Red Dawn 1984 vs Red Dawn 2012

A lot of people have asked me about my thoughts on the Red Dawn remake.   Overall, I thought it was an ok movie.   I think a lot of people already wrote it off before seeing it.  I figured it wouldn’t be as good as the original, but I didn’t rule out the possibility that it could be a good movie.   As a true Red Dawn aficionado, I looked forward to seeing it and made it out to the theater the day it came out.

First, I’ll say that the plot is a lot less goofy than I figured it would be when I first heard that there was going to be a Red Dawn remake.    I figured it was going to be something of a campy nod to Cold War paranoia and the bad guys would certainly be some kind of terrorist cell a la Invasion USA with Chuck Norris.   I was glad to hear that China was going to be the protagonist – not because I’m a Sinophobe or anything but because it adds a little more realism to the plot when there’s a tangible enemy.   Without something like that, you might as well have the Joker and the United Underworld invading the United States.    I understand why they would change the enemy from China to North Korea (because they would miss out on the large Chinese film market and diplomatically it just isn’t nice), but it knocked a ton of realism out of the plot.

If you want an idea of how the prospect of Chinese bad guys would have went over in China, look back to the 2006 Turkish film Valley of the Wolves (in Turkish Kurtlar Vadisi – Irak) where Turkish forces take revenge on an American unit operating in Kurdish Iraq who detain some Turkish commandos.   It’s based on a real-life event where US forces actually did show up and detain some Turkish commandos, even going as far to blindfold and cuff them, which caused a lot of outrage in Turkey.   Anyway, the film gives an alternate ending to that story.   The American State Department was not at all happy about the film and the American actors (Gary Busey, for one) involved in it were shunned.   I know Netflix refused to carry it and I don’t think any official copies saw the light of day in the US.   I tried to keep an eye out for a copy in Istanbul two years ago, but no dice.   It can be found on the internet.  I’ve seen the first 10 minutes or so and it doesn’t look that great.    They made a sequel about the flotilla to Palestine incident a few years ago that caused a bit of a stir as well.     The film did well in Turkey, around the Middle East and Germany (large Turkish population) but was more or less shut out of the American market and missed out on a ton of revenue.   The guys who did the Red Dawn remake probably didn’t want to get shut out of China.   If you’re banned from North Korea, who cares?

I think the biggest difference between the original and the remake was the overall tone and style.   The original is very dark and grim.  There’s a sense of dehumanization to every aspect of life, which leads to indifference to life and cynicism.   The Wolverines achieve some victories over the Soviets, but it comes at a high cost.   We see and hear of shocking acts against American civilians.   Life in occupied America looks an awful lot like life in many other places throughout the 20th Century that suffered war and occupation.    In the remake, there’s a few scenes of civilians being killed but overall life seems to go on as normal, just with the addition of some checkpoints and censorship.   The Wolverines maintain something of a sense of teenage normalcy amongst each other to the point where it really does seem like an episode of Degrassi High with guns.    With all due respect to Tomorrow When The War Began, the remake reminded me more of this movie than it did the original Red Dawn. 

I think that in the remake the audience weasels out of some of the more disturbing themes and imagery of the original.   We don’t see as many dead civilians, the civilians look more like they’re annoyed by the whole ordeal than scared shitless as they do in the original,  there isn’t much news of really horrific things happening around the world and there’s less bloodshed on the good guys’ side.   SPOILER ALERT!!!   The scenes involving Daryl and his end were completely milquetoast compared to the original.   The ending where Matt goes on to form this huge resistance movement and leaves the viewer feeling optimistic has a lot different vibe than the ending of the original, where it’s implied that the US ultimately won but at a very high cost.

I thought the remake had a few good points.    The relationship between Matt and Jed was a lot better developed in the remake, with a lot of sibling rivarly between the two.   I got the vibe that there was some of this going on in the original, but it wasn’t as blatant as it was in the remake.   I also really liked the opening sequence involving a series of newsclips (some of them were even real) laying out the world’s geopolitical situation.    I thought it was cool that Jed was a Marine.  Not just because I’m a former Marine, but I always thought that Jed’s character in the original would have made a little more sense if they had him as a guy who did four years in the military after high school and came back to Calumet to settle down.  It would have been hard to make him a war veteran in the original (unless of course he stormed Grenada with Gunny Highway), but making Jed a veteran in the remake made some of the technical aspects easier to explain.   I also liked some of the references to the original.   I can’t think of specific examples right now, but there were a few well-played subtle ones.

I’ve heard that the original Red Dawn had a scene in a McDonald’s, but the stills I’ve seen make it look like a place ran for the amusement and recreation of the invaders, not a place where the townsfolk could stop in and grab a Big Mac and fries on their way back to the internment camp after a hard day of street sweeping and grave digging.   In the remake there was a scene where the Wolverines stumbled into a fully-functioning Subway, full of dining civilians who appear like nothing out of the ordinary was going on outside.   Come on…   I hope whoever made this got a really big check from Subway for putting that scene in there.

Another minor thing I didn’t like was one of the characters that came with “Andrew Tanner”, the one who kept making comments about shit sandwiches and calling people “motards” and all.   I think this guy was the most awkward Marine Corps archetype I’ve ever seen in film, and I’ve seen ’em all.

When Red Dawn came out in 1984, it was deemed the most violent movie ever released.  The remake might have just as much violence if not more, but it falls flat compared to the original and comes off as just another action movie.  My intrepretation of the original is that it brought a lot of the real-life horrors of the 20th Century to the American audience and gave a reasonably realistic account of what war looks like when it’s on your doorstep to a nation that has only collectively experienced war at more than an arm’s distance.   The original challenged the notion of American exceptionalism and reminded us to remain vigilant while the remake seemed to reinforce the idea of American exceptionalism.   I don’t think that the remake had anything deeper to it than what’s at the surface, just like about everything else coming out of Hollywood these days.   In other words, I probably won’t write “Wolverines: Reflections on the Red Dawn Remake”.   I think you’re pretty much seeing about all of my “reflections” on it right now.

I think that America could use another Red Dawn to remind us what the true costs of war are as well as the dangers of what happens when we get too complacent as a society and count on the “it can’t happen to us!” mentality to shield us from danger.   A lot has happened since the 1984 release of the original.   Although I was entertained for the two hours I was in the theater watching the remake, it wasn’t the Red Dawn that I feel America needs right now.

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