STEEL DAWN. Proper 80’s post-apocalyptic science fiction

The joyous ’80s, an arms race, and a frantic fear of nuclear annihilation – a goldmine for imaginative minds in low-budget, post-apocalyptic science fiction.

Radoslaw Buczkowski

1 January 2024

STEEL DAWN. Proper 80's post-apocalyptic science fiction

The formula was usually the same: post-war period, the last scout vs. motorized redneck gangs, in short – cheap Mad Max knock-offs. These films were made in two weekends; a trip to the Nevada desert, scavenged bits of scrap metal, glue, a welding machine, a generous amount of iconic silver tape, and a wardrobe of old, worn-out clothes – all for about 35 bucks, creating a cinema story. It was mandatory to make sure the ingredients matched: the scarcity of the plot (or its absence), bad acting, a touch of directorial stiffness, and you had the recipe for another VHS “classic.” Yes, post-apocalyptic cinema of that era was not outstanding, although there were productions worth a few words.

The plot of Steel Dawn is not stunning. There’s a wanderer (one of Patrick Swayze’s first major roles) roaming the desert, brawling with creatures that are a mix of Tusken Raiders and Morlocks, and meditating in his free time. He stands on his head and takes pride in it (when he has time), and when time is short, he just stands on his head. Initially, I thought the cameraman set the camera incorrectly, and the director wanted Swayze to symbolically hold the Earth on his head – you know, sharp and unpretentious symbolism. However, no, he meditates because he was a soldier and a disciple of some uber-master. What he learned, what philosophical path he took, and what the whole meditation patent is about, no one knows, but our hero probably doesn’t have a clue either – let’s just assume that the ladies like it. Not only that, Swayze also knows desert jiu-jitsu like few others, loves animals, has his principles, speaks little, does a lot, and generally is the toughest of the tough. So, Patrick dances his way into one of the small human settlements, fighting for survival in these very tough times. The whole settlement is some eco-pacifist squat, whose residents value ozone layer protection above life itself, high-performance cultivation of organic squash, and long walks in the forest (if there were any) – in a real post-atomic situation, this settlement would be burned, and the residents raped, killed, and eaten (not necessarily in that order) after the first attempt to put stakes under the tent in this area. Since it’s hard not to like Swayze, the guy quickly befriends the settlement residents, mainly the hot as a desert-scorched sheet leader of the settlement and her son Anakin – serious business, the young one even builds his own racer.

Steel Dawn Patrick Swayze

By the way, the Steel Dawn chick  looks like she’s just come from some hipster party, wind-blown hair, a butt like a shelled peanut in custom-cut jeans, and trendy ankle boots, and a stylish scarf because, as everyone knows, nothing creates fashion better than a touch of the apocalypse. Swayze would live happily ever after with his new family, building sand castles and growing a wide range of organic vegetables if the very evil (oh, how!) local warlord didn’t want to take over control of neighboring settlements – the rest can be easily guessed because everything goes from one cliché to another. I mentioned something about hot sheets, well, the desert world is filled with all kinds of aluminum rejects: sheets, scraps, weapons, frames, vehicles, clothing, food, cleaning supplies – in short, aluminum madness. Steel Dawn has a clear message for me: in case of an apocalypse, seasoned can collectors from under the booth will become true magnates, and the next time I hear “boss, toss a buck for wine” somewhere at the train station, I won’t hesitate to help – who knows, maybe a good deed will come back to me like an aluminum boomerang someday. Seriously, there is no other metal in this world except aluminum. Furthermore, there is a scene where Swayze walks along an old railway track. Only the concrete pads remain – the steel has probably oxidized. I have a theory about the steel deficit in Steel Dawn. The end of the world has already come, and the Australians have negotiated with the Americans to take all the steel themselves, and in return, they will send a yearly supply of Cadbury’s silver bars. In Australia, we have Mad Max, welded cars, powerful trucks, and general wild driving, while in America, Swayze, a meter of clothing, joyful settlements under the patronage of flourishing rhubarb, and wind-powered bikes for hipsters. Yes, we can!

Steel Dawn Lisa Niemi

Returning to the proper track (by no means aluminum), Steel Dawn is relatively painless to watch because Swayze delivers (Brion James also, but he always delivers), and there is good chemistry between him and the magazine-hot chick. The action moves at a good pace, occasionally a brawl, two, three sword cuts, and for dessert, a final solo with a British mercenary looking like he was just picked up straight from a Motley Crue concert tour. Sure, it’s not Mad Max; the whole thing is a completely different caliber and is a product cast from a much lighter metal alloy (I had to, heh). You can feel that it’s more of an adventure set in different realities than usual; the whole thing could really happen somewhere on the African savannah, in the Amazon jungle, or in the suburbs of Bełchatów, and it wouldn’t matter much to the story being told. However, there’s no need to make a drama out of it; it’s a quick watch, so it can be recommended for a lazy Monday – especially when you have a chilled six-pack of beer on hand, in this case, preferably in a can.