Action, 93 Minutes, 2012
The original 1984 “Red Dawn” [IMDB] was the quintessential “America, Fuck Yeah!” movie of my teenage years. It gathered up all of the boiling, latent paranoia of the cold war, presented us with a horrifying, totally ridiculous (but just barely plausible) situation and celebrated the can-do, never-say-die, suffer-any-hardship, assume-any-loss American spirit that could pull us out of it.
It portrayed a group of raw, scared teenagers struggling to survive after a soviet ground invasion. It highlighted their struggles to survive the winter, dodge patrols and, at first accidentally, defend themselves from them. It explained how they evolved into an active offensive resistance unit. It raised hard, emotional questions about loyalty, survival and punishment. It even humanized the enemy to make it clear that war destroys the best in all of us.
Even if it wasn’t, in retrospect, a truly great film, it said something incredibly important for the time. This modern remake? Not so much.
Firstly, the premise of a North American ground invasion is even less tenable now than it was 30 years ago. Replacing the incredibly powerful Soviets with the large, but laughably equipped North Korean army results in an insultingly insubstantial threat. The script tries to address this via some introductory text, by weaving in a vague cyber-terrorism thread and by, eventually, limiting the scope of the invasion but it remains a tough pill to swallow.
(Reportedly the story was originally filmed with China as the invading force. This is almost more ridiculous considering the current economic situation, but at least it made more sense militarily. Apparently, the producers feared losing access to the Chinese cinema market and digitally altered the film after the fact to stage North Korea as the aggressors. I hope it worked out for them financially, because artistically it turned the movie into a joke.)
More importantly, the remake eliminates most of the chaos and spirit of the original. Here Jed Eckert (Chris Hemsworth [IMDB]) is a battle hardened marine who almost immediately begins to shape his group of teenage charges into an offensive battle unit. The overall battle for survival is downplayed in favor of bombastic action sequences and explosions. Significantly more time is spent “on mission” in urban areas than with understanding the group and their dynamics.
The enemy is stereotypically, single-dimensionally evil with no balance offered. The hard, moral choices related to prisoners of war and treachery that became iconic from the first are eliminated. Even the bittersweet, quietly powerful epilogue is replaced. Instead we get an extended action sequence featuring cars that would look more at home in a “Mad Max” movie and a ridiculously inopportune display of the Old Glory.
Purely as an action movie there’s some merit here. While the characters may not be as interesting or relatable as in the original they are likable enough. The basic idea of a group of kids kicking commies out of our backyard still has some play even if the presentation is soulless. The original “Red Dawn” will likely still be remembered thirty years from now as an iconic encapsulation of cold war fears. This one will likely be, thankfully, forgotten.