Red Scorpion on Blu-ray

Dolph Lundgren might be seen as a B-rank action star of the 80s, 90s and beyond, often delivered straight to DVD and following in the shadow of Schwarzenegger, Stallone and Willis. Whilst he made a name for himself in the likes of “Rocky IV” as the super-fit, super-clichéd Russian boxer Ivan Drago, “Red Scorpion” proves that there is more to this ripped Swede than meets the eye. The movie delivers plenty of guns and explosions but also an intelligent core that helps it stand out from the crowd.

Lieutenant Nikolai Rachenko (Lundgren – “Universal Soldier”) is a towering Spetsnaz killing machine, sent on an undercover mission to infiltrate a rebel army in the heart of Africa and take out its leader. The Communist Russians and Cubans enjoy massive military superiority in the region but the rebels are a persistent guerrilla thorn in their side. Nikolai is imprisoned for sham insubordination and then escapes with a rebel soldier called Kallunda (Al White) and a suspicious reporter called Dewey (M Emmet Walsh). Can he stick with them long enough to get close to the rebel leader before his cover is blown?

Red Scorpion on Blu-ray

The twist, as the poster slogan ‘They think they control him. Think again…’ suggests, is that as Nikolai is exposed more and more to the rebel struggle and the brutal oppression being endured, so he starts to question his mission objective and ultimately changes sides. Along the way he encounters a tribe of bush people who help him survive in the unforgiving African desert, and show him that their peaceful way of life is worth fighting for.

Initial misgivings about Lundgren’s acting ability are quickly swept away as his character develops. This is not a one-dimensional meat head but a soldier with the seed of a conscience that flourishes as the film progresses. As you would expect, the more the character develops, so his charisma grows. Scenes between Lundgren and one of the bush tribesmen are particularly memorable and quite delicately played in comparison with the heavy-weight death and destruction that bookend the film.

The action sequences are competent if slightly lacking in excitement. The deafening gun and explosion noises and the multitude of blown-up vehicles and buildings keep things moving along for genre fans. Lundgren handles weapons and himself very confidently, and the ladies might like to know that he spends most of the movie in tiny shorts and flip-flops! He was certainly in peak physical condition when this film was made, a year after he played the comical He-Man in “Masters of the Universe”.

Supporting actors also do a decent job. Walsh (“Blade Runner”, “Fletch”) is great as the crumpled but feisty reporter who stands up to Nikolai despite being half his size. White and Ruben Nthodi are solid as the rebel soldier and their leader respectively. TP McKenna (the original “Straw Dogs”, Blake’s 7) generates plenty of bile as the scheming Russian General Vortek, aided by Carmen Argenziano (Stargate SG-1) and Brion James (also “Blade Runner”, “The Fifth Element”) as his over-confident partners in (war) crime.

Fans of “Avatar” will find much in common with that recent epic, not least the put-upon natives being killed or exploited at the hands of a more technologically advanced and callous invading force. It is an old story that has been retold countless times but never goes out of fashion, especially when it is competently told as it is here by director Joseph Zito (“Missing in Action”, “Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter”).

This is a list of the special features included in this Blu-ray release and its technical details:

  • Brand new High Definition transfer of the film (1080p)
  • Introduction to the film by star Dolph Lundgren
  • UK exclusive audio commentary by director Joseph Zito, moderated by filmmaker and genre scholar Howard S Berger
  • ‘All Out Of Bullets’ – Dolph Lundgren remembers “Red Scorpion”
  • ‘Music With Muscles’ – composer Jay Chattaway on the soundtrack of “Red Scorpion”
  • Original trailer
  • Reversible sleeve with original and newly commissioned artwork
  • Double-sided fold-out artwork poster
  • Collectors’ booklet featuring brand new writing on the film by author Calum Waddell
  • Original 1.78:1 aspect ratio
  • Original uncompressed LPCM Stereo audio
  • Optional English subtitles for the hearing impaired

Lundgren comes across as a very easy-going and likeable star during his interview. He covers such subjects as doing most of his stunts in this movie (including being bitten by a hyena that did not even make it into the final cut), the ridiculousness of having to work in 110 degree heat whilst on water rations to ensure he maintained his muscular appearance, and also a slight amusement at coming back into fashion thanks to “The Expendables” and its imminent sequel. The Chattaway featurette is worth a look if only for the stunning backdrop.

The picture quality in this revamped Blu-ray release is very impressive. There is some fine grain as you would expect from the remastering process, but otherwise the textures are sharp, the contrast is bold and you can easily forget that the movie is well over 20 years old now.

 “Red Scorpion” (1988) is released on Blu-ray on 6 February, courtesy of Arrow Video. The running time is 106 minutes approx, certificate ‘15’, and the movie retails for £24.99, or less from www.culttvstore.com

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