Sunday, March 10, 2013

Red Dawn vs. Red Dawn Redux

In 1984, the late John Milius, talented screenwriter and director, premiered his latest film called Red Dawn.  It starred Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, C. Thomas Howell, among others.  They were all much younger in those days...I can relate.  Patrick Swayze left us a few years ago.  Charlie Sheen went berserk, to put it politely, though he has calmed down a bit.  And C. Thomas Howell is currently playing a graying, grizzled, foul-mouthed police veteran on TNT's series Southland.  He was the most transformed at the end of the movie.  He started out as a skinny teen-ager wearing a Star Wars cap, who threw up the first time he had to shoot somebody.  At the end he was the most lethal, cold-blooded killer of the group.

In case you never saw the original, it was the story of a group of high school students and what they did during an invasion of the United States.  In those days, the Soviets invaded suddenly with Cubans and Nicaraguans in their ranks for purposes of the movie.  Of course, three years earlier they had invaded Afghanistan for real, in much the same way. 

The older brother Jed, (Patrick Swayze) drove his pickup to the high school and picked up his brother (Charlie Sheen) and some of his friends with Soviet soldiers firing at them, and dropping out of the sky in parachutes.  They gathered supplies and ran to the mountains to hide.

Gathering more kids on the way, they became a resistance group.  They called themselves Wolverines, after their high school mascot.  The Soviets came to know the name Wolverines and despise it.  Jed planned their attacks and led the group.  In town, their parents and classmates were rounded up and confined for re-education, fed propaganda and beaten into submission.  Of course few of them submitted.

I remember one shot in the original movie, when the enemy had just invaded, shooting many people.  One Soviet soldier passed a car with a bumper sticker saying "I'll give up my gun when they pry it from my cold, dead fingers."  There was a dead American lying behind the car.  The soldier reached down and took the gun out of the dead man's fingers.

At the end of the movie, two of the kids escaped, on Jed's orders, that they get to the free zone and live, telling people what the Wolverines had done.  The others were killed one by one during the course of the movie.  At the end, there was a narration spoken by one of the survivors talking about fighting World War III and how the "children" helped to win the war, over shots of a monument to them on the mountaintop.

Released in 2012, though made earlier, a second version of Red Dawn, was directed by Chris Bradley.  Chris Hemsworth (Thor, The Avengers, Jim Kirk's father in Abrams Star Trek movie) plays Jed.  Josh Peck plays his younger brother.  There are several recognized young actors in the cast.  This time it's set in Spokane, WA.  Same story, though, Jed is the older brother out of high school.  This time, he's a Marine, on leave from fighting in Iraq.  (the film was made in 2010 and not released due to budget issues until 2012.)  This time the enemy is the North Koreans, though apparently it was originally supposed to be the Chinese.  There are still some Russian advisers with them, special forces types.

The invasion begins with the loss of all power due, we learn later in the film, to an EMP (electro magnetic pulse) weapon that fries computer circuitry and all things electronic.  In the chaos, they drop down in parachutes, drive up in their versions of Humvees, and generally shoot lots of innocent people. 

Jed takes the kids to his family's cabin in the mountains and things go on from there.  In this film, the Wolverines are more sophisticated.  They've got a combat trained Marine leading them.  He trains them in weapons, explosives, and hand-to-hand combat.  They perform ambushes that are orchestrated and successful.  And they always grab the soldier's weapons, ammo, vehicles, etc.  So pretty soon, they are well armed and dangerously clever.

The redux is much more optimistic than the original.  When Marines fly into the mountain area in a helicopter, they come looking for the Wolverines to help them on a mission.  It is successful and marks a turning point in the war. A few of them get killed in the course of the action, including Jed. But they hurt the invaders far worse than in the original film. The Wolverines refuse to ride out of the combat zone with the Marines when they leave.

The movie ends with Jed's younger brother recruiting more people to fight with the Wolverines, giving them the same speech Jed had given in the beginning.  The Wolverines then take their greater numbers and storm the re-education camp, freeing the people detained there.

I liked both movies well enough.  The first one, given its time and the circumstances (a rural town with a smaller population) was more realistic.  It was a sad film that made you think, at least it made me think...

The second one was a more positive film given the ending that left you cheering for the Wolverines and all they accomplished.

They're both entertaining, it just depends on your mood.  I happened to see the original on late night tv recently, before I saw the new one, just out on video.

Of course, I think John Milius' best work was The Wind and The Lion, a rip-roaring adventure, starring Sean Connery, as a chief of Berbers in the Sahara.  This was based on an actual incident that had American Marines invading Tripoli and taking over the country, basically.  You know, like "From the Halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli"?  In the movie, Connery, handsome Berber with a Scottish brogue (okay, but I can forgive him anything), kidnaps a wise-cracking Candice Bergen, which infuriates the American president, Teddy Roosevelt.  That one's a lot of fun.  Milius knew his stuff, though he took liberties with history.  But then that's Hollywood for you.

If you are interested in history, read about it, don't believe everything you see in the movies.

Until next time, take care, and watch, read, or listen to some talented artist's creation.

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