When Dirty Dancing was released in 1987, it was a cultural phenomenon that solidified Patrick Swayze as a bankable box office star that would be associated with him for years to come. Well, at least when there was adequate promotion behind the project. After the success of Dirty Dancing, the creative team behind the post-apocalyptic science fiction action film Steel Dawn believed they could coast on Swayze’s success by releasing just three months afterward without devoting any marketing to it. The result was an immense box office failure that grossed a good $214 million less than the romance picture. The less-than-glowing reviews also did not help, but like many cheesy action films of the era, it found a second life once it hit home video. Functioning as a bizarro precursor to Waterworld, the film is not very good, but it has a strange confidence that keeps you watching until the end.
The film peaks early as you open on an upside down, meditating Patrick Swayze as the simply-named Nomad. The stoic badass is just biding his time as a group of desert marauders emerge from underneath the sand to steal his stuff. The ensuing combat is swift but exhilarating enough to get you intrigued by what will soon happen. We soon get settled into the state of the world; the swordsman is living in a post-World War III landscape where fresh water is in short supply. On a more personal level, Nomad is on a quest for vengeance after his mentor was killed by the malevolent assassin Sho (Christopher Neame, License To Kill). He is also haunted by the death of his family – this is a character who is going to keep you at a distance. Nomad acts in the classic western archetype as he roams into the town of Meridian where he meets the widow Kasha (Lisa Niemi, Swayze’s real-life wife) and her son, Jux (Brent Hool, son of the director), who quickly bonds with the wanderer. The town is besieged by the evil forces of Damnil (Anthony Zerbe, The Dead Zone) and his gang, and Nomad might be the only person who can help protect the innocent.
The plot is about as old as storytelling itself, but it could be given an interesting new context with the right creative eye. Steel Dawn does not really choose to do that, though. The story is a very lean endeavor, and it is one that feels incredibly stretched out even at only 90 minutes. This provides some extra time to become familiar with all of the players involved, but no one is really interesting enough to want to command your attention. At least Waterworld had an over-the-top Dennis Hopper to liven things up, but the villains are a bit more plain in this endeavor. There are some kinetic scenes that will cause you to perk up when they play out, but the remainder of the world building leaves quite a bit to be desired. Even the chemistry between Swayze and his real-life wife does not translate on screen as well as what we got with other performers in movies like Ghost. The movie is not outright terrible, but it fares a bit less than middling on the quality scale just because it feels so padded. Those who appreciate forgotten post-apocalyptic action films will probably have some fun, but it is definitely not an undiscovered classic.
Steel Dawn finally makes its Blu-Ray debut with a 1080p transfer that is overall a decent affair but is far from a knockout. While I have no specific details about the transfer, this appears to be derived from a dated master that has not had a huge amount of work done to it. From scene to scene the film can look either incredibly clear and detailed or a bit soft and lacking fine detail. The transfer is naturally filmic with some decent detail in the landscapes and texture of clothing. Colors do not particularly make an impression, appearing a bit washed out at numerous points, and the black levels are passable in their depth. There are recurring specks of print damage present in the transfer. It is readily apparent that you are watching an HD transfer, but do not expect to be blown away with the quality. This is the best that the film has ever looked on home entertainment, but a new scan could have done wonders to make it more consistently great.
Lionsgate Home Entertainment brings us this new Blu-Ray with a lossless DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio mix that beautifully reproduces the film sonically. The dialogue holds up quite nicely, coming though clearly without being stepped on by the score or sound effects. The environmental effects are delineated nicely from the hustle and bustle of the city residents. The movie is accompanied by a Brian May score that sounds great here. This is a track that represents the film in a very satisfying way. Optional English (SDH) and Spanish subtitles are provided on this disc.
- Audio Commentary: Host Michael Felsher from Red Shirt Pictures conducts an entertaining commentary with Director Lance Hool in which he discusses the on-location shooting, the found objects that were used in creating the world of the film, the familial connections and updates on where everyone is today, the homage to John Huston, losing his crew to go see a Paul Simon concert, memories of working with Swayze and more.
- Interview with Screenwriter Doug Lefler: A new 17-minute interview with Lefler in which he discusses his writing process, his collaboration with the editor, unused ideas he took over to Xena and more.
- Interview with Director of Photography George Tirl: A new 17-minute interview with Tirl in which he discusses wanting to take on an American action film, shooting in the desert, his memories of the performers, the importances of screening dailies and more.
- Interview with Production Designer Alex Tavoularis and Costume Designer Poppy Cannon Reese: A new 16-minute interview in which the pair discuss (separately) getting involved with the project, crafting the look of the film, inspirations they brought to the film, how the physicality of the characters impacted the costumes and more.
- Making Of Steel Dawn: A 26-minute archival featurette which details the shooting location, the genre influences, the art direction and more. This is significant as one of the few supplements to have insights from the performers.
- Theatrical Trailer: The minute-and-a-half trailer is provided here.
- Still Gallery: A four-minute collection of images from the production of the film are included here.
Steel Dawn is a fairly weak addition to the post-apocalyptic action genre, but it has just enough elements to keep you somewhat engaged. Patrick Swayze delivers a solid performance even if the script is not substantial enough to justify its relatively brief running time. Lionsgate Home Entertainment has released a new Blu-Ray through their Vestron Video Collector’s Series featuring a passable A/V presentation and an impressive array of special features. If you are a fan of the film, this is a pleasing package at a good price.
Steel Dawn is currently available to purchase on Blu-Ray and Digital.
Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.
Disclaimer: Lionsgate Home Entertainment has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.
Dillon is most comfortable sitting around in a theatre all day watching both big budget and independent movies.