‘Steel Dawn’ Blu-Ray review – Patrick Swayze’s dystopian action flick is a mishmash of ideas

When Dirty dance released in 1987, it was a cultural phenomenon that solidified Patrick Swayze as the bankable box office star who would be associated with him for years to come. Well, at least when there was proper promotion behind the project. After the success of Dirty dance, the creative team behind the post-apocalyptic sci-fi action film Steel vane thought they could capitalize on Swayze’s success by releasing just three months later with no marketing whatsoever. The result was a huge box office failure that grossed $ 214 million less than the Romantic Picture. The poor reviews didn’t help either, but like many tacky action movies of the era, it found a second life once it hit the home video. Functioning as a bizarre precursor to Water world, the movie isn’t very good, but it has a strange self-assurance that keeps you watching until the end.

The film climaxes as soon as you open yourself upside down, pondering Patrick Swayze as a simple nomad. The stoic badass bucks his time as a group of desert marauders emerge from under the sand to steal his things. The ensuing combat is swift but exhilarating enough to intrigue you with what is to come soon. We are soon settling in the state of the world; the swordsman lives in a post-world war landscape where fresh water is scarce. On a more personal level, Nomad is on a quest for revenge after his mentor is killed by the malicious assassin Sho (Christopher Neame, License to kill). He’s also haunted by the deaths of his family – he’s a character who will keep you at bay. Nomad acts in the classic Western archetype as he wanders the town of Meridian where he meets widow Kasha (Lisa Niemi, Swayze’s real wife) and her son, Jux (Brent Hool, director’s son), who is quickly binds with the wanderer. The city is under siege by the evil forces of Damnil (Anthony Zerbe, The dead zone) and his gang, and Nomad might be the one person who can help protect the innocent.

The plot is about as old as the storytelling itself, but it could be given an interesting new context with the right creative eye. Steel vane doesn’t really choose to do it, however. The story is a very lean business, and it feels incredibly stretched even at just 90 minutes. It does give a bit more time to get acquainted with all the players involved, but no one is really interesting enough to want your attention. At least Water world had an over-the-top Dennis Hopper to liven things up, but the baddies are a bit clearer in this business. There are some kinetic scenes that will make you wake up when they happen, but the rest of the world building leaves a little to be desired. Even the chemistry between Swayze and his real wife doesn’t translate onscreen as well as what we’ve had with other performers in movies like Ghost. The movie isn’t downright terrible, but it ranks a little below average on the quality scale simply because it feels so padded. Those who enjoy the forgotten post-apocalyptic action movies will likely have fun, but this is certainly not an unfamiliar classic.

Video quality

Steel vane finally debuts on Blu-Ray with a 1080p transfer which is overall a decent deal but far from a knockout. While I don’t have specific details on the transfer, it appears to come from a dated master who hasn’t been through a huge amount of work. From scene to scene, the movie can look incredibly clear and detailed or a bit sluggish and lack fine detail. The transfer is naturally filmic with some decent details in the scenery and texture of the clothes. The colors do not particularly stand out, appearing a bit washed out in many places, and the black levels are passable in their depth. There are recurring spots of print damage present in the transfer. Obviously you’re watching an HD transfer, but don’t expect to be blown away by the quality. It’s the best home entertainment movie the movie has ever watched, but new analysis could have done wonders to make it more consistently great.

Audio quality

Lionsgate Home Entertainment brings us this new Blu-Ray with lossless DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio mixing that beautifully reproduces the movie soundly. The dialogues hold up fairly well, coming very clearly without being trampled by the score or sound effects. The environmental effects are well demarcated by the agitation of the townspeople. The film is accompanied by a score by Brian May which sounds great here. It’s a piece that represents the film in a very satisfying way. Optional English (SDH) and Spanish subtitles are provided on this disc.

Special features

  • Audio commentary: Red Shirt Pictures host Michael Felsher leads an entertaining commentary with director Lance Hool in which he discusses the filming on location, the found objects that were used to create the world of the film, family ties and updates on where everyone is today, the homage to John Huston, the loss of his team 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 looks back on his writing process, his collaboration with the publisher, the untapped ideas he took up Xena and more.
  • Interview with cinematographer George Tirl: A new 17-minute interview with Tirl in which he discusses his desire to tackle an American action film, the filming in the desert, his memories of the performers, the importance 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 two men discuss (separately) their involvement in the project, the design of the look of the film, the inspirations they brought to the film, the impact of the physicality of the characters on costumes and more.
  • Make Steel vane: A 26-minute archival featurette that details the location, genre influences, artistic direction and more. This is important because it is one of the few supplements that has a preview of performers.
  • Theatrical trailer: The 1.5-minute trailer is provided here.
  • Image gallery: A four-minute collection of footage from the film’s production is included here.

Final thoughts

Steel vane is a pretty weak addition to the post-apocalyptic action genre, but it has just enough elements in it to keep you somewhat engaged. Patrick Swayze delivers a solid performance even though the script is not substantial enough to justify its relatively short execution time. Lionsgate Home Entertainment has released a new Blu-Ray through its Vestron Video Collector’s series featuring passable A / V presentation and an impressive array of special features. If you are a fan of the film, this is a nice package at a good price.

Steel vane is currently available for purchase on Blu-Ray and Digital.

Note: The images shown in this review do not reflect the picture quality of Blu-Ray.

Disclaimer: Lionsgate Home Entertainment has provided a copy of this disc free of charge for your review. All opinions expressed in this review are the honest feedback of the author.

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