Turn Back the Clock

Red Dawn

Genre: Action

Distributed by: MGM


Reviewed by Melissa Minners


                In 2012, a reboot (the new, flashy name for remake) of Red Dawn was announced, much to the chagrin of the fans of the original film, myself included.  As it turns out, the new version of the film was a box office flop and received mainly negative reviews from critics.  This comes as no surprise as the original version was a classic and a remake should never have been attempted.

                The original Red Dawn, released in 1984, takes place around the small town of Calumet, Colorado.  On a bright and otherwise ordinary day in September, the town finds itself in the midst of an invasion Russian paratroopers drop into the town and an attack is coordinated.  Jed Eckert (Patrick Swayze) had only dropped his brother Matt (Charlie Sheen) at the high school moments before, on his way to his job at the local gas station.  He doubles back and manages to rescue his brother and four other students: Robert Morris, Daryl Bates, Danny Bates and Arturo Mondragon (C. Thomas Howell, Darren Dalton, Brad Savage and Doug Toby). 

                Regrouping at Robert's father's gas station and general store, the group gather supplies and head into the mountains, where Jed convinces them that they can survive until things blow over in town.  But, after several weeks in the woods, the group comes to the realization that the disturbance in their hometown is not coming to a quick ending, despite the American helicopters they saw engaging the enemy on their way out of town.  The boys return to town and learn that it has been taken over by military forcesfrom the Soviet Union, Cuba and Nicaragua.  The Eckerts learn that their father (Harry Dean Stanton) has been taken to a re-education camp after resisting the takeover.

                The boys return to camp with two more rescued teens, Toni and Erica Mason (Jennifer Grey and Lea Thompson), grandchildren of a friend of the Eckert family who escaped a physical attack from some overly zealous occupying soldiers.  Deciding that they can no longer stand by while their town...and the rest of America...are fighting for their lives against these invaders, the teens form a guerilla resistance group dubbed the Wolverines, after their school mascot.  They stage a number of attacks against the invaders and become more organized after meeting downed pilot Lt. Col. Andrew Tanner (Powers Boothe).

                But they've been lucky and Jed knows that luck will eventually run out.  A capable but reluctant leader, Jed does what he can to keep his group safe, hoping that the small attacks on the enemy will wear them down enough in time for some real military power to come along and drive them out.  Meanwhile, on the other side of the battle, Cuban Col. Ernesto Bella (Ron O'Neal), has grown weary of the tactics of the combined army of invaders.  Realizing that the enemy he fights is actually using the same tactics he did when he was a guerrilla fighter in Cuba, Bella wonders how he ended up in this war and yearns for an ending so he can return to his home and his beloved wife.

                Just when it appears that the Wolverines' attacks might be having the desire effect, reeking havoc with the invaders and inspiring others to fight back, the invading army brings in a new menace.  Charged with hunting down and destroying the Wolverines, Col. Strelnikov (William Smith) is determined to end the resistance.  Will he succeed or does Jed have one last winning strategy to play?

                Red Dawn was considered a controversial movie for its time.  During the Cold War, people were always told that Russia wanted to invade America and may already have done so, posing as Americans until the moment when they can finally take over.  But, though we were raised on these tales, I don't think anyone ever believed it could really happen here.  This movie made an invasion by opposing forces a reality.  The scenes, thanks to the director and his production and effects crew, were incredibly realistic, bringing the possibility of a real invasion home. 

                The fact that other insurgents join the Russian military forces was, in my mind, an excellent touch.  Throughout the film, I kept thinking about how invading forces never learn from their own histories.  When America was invaded and even throughout our own Civil War, we learned to engage the enemy using guerilla tactics to protect the land we called our home.  But when we travelled to Vietnam, guerilla tactics were used quite successfully against the American military, mainly because these people were fighting for their home and knew it a whole lot better than the soldiers who were invading.  We learned nothing from our own military history

                This same message is brought to light here - former Nicaraguan and Cuban insurgents are used as invading forces and they decide to use tactics that were used against them in their own countries.  Assassinating family members, re-education camps, boisterous parades and the like are used against a small group of rebels, empowering them, making them that must more resistant to the invasion and making the invaders more susceptible to attack.

                The acting in this film was incredible, especially when you realize that, for many of the actors in this film, Red Dawn would represent some of their earliest work.  Every single one of the actors in this film did a great job, but stand out performances were given by Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell, Lea Thompson and Ron O'Neal.  They gave the strongest, most captivating and most believable performances in the film.  Their performances made the viewer care about their characters and their outcomes.

                The action in the film was well balanced by the emotions and the viewer was made to wonder just how they would fare if their town were invaded by an enemy factor.  Would they be able to survive?  Would they be able to fight back as these teenagers do?  Red Dawn was an incredibly action-motivated film, but it was thought-provoking as well.

                I loved watching this film again, this time having the opportunity to view extra featurettes like Red Dawn Rising, Building the Red Menace, Military Training and WWIII Comes to Town.  These featurettes contained interviews with cast, crew and the director, offering loads of information regarding how the film was shot, the conditions it was filmed under, the training that the cast had to go through to make the film, the relationships built between the cast members, the lessons they learned from working on the film and all that they took with them from working on it.  My only wish was that more of the cast members had participated in the interview process and that some of the deleted scenes were available for the Red Dawn Collector's Edition.

                Red Dawn is an old favorite of mine that I can never resist watching when I surf the channels and find it on.  The storyline, the acting and the action combine to make Red Dawn an incredible film.  Once you watch it, you can never forget it.  Why the powers that be ever thought that such a classic could be remade better than the first is beyond me.  Red Dawn is one of those originals that can never be satisfactorily remade and thus, I have resolved to never see the 2012 version of the film.  I'm not old fashioned or set in my ways, but I truly believe that if it ain't broke, there's no need to fix it.  The original Red Dawn received such a strong reaction because it was something no one had ever seen before.  To remake it takes something from the original project and the reaction is bound to be tepid at best.

 


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