailer and a set of television spots conclude the extras.

Posted by: Rich Rosell - July 8, 2012, 11:27 am - DVD Review
Keywords: dolph lundgren, jack abramoff, joseph zito, red scorpion




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