Friday, July 9, 2010

Yes, Really with Wilde.Dash #11: Red Dawn (1984)

The usual caveat: Believe it or not, for someone totally obsessed with movies, I do a lot of selective editing, snubbing, and ignoring. That is to say: there are a whole lot of well-known movies I've actually never bothered to watch. I've spent a lot of time hunting down obscurities and not quite as much time seeing the movies you've probably been watching since you were 10 years old (for example: I decided maybe I should watch Saving Private Ryan in Winter 2008). Because of this, in conversation I frequently have this interaction. Me: "I've never actually seen that movie" You: "What? I've seen a movie you haven't?" Me: "Yes" You: "How have you not seen that movie?" Me: "I never wanted to" You: "Really?" Me: "Yes, really." Thus: Yes, Really with Wilde.Dash a near weekly feature in which I fill in my pop culture education, watch all the boring basics, and let you know whether or not I decided they were worth my time. Get it? Got it? Good.

Honestly, I've really only started hearing the murmurs about Red Dawn since the remake was announced a few months back.  I'd never looked it up, don't remember ever seeing copies of it floating around on shelves, had literally zero recollection of the cover art as I stared at the double-disc special edition I'd come across in my suddenly urgent need to watch this film.  It's very possible that I've been hearing about Red Dawn for years but had never put two and two together and realized that the movie was actually a teenage paranoia propaganda film.  The title, you see, sounds like any one of those generic Clancy-type thrillers.  If you'd asked me what Red Dawn was about just a handful of weeks ago, I would have been completely stumped and made up something about submarines, Steven Segal, and maybe Sean Connery. 

Now that I've seen it, I have to kind of wonder how it could be that no one ever told me there was an 80's movie that's literally about armed, militaristic teenagers defending the nation from communism?  I mean, let's talk about the first five minutes of the film, alright?  We open on high school kids in a classroom.  The teacher is droning on about political history, the kids are completely bored.  Then?  OMG WTF: parachuters landing outside the window.  LOTS OF THEM.  Everybody stares.  Nobody is worried.  The teacher is like "lemme go check this out."  I don't know what that guy thought would happen when he went outside to see what the camouflaged parachuters wanted, but lo and behold: RAIN OF BULLETS.  Again: OMG WTF.  This scene is awesome. From that point, though, the movie gets significantly more boring and silly patriotic.  Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, and some other sharp shooting gun-crazy teenagers take a cue from my 'what if' playbook (oh yes, I've spent a lot of time in classes constructing 'in case of emergency' plans), escape the school, raid the sporting goods store's armory and run off into the wilderness to wait for things to calm down.  Except, things don't calm down.  No!  This is World War III and Soviet scum is crawling all over Colorado.  Our small army of determined (read: crazy) kids name themselves the Wolverines after their school mascot and decide to go bat shit insane on them commies and remind them that this is 'murrika and they can't just storm onto our land with their tanks and such.           

Watching Red Dawn, I learned that Dirty Dancing was not the first time Patrick Swayze met Jennifer Grey and I think therein lies an important lesson: before you can grind and have the time of your life, you first need to suffer the inevitable bouts of post-traumatic stress that come from being a feather-haired teen toting a rifle through WWIII.  This is a good thing for the youth of 'murrika to hear.  The reasons, I think, are quite obvious (no. they are not).  I also believe that I may have stumbled upon the action film equivalent of watching the talking heads jabber away on Fox News.  Red Dawn is Fox News.  It's Fox News in an easily digestible narrative form. This is the source of Fox News's energy, and the go-to movie to ramp them up into a long-winded diatribe loaded with conspiracy theories and upsets on the second amendment.  Shepard Smith, Sean Hannity, and Glenn Beck were all right around twenty years old at the time Red Dawn was released in 1984.  Target market!  There's definitely a correlation between this film and the foundations of their uber-conservative leanings.  If they need to find that special scenario that will terrify my aunt to graft onto a particular congressional or presidential decision, they stop what they're doing and think "how would it play out if life were Red Dawn?"

Red Dawn was considered in 1984 to be amongst the most violent films ever made.  This feels like a gross overstatement.  The violence is mostly of the throw-away, high body count variety... which helps explain part of why it's actually relatively boring.  Something goes wrong in Red Dawn.  In summary, it has quite a few of the pieces that would have made it totally appealing to me: kids with guns, uprising, hypothetical revisionist history, 80's outfits; yet, Red Dawn fizzles after its initial "we're the last kids left standing" promise.  Too much of the film feels like blatant, scare-tactic propaganda to be subtly frightening.  There's not much to read into, but there's certainly a lot of spelling out.  When the first citizens thrown into a re-education camp are the "dangerous ones" who own guns, it's hard not to sit back and say "well, I see what you're doing there."   It's not that I completely disagree, it's just that it feels so slanted and fanatic that it wound up bumming me out more than entertaining me.  Those first minutes made a high octane promise that the film couldn't keep.  Disappointment.

The remake of Red Dawn will supposedly feature Michigan teens facing off against Chinese and Russian soldiers.  Chinese?  Do we really want to mess with them?  I don't think so.  I'm not so sure a contemporary version of the film is really what we need. What would be way more fun would be a version set in the 50's, or a 1940's if-Germany-invaded-American-soil  variation.  The Nazis are already the best villains, so why not pit them against Detroit teens with Victory gardens?  Somebody make that movie.  That would be bad ass.

1 comment:

  1. Please make your remake happen. It sounds so much better.


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