BAYHAM: Reviewing the Red Dawn Remake

SPOILER ALERT: This column contains details related to the 2012 remake of Red Dawn. If you plan on seeing the movie and don’t want know too much about the storyline before watching it, stop reading now.

The world that existed in 1984 when the original Red Dawn movie appeared in movie theaters and that of the remake are two very different times.

The year before the original’s release the Soviet Union shot down Korean Airline Lines Flight 007 after the commercial jetliner flew through Russian airspace and the United States military invaded the Marxist-ruled Caribbean nation of Grenada.

And in between burying Communist Party general-secretaries and rumbling mechanized units through Red Square on May Day, Moscow was locked in a bloody quagmire in Afghanistan. The USSR, through the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and Communist FMLN in El Salvador, managed to establish a tenuous beachhead in North America.

Things were tense between the two superpowers in 1984, a tension that would eventually strain the Soviets beyond their capacity to compete and lead to the collapse of Communist regimes across eastern Europe.

In 1984, there was a better chance of World War III than the Soviet bloc’s largely peaceful dissolution that played out six years later. The movie Red Dawn had an audience because Americans thought direct conflict between the US and the Soviet Union was likely.

The villains of yesterday are no more pleasant but seem less threatening. Russian soldiers no longer patrol a divided Germany but their country’s western frontier with Ukraine. And their ally Cuba, which played a role in bringing the world to the brink of nuclear war in the 1960s, is grudgingly adapting to capitalism.

The Red Menace has been displaced by Islamist terrorists, but the real thing makes for a politically unpalatable nemesis for the entertainment industry. And it turned out that Plan B wouldn’t work either, but for financial reasons.

The Red Dawn remake was supposed to be released two years ago, though it underwent a seven-figure editing job to remove all spoken and visual references to the People’s Republic of China, which was slated as the movie’s original (and more plausible) aggressor, and inserted North Korea as the invader.

Now the thought of North Korea landing soldiers in the United States sounded ridiculous.

The hilariously named Democratic People’s Republic of Korea can barely feed its people and its “green water navy” is best equipped for challenging coastal civilian fishing vessels than moving a large occupation force over 6000 miles (roughly the distance between Pyongyang and Los Angeles).

And even if North Korea could magically move undetected across the Pacific Ocean the world’s fourth largest army, their 1,000,000 person active force would be spread pretty thin along America’s 2100 mile long western coastline.

With China “not appearing in this picture”, a North Korean invasion of the US not resembling King Arthur’s assault on the French castle from Monty Python’s Holy Grail requires a super-sized suspension of disbelief.

So where did the 600 million screaming Chinese (a reference to the original film) and their 730 million cousins that didn’t get nuked in 1984 go?

It turned out that Beijing takes not only a keen interest in what their citizens tweet and blog but also what comes out of Hollywood.

The Global Times, a publication owned by the Chinese Communist Party, took public issue with its national military playing the villain and Red Dawn’s producers took the hint: sanitize the movie or its only entry into that country’s lucrative movie market will be through bootleg dvds.

It might come to that anyway as the Global Times has even mocked the changes and called the Red Dawn movie style “brainless fun”. I’d be willing to lay 60 yuan ($4) that a movie about popular insurrection against Communist military forces will never be projected upon the silver screen of a licensed mainland cinema, if only as a favor to their “Dear Friend” Kim Jong Un, AKA The Onion’s sexiest man alive.

So how do parts of the United States come under the jackboot of North Korea?

After a night of high school football in Spokane, Washington, the power across the entire town mysteriously goes out. The next day the skies are clouded with North Korean paratroopers raining down on the eastern Washington State population center.

It is later reveled that an EMP-like “super weapon” (the same thing that prefaced occupation in the television miniseries Amerika) knocked out communications and power across the country allowing the North Koreans to tiptoe across the world’s largest ocean.

Spokane is targeted because the west coast and eastern seaboard have been devastated by a surprise quasi-nuclear attack.

America’s capacity to launch a nuclear counter-offensive has been neutralized by the “super weapon” as our boomers (ballistic missile subs) were knocked out by the EMP.

It is also revealed that Russia, which is led by a radical nationalist, is behind the assault on America, leading the invasion of the east coast and having counter-insurgent personnel in Spokane. There is also a weak-reference to Mexico and Cuba being involved, though that was also likely watered down to avoid upsetting Hispanics/swing-voters.

Americans being a resilient and well-armed people (a little reminder that the Second Amendment has nothing to do with hunting), unorganized citizen militias and detached military units operating independently stymie the invaders’ onslaught around Alabama in the southeast, Michigan in the northeast, Texas in the southwest and Colorado and Montana in the northwest.

The movie largely is a recreation of the original, including an homage to the 1984 film’s signature ambush scene, but in a different setting and with a change in the Communist occupiers’ ethnicity. The 2012 version of the Wolverines are more diverse than the 1984 band of rebels.

A few other things worth noting:

– Though they are very much villains, the North Koreans are portrayed more benign than the Russians from 1984. Knowing how they treat their countrymen, I have a tough time believing the DPRK invaders would allow Americans to largely live as they did before, including operating businesses and driving cars. I’m still stuck on the thought of them allowing civilian fuel consumption in the middle of a war. Of all of the suspensions of disbelief, this was the toughest for me to overcome.

– The most interesting aspect of the movie is how American society is shown reacting to the occupation. With few exceptions, most people seem to go along with the regime while more than a few actively collaborate with the invading forces, including the town’s mayor and the media, accepting subservience to the new state in exchange for necessities and privileges. That got me wondering how many of our countrymen would readily exchange freedom for security, whether from immediate persecution or hardship.

– The objective of the Wolverines was not merely killing the enemy and damaging their military hardware but inspiring their subjugated brethren to resist. This is the reverse objective of terrorism, which aims to demoralize.

– I can understand why the movie wasn’t released until after the election. The film’s opening is a montage of actual press clips featuring President Barack Obama, Vice-President Joseph Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton fumbling America’s foreign policy as the global situation spirals down. Also featured throughout the film are the North Korean occupying forces’ ubiquitous propaganda posters that decry corporate greed, stuff straight out of Occupy Wall Street and President Obama’s re-election campaign.

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