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Steel Dawn (Vestron Video Collector's Series)
Some of my favorite screenings of late have been discovering new (to me) titles released by studios like Shout! Factory, Arrow Video, Kino and Lionsgate as collector's editions designed to please genre fans. Lionsgate continues to add to its "Vestron Video Collector's Series" line, which seeks to honor the 1980s home-video distributor by, according to the studio's Facebook page, releasing "a line of classic films across all genres just the way you remember them, but better;" with an emphasis on original artwork, restored transfers and newly produced extras. One of the newer entries is Steel Dawn, a dystopian thriller from Lance Hool that stars Patrick Swayze. Released in 1987, the same year Dirty Dancing made him a star, Steel Dawn bombed at the box office and is certainly not a film most associate with the actor. I rarely read articles about films before writing my reviews, but I did want to know a bit about the background here. The production took place on location in the Namibian desert, which certainly gives Steel Dawn a unique look, but the producers ended up dumping it in theaters without an advertising campaign. I have seen the film compared to Mad Max and Waterworld, which makes sense given its post-apocalyptic environment, but Steel Dawn suffers from an anemic narrative that struggles to sustain its 90-minute running time. I would not call the film particularly good, but genre and Swayze fans may want to give this low-priced disc a spin.
The film opens with a pretty damn cool scene, as our hero, Nomad (Swayze), wanders a post-World War III desert and must fight enemies that emerge from the sand around him. Unfortunately, this is the most exciting scene in the film and it ends roughly five minutes after the studio logos. Water is a luxury in this world, and Nomad seeks to avenge the death of his mentor at the hands of assassin Sho (Christopher Neame). The man also is troubled by the deaths of his family, and stops in the town of Meridian for shelter. There, he meets widow Kasha (Lisa Niemi) and learns a local baron, Damnil (Anthony Zebra), and his gang are attacking the residents to claim the local water supply. Reserved due to his past, Nomad nonetheless befriends Kasha's son Jux (Brett Hool) and reluctantly agrees to help her preserve a secret supply of water. That is pretty much the entirety of the plot, and Steel Dawn certainly did not win any awards for originality or storytelling. Although not a fatal flaw, the film does not do much world building either. This is not necessarily required for such a genre effort, but a little context to what is going on may have made the proceedings more interesting.
The biggest problem with the film is that it becomes less interesting as it moves along. The aforementioned opening action scene is the film's best, and nothing about the narrative, character development, or plot's unwinding is particularly gripping. The film has a labored, poky quality that left me wanting to kickstart the action, and the villains are as generic as they come. Although Swayze and Niemi were married at the time, sparks do not necessarily fly between their characters. The performances are otherwise fine, if unremarkable, and the direction and cinematography are certainly workmanlike. If anything, I wish Steel Dawn had been a bit more campy and over the top. Throw in some real ludicrous plot twists and wild villains and call it a day! This is not a bad film, but it is pretty forgettable. Although it may be difficult to find this new edition to rent, that is my recommendation.
The 1.85:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer is labeled as "remastered" without further detail. The transfer, like the film itself, is unremarkable but not offensive. Fine-object detail varies from scene to scene, though there are a number of shots that reveal pleasing texture, facial features and costume detail. Wide shots are generally clear, and the grain structure is free from clumping and digital tinkering. There is some noticeable print damage in the form of scratches and debris, and colors are somewhat drab. Black levels are acceptable, with only minor crush, and I noticed no issues with edge enhancement.
The 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is also acceptable, providing clear dialogue that is balanced appropriately with effects and score. The Brian May score is given appropriate weight, and both environmental and action effects are reasonably immersive. I noticed no issues with clipping or distortion. English SDH and Spanish subtitles are included.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This single-disc release arrives in an eco-case that is wrapped in a glossy slipcover. A digital copy code is included. Bonus content includes an Audio Commentary by Director Lance Hool; an Interview with Screenwriter Doug Lefler (17:10/HD); an Interview with Director of Photography George Tirl (17:14/HD); an Interview with Production Designer Alex Tavoularis and Costume Designer Poppy Cannon Reese (16:15/HD); the archival Making of Steel Dawn (25:52/HD); a Theatrical Trailer (1:29/HD); and a Still Gallery (4:11/HD). The newly produced featurettes add nice context to the film.
Patrick Swayze leads this post-apocalyptic film that does not offer the excitement of contemporaries like Mad Max. A curiosity that I had not seen before now, Steel Dawn is not necessarily a good film, but genre and Swayze fans may want to check it out. Rent It.
William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.