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In these times when Hollywood remains so skittish to move forward with new and original content, this year (and currently in theaters) we have a remake of one of my favorite movies from when I was young, Red Dawn. Below, I will explain why this remake makes no sense, giving 5 reasons why it never should have been done at all and why the producers and filmmakers who perpetrated this cinematic crime should have to pay. Dearly.
The original Red Dawn, released in 1984, was the very first film ever given the PG-13 rating.This movie was conceived of and made at the height of the Cold War. Every day was tense, never knowing what the Russians were up to and the fact that from 1981 to 1985, three of General Secretaries of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union – Brezhnev, Andropov, and Chernenko – had died, leading to a great deal of uncertainty. US President Ronald Regan‘s inflammatory rhetoric towards the Russians made every day even more tense – he called them an “evil empire” and unknowingly announcing on a TV broadcast that “My fellow Americans, I’m pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.” Life in the 80s wasn’t all shitty pop music and McDonald’s for lunch. It was pretty terrifying, especially as a kid. When The Day After was shown on national TV in November 1983, the horrors of nuclear war and its after effects became as real as they ever would. It is still the 19th most watched television show in history. People were filled even more with the fear of nuclear annihilation. Bomb shelters were built and precautions were even taken in school with the resumption of the Cuban Missile Crisis-era air raid drills. So the time was ripe for a film like Red Dawn.
Na na na na boo boo – Russians are stupid and…who am I again? I forgot.
Red Dawn (1984)
A quiet, small town in the mountains of Colorado operates like any other day. Kids are in school, parents are at work. Soothing the wounds of a tough football loss is Matt Eckard (Charlie Sheen) who is teased by his older brother and former BMOC, Jed (the one and only Patrick Swayze), who drops him off at school. Shortly thereafter, in the middle of a lecture on the great conqueror Genghis Khan, paratroopers by the thousands drop from airplanes above and settle on school grounds, preparing weapons and taking up positions. What at first is thought to be a military exercise gone awry soon comes to light that it’s a Russian invasion. World War III has begun. The kids scramble to get out of the school as the Russian open fire. Jed luckily has come back in his pick-up truck and collects his brother and a few friends – Robert (C. Thomas Howell), Daryl (Darren Dalton), Arturo (Doug Toby) and Danny (Brad Savage) who go to the sporting goods/convenience store of Robert’s father. They take all of the supplies they can handle and head up into the mountains in an attempt to survive.
They do a good job staying out of the way of the Russians and living, but they are running out of food, and need news. They go to the ranch of a family friend, Mr. Mason (Oscar-winner Ben Johnson) who tells Robert that his father has been killed. Mr. Mason has two granddaughters, Toni (a pre-nose job Jennifer Grey) and Erica (Lea Thompson), he’d like Jed and Company to take with them as they had been accosted by Russian soldiers. Reluctantly they do so, but it pays off in the end.
After some time in the mountains, they are happened upon by some Russian soldiers and a shoot-out occurs. When the kids overwhelm the Russian soldiers and kill them, they decide to band together and fight to take back what was theirs to begin with. In quick succession, they learn the art of guerrilla warfare and how to take out the enemy without being captured or killed. They wreak havoc on the invaders and an elite Russian squad is brought in especially to hunt them down. They are eventually sold out by Daryl, whose father is the mayor of the town. He was forced to swallow a bug that would help the Russians and Cubans find them and destroy them. They make Daryl pay heavily for his actions (like with his life) and make one final flourish to turn the tide against the invading hordes.
This film was a benchmark in my childhood and to have it whored out hurts a little, I have to admit.
Here’s the trailer:
Red Dawn (2012)
Production on this film ended in 2009 and was ready for release in 2010. However, it sat shelved for a couple of years due to MGM’s financial woes and the fact that the filmmakers changed the major villains from the Chinese to the North Koreans. Was there a change in heart about the Chinese being a threat to the United States? Oh, no there wasn’t – the studio saw that China was a BIG market for a film like this and didn’t want to hurt its box office chances there by painting them as Anti-American in the film. This is why business people have no, well…business, in the creative arts. The story suffers because of this change, even though the Russians play a small part. Does anyone believe that the North Koreans have the moxie let alone the firepower to attempt this? The North Koreans have, I believe, the fourth largest standing army in the world. For a nation of only 24 million, that says a lot. With the firepower it would take to not only invade the United States and its 300 million+ population and the resources to keep those troops supplied makes this scenario all the more dumb. This is arguably the most egregious misstep in this film, which has about 500 of them.
The basic storyline is the same from the original – a communist invader, North Korea, tricks the US and invades, splitting the country into “occupied” and “free” zones. This version is much more urban-based, its setting being Spokane, Washington, than the original, which saw large portions of it based in the Rocky Mountains. The mountains play almost no role, switching instead to a wooded refuge, albeit a limited one. So, the landscape of the film is much different than the original, allowing for closer contact between the insurgents and the hostile invaders. However, we never get an up close depiction of any of the North Koreans, not even Captain Cho (Will Yun Lee). In the original, there is a relationship which we as viewers build with the Cuban Col. Ernesto Bella (a surprising turn for Super Fly actor Ron O’Neal). At points, we can even find ourselves identifying with him. Not the case in this new version. There is no doubt we are to view the North Koreans not as people, but killing machines intent on taking the American way of life away.
Newfangled, more multicultural Wolverines…with goofier hats.
The core cast is also much more multicultural than before as well even adding another girl to the mix. Gotta love Hollywood political correctness. Only a few of the characters have changed names (no Arturo anymore). These kids operate more as a family than a band of people thrown together in extraordinary circumstances. The strife that existed in the first film was nowhere to be seen here outside of the consequences of the dipshit love story (addressed below) and traitorous Pete (Steve Lenz) who gets his just desserts.
Here’s the trailer:
So, here’s a list of 5 reasons why this version is a waste. And trust me, it could have been longer. Beware if you intend to watch the 2012 version…there are spoilers ahead.
5) The invasion
Gross suspension of disbelief is required for the invasion in the remake. Spokane as of the time of the making of this film had a population of 208,000+ and rests only 280 west of Seattle whose population was about 620,000 at the time of the making. The Cascade Mountains divide the two cities, which does provide a natural barrier. So when Matt (Josh Peck) and his home-from-duty Marine brother Jed (Thor actor Chris Hemsworth) simply watch as the paratroopers rain down on Spokane before racing off to find their cop father (Brett Cullen who is no damn Harry Dean Stanton), it’s a little hard to take. That the Koreans were able to literally shut off every passage in and around the city and start rounding people up within minutes with no resistance is ludicrous. What makes this seem all the more silly is that Washington is an “open carry” state, meaning that citizens can visibly carry otherwise legal sidearms in holsters unless they are in restricted areas like school or governmental zones. How many cowboys do you think there are in Eastern Washington, so close to the Idaho border? In a survey taken in 2001, 33.1% of all Washington households had at least one gun. Americans are a plucky lot, very intent on protecting this country. To think that the Koreans suffered really no resistance (at least that we see or hear of) is crazy even if they used targeted non-nuke tactical missile strikes. CRAZY.
And here is another reason why this would never happen…
4) The stupid love story
Matty & Erica: insurgent love.
There is no time for love when you’re trying to kill and/or expel a foreign army who has invaded your country, right? The fact that that Matty-Erica (Isabel Lucas) love story is in this film is either a clear grab for female viewers who grew up watching Josh Peck on that silly ass Drake & Josh show on Nickelodeon or the product of lazy writers/producers content with adding every cliche they can. This is one of the clear deviations from the original where there was, rightfully, no love story at all except for a crush that Erica/Lea Thompson had on Col. Tanner/Powers Boothe that barely plays itself out. It never cost anyone their lives and didn’t exist as some ridiculous obstacle for the group to achieve their goals. They had all that they needed there with the Russian and Cuban armies. So why add it in? Matty’s singular obsession with finding Erica was tiresome contrived nonsense. It weighed the story down and took away from what could have been some pretty intense fighting/action scenes, which is what this movie should have been from start to finish. Instead, we get weepy-eyed teens flush with love, willing to risk everyone’s lives so they can reunite. Yawn.
3) Jed being an active-duty Marine on home from leave
Come the fuck on. Really? This was certainly convenient, huh? Jed/The Swayz says in the original, “You think you’re so smart, man, but you’re just a bunch of scared kids,” and there was beauty in that notion, that scared kids could do their part and wreck some shit to help protect our country. But that changed when they decided to have Jed as a marine in the remake, which gave the kids a person to train them, a person with knowledge on how the enemy works, and frankly it undermines the message of the first movie, albeit a highly unlikely one, that anyone who loves their country can defend it when they have enough of a push. And as much as I like Hemsworth because I do, he’s no Swayze. Road House, bitches.
2) The worst damn ending ever?
Partisan Rock: In the early days of WWIII, guerrillas, mostly children placed the names of their lost upon this rock…
I was so disappointed in the ending as I was with the entire film. While the ending of the original film wasn’t exactly prophetic, it was at least a nice epilogue on the film. The shot of Partisan Rock and accompanying voice over was at least a summation, an end note to what we happened prior. The way the 2012 version ends picks up where the shitty beginning left off – with Matty as the quarterback of the team – is embarrassing. Instead of being the kid who can’t trust his teammates, trying to do everything on his own, Matt is now changed, is a team player (even though his selfish ass actions earlier got one of his friends killed) and commands the team in the wake of the loss of his brother. He recites the same monologue that Jed had barked after the invasion as he addresses a new crop of kids who intend on fighting as Wolverines. Ray Lovejoy, editor of 2001: A Space Odyssey, is quietly laughing in his grave.
Here is a clip of this fucking travesty:
And the final, most egregious trampling of the first movie is:
1) Robert’s lack of transition into a killing machine
A dorky, Holden Caulfield-esque version of the original Robert.
One of the best parts of the first movie was watching Robert/C. Thomas Howell go from superwuss to killing machine. He was a force to be reckoned with, fearless and unhinged which was exactly what the group needed. When dirty work needed to be done, Robert did it (reference Daryl’s execution). Times of war are hard times, and Robert exemplified the person who did what needed to be done. In the new incarnation, however, Robert/Josh Hutcherson, undergoes no such change. He remains almost passive, like all of the kids, even as they fight the North Koreans if that’s even possible. This is a movie about war and ideology – how can there really be none of either in the remake? There was no tipping point for Robert, not even the death of his father. The deer hunting scene was just a joke. How can they take the spiritual essence of that scene and turn it into a prank? This version of the movie is soft, plain and simple. These kids are soft, plain and simple and maybe that’s because of the opponent they were fighting. The Russians were the most formidable army in the world outside of ours when the first film was produced. They were battle tested in Eastern Europe and in Afghanistan. It’s been since the Korean War since the North Koreans (who had plenty of help form China and Russia in that conflict) have done anything except stare blankly across the DMZ at the South Koreans and oppress the shit out of their people.
And I do find it fitting that Josh Hutcherson was cast to play this role since he had to go through a similar arc as Robert did in the first film for his role as Peeta in the underwhelming Hunger Games film.
So that’s that. I guess when you let former stunt man and second-unit director Dan Bradley direct his first feature, this is what you get even though he’s worked on some pretty high speed movies. Let’s face it, this is the Varsity Blues version of Red Dawn. It should never have been made in the first place. The 11% on Rotten Tomatoes is pretty good indication of that. The original film was a reflection of the times it was made. Nuclear war fears were escalating and people were building bomb shelters convinced that the button would be pushed. In no way can I say the same about this new version. What is it telling us about the times we live in today? That North Korea is a serious threat? Sorry, not the case. And the casts don’t even compare. Connor Cruise? Really? He has about as much on-screen presence as my soccer cleats from 1993. The fighting scenes are weak and boring with a serious lack of RPGs. We never get that one scene that really grips you like when Jed carries Matt’s body to the playground where he waits to die alongside his brother. There just isn’t that level of humanity in it. Perhaps I’m being overly sentimental about the original film, but I can’t help it. This one meant something to me as a kid.The remake seems like a showcase for pretty people with guns and nothing more. It should have remained shelved. We’d all be better off for it. So kids, I watched this one so you don’t have to. That’s me – always a team player.
The Swayz abides.
Here’s a little Barry Mcguire for you. This song always reminds me of the original film: