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Friday, November 23, 2012

Red Dawn...Revisited

It's pretty amazing a movie like this was made even once, and if there was ever a flick I was sure would never be remade, Red Dawn was it.

John Millius wasn't trying to make a political statement with the first one. He was basically reliving childhood games he used to play in the woods with other kids, based loosely on the WWII resistance depictions they'd seen on film, and a "what if" concept of a Russian invasion of the continental US in the future.
  Statement or no, the content was offensive to the film elite, and Hollywood never forgave Millius for making it, despite good box office and a subsequent bonanza in video rentals.

This time around it's not the Cubans, but the North Koreans, assisting the Russians in the invasion. That's right: Russians again, not the Red Chinese, as previously reported (though perhaps that would have made more sense). And this time the Wolverines are not in Colorado but Spokane, Washington.

As much as I like John Millius's work (director of Conan the Barbarian, Flight of the Intruder, The Wind and the Lion, The Rough Riders, plus screenwriter for Dirty Harry, Magnum Force, Apocalypse Now, Extreme Prejudice, Dillinger, Farewell to the King...), the original Red Dawn had plenty of room for improvement.

I'm pleased to report that probable one-time director Dan Bradley, and his writers, did improve on the original--particularly when it comes to acting and dialog. No groans or rolling of the eyes for me this time around due to those aspects. And there was an attempt to update the plot/increase the plausibility, which I believe was mostly successful. The first few minutes of exposition via news clips, however, I found to be fairly lame, and probably not even necessary.

Long story short, major US population centers are blacked out by non-nuclear EMP (electro-magnetic pulse) weapons, followed by a ground invasion, including an airborne component. Don't ask me why vertical envelopment would be necessary for Spokane, Washington. Maybe nearby Fairchild AFB... I suspect this plot element was retained simply as homage to the original, and perhaps also to The Longest Day, which obviously influenced Millius, as well.

I was going to insert a clip here from TLD, from the scene of the St. Mere Eglise jump--specifically a shot of a US paratrooper firing his Thompson while still under canopy on his way to the ground, duplicated in Red Dawn 2012 during the initial airborne assault. But alas, the only Youtube clip of that scene is modified to the point you can't even see that shot.

Of course, most of the familiar moments were from the Millius version: the ambush scene in which the wolverines pop out of spider holes; the deer blood drinking scene (but with a twist); and some others.

Dan Bradley didn't add a lot of character development, but what he did add was good. The writers took Robert's character on a different course, fleshed out a little more, but I'm not so sure I like it better. A nice touch was making Jed a veteran of Iraq this time, home on leave when the stuff hits the fan. With his experience, he's able to train these high school kids, including his little brother, into an effective guerrilla unit in short order. More than once he points out his role reversal--now he's on the insurgent side, interdicting on the occupiers.

Whereas the 1984 version took place in the Rockies, most of the combat here is urban. I don't want to go into a lot of detail about what was realistic and what wasn't, but I was pleased by the thinking that went into how a resistance movement could get going on a local or regional level. Lots of nice touches. As I've said before, I can pick apart pretty much any Hollywood movie or TV show on technical points, but I'll refrain here because they made an intelligent effort for the most part, while keeping the entertainment factor high throughout.

My biggest complaints about this movie can be confined to just two areas. First, it was hard to understand some of the dialog, particularly from the Josh Peck character. But honestly, some of this was due to noise in the theater, while most of it was probably due to my poor hearing. The other problem is one I won't let them off the hook so easy for: shaky-cam.

This is such an overused cinematic "technique" for action flicks these days, I guess other moviegoers must really like it or think it's cutting-edge.

It kinda pisses me off.

Saving Private Ryan used some handheld shots to nice effect (which, ironically, Steven Spielberg was inspired to use because of its effective use in John Millius's Rough Riders). But this wasn't just handheld work in RD 2012. They evidently had the cameraman overdose on caffeine, mounted him on a pogo stick and dumped a colony of ants down his underwear prior to shooting every action sequence.

I'm still glad I watched the movie. And I'm still amazed it was re-made. With the dominant ideology in Hollywood, I'd sooner expect it to be titled "Red State Dawn" and feature an invasion of diabolical Tea Party protestors, ruthlessly oppressing undocumented voters and welfare recipients. The actors and crew will probably emerge unscathed after this project. But pay attention to some of the propaganda snippets in the film--it's obvious that Dan Bradley has offended a lot of powerful interests by maintaining the spirit of the original.

As for the overall premise of Red Dawn, I'll let the words of President Lincoln hint at my opinion on the matter:

"Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant, to step over the
ocean, and crush us at a blow? Never! -- All the armies of Europe, Asia
and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own
excepted) in their military chest; with a Bonaparte for a commander,
could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the
Blue Ridge, in a trial of a Thousand years. At what point, then, is the
approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it
must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction
be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation
of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide."


  1. "Marines don't die. They go to Hell and regroup."

    I watched Red Dawn 2012 last night, and loved it. There was no moralizing by the communists like in the first Red Dawn. They were evil invaders, and America stood up to them.

    Why Spokane and Not Seattle? Seattle is in the blue half of Washington. Perhaps they couldn't get permission to film.

  2. Two other invasion movies I've enjoyed recently are "Tomorrow, When The War Began" about an Asian invasion of Australia, and "Battleship" about an alien invasion of of Hawaii.

  3. I think I know which part you're referring to in the original: when the Russian and Cuban commanders were talking about the role reversal--no longer being the insurgents? The Cuban said they had to win hearts and minds like the Yankees did in Vietnam and the Russian growled. "They lost, Ernesto!"

    Yeah, the new version made the point via Jed, and I think it worked better.

    I saw Battleship on cable or Redbox or something and liked it better than I thought I would. I'll have to check out Tomorrow, When the War Began. Thanks for the recommendation!

  4. I was surprised about "Battleship" too. 'Squids' saving Hawaii is a bit of a stretch, but it worked. The Navy saved the world.


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