Monday, 15 December 2014

Red Dawn

I have been struck down, ruthlessly so, by a seasonal bout of flu. Luckily it has not been anything as severe as the pleurisy I got to dance with last winter. Hence, I've been bed-ridden, but this time around I've had access to the wonderful Netflix and the opportunity to catch up on some viewing. Over the next week or so, I will be attempting to deliver some impressions on the films I have been watching while the immune system was battling back yet again from the infected depths.

First up we have Red Dawn, the 2012 remake of the original 1984 film by John Milius. The original film, looking back on it, was a brat pack movie with Kalashnikovs, with a cast that included the likes of Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, C. Thomas Howell and Lea Thompson. Most of these guys were still relative unknowns as actors - heck, Charlie Sheen looks like he hasn't started shaving yet! It was a film made at a time when the possibility of war with the Soviet Union was highly likely, although even then an actual airborne invasion of the continental US was far-fetched, to say the least.

For a schoolboy in the UK who was a member of the Combined Cadet Force from 1985 to 1988 (I dropped it as soon as it became voluntary at my school), Red Dawn certainly made an impact, partly because we were teenagers already being trained for a war, and partly because I was living that much closer to the USSR than most Americans. Indeed, I was spending my holidays in Austria, and my house in Vienna (the spy capital of the Cold War) was about 90 minutes from the Czechoslovakian border, as the T-72 tank travels.

Back when baseball jackets and flat tops were cool...

It's fair to say things were always a little...tense in 1985. On the gaming front I recall an RPG was published called The Price of Freedom, in which players took on the roles of US resistance fighters fighting a Soviet occupation, and caused something of a stir in the pages of White Dwarf, with many commentators attacking it for being tasteless, yet GDW was able to put out Twilight 2000 with seemingly less grouching, possibly because of the way it was presented (i.e. with no clear victor in the Twilight War). These days, video games with a similar theme to Price of Freedom (e.g. 2003's Freedom Fighters by IO Interactive) get waved through with hardly a raised eyebrow. This is probably a topic for another post...

To be honest, I'm not sure why MGM bothered remaking Red Dawn, as it was very much a creature of its time. In the 2012 version, it is the North Koreans invading the Pacific North West, with some Russian support once things begin to go pear-shaped. One aspect I liked about the original was the sympathetic Cuban officer (played by Ron O'Neal) who disagrees with his country's involvement in the war, but that interesting dramatic element is missing from the ranks of the North Koreans this time around - they are all two-dimensional stormtroopers this time. The whole idea that, even with Russian support, North Korea could realistically manage the invasion and occupation of a big slice of the US is laughable from the beginning and it is hard to get away from.

It is interesting, however, that the Wolverines, the teenaged team of resistance fighters at the centre of the film, adopts a different strategy from the originals. In the 1984 version, Swayze and crew take to the hills and wage a hit and run campaign against the Russians that is typical of the rural guerilla warfare preached by Mao Zedong and Ho Chi Minh. Even in 1984, America was still living in the shadow of Vietnam, and US military planners, if asked to point to a guerilla campaign, would turn to that experience. Hence, the 1984 Wolverines fight like they are using the Viet Cong's playbook.

Fast forward to 2012, and the experience has been heavily tinged by the war in Iraq. Chris Hemsworth's character is a serving Marine, on leave from the war in the Middle East. He immediately starts drilling his Wolverines to use tactics that the US military faced in Iraq. Remote-detonated IEDs become a much bigger feature of the film, and the Wolverines try to avoid a stand up firefight with the North Koreans wherever possible, only risking an assault on a military target when the stakes get raised.

Overall, if you have the time, and have not seen the original, I'd go with that and don't bother with the new one. When I first saw it advertised two years ago, I thought "Why?" Having watched it, I'm stilling thinking "Why?"

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