Original vs. Remake: 'Red Dawn'

I don't have much time. My brother is pumping away on the bicycle generator to keep my laptop charged, and the Commies will be at the top of the hill any minute. (They would have gotten here sooner, but they don't have a lift ticket.)

The fact of the matter is that now, in 2012, it is "Red Dawn" time again. Those of you old enough may remember that we survived this catastrophe once before, in 1984. Then, as now, an invading coalition of foreign nations are kept at bay by a band of all-weather survivalists/rootin' tootin' football jocks nicknamed the Wolverines. But the films have some differences. They had Johnny Castle and Baby, and we've got Thor.

Indeed, if you find yourself getting confused about the two "Red Dawns" (or is it "Reds Dawn?"), here is a handy guide to help you tell them apart.

Note: One or two spoilers follow... if you actually care.


The 1984 film is a sturdy entry in the extended universe of the '80s Brat Pack, who cut their teeth on John Hughes teen angst comedies and dramas. Even though 1984's "Red Dawn" is a different genre, with plenty of innocent civilians being machined gunned down execution-style, its stars — including Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, Lea Thompson and Jennifer Grey — are part of that other, more Hughsian world. Like Francis Ford Coppola's "Rumble Fish," there are some edgier outliers like C. Thomas Howell, but they're far from the norm.

2012's entry finally answers the question of what "Drake & Josh" would be like if there were more people shouting "Grenade!!!!"

Death to Archduke Franz Ferdinand!

1984's "Red Dawn" presents a truly risible example of Cold War-era right wing paranoia. But credit where it's due: its director/co-writer John Milius really meant it. "Red Dawn" may only be a Samuel Z. Arkoff film wrapped in pseudo-intellectual political theory, but its opening crawl detailing the dissolution of NATO and global economic maneuvers showed that there at least was a theory. Accusing the ATF's Form 4773 as an aide to foreign invasion may've been insane, but at least it showed a genuine knowledge of the topic at hand.

2012's "Red Dawn" was written and shot as a Chinese invasion. Then somebody realized that China is a pretty big market for American movies. In post-production, the baddies were changed to North Koreans. So if you see a lot of digital fig leaves over Chinese flags or letters (but not the villains themselves – they barely talk) that's why.

Clean Nose, Good Finish

One of the more memorable alpha male moments in Milius's original is when the more experienced survivalists show one of the younglings how to kill a deer. In pure Nugent form, the new hunter is peer pressured into drinking a tin mug of hot deer blood. It's kinda gross, but adds a nice touch of a verisimilitude into the mindset of a young guerrilla warrior. I guess.

In the current film's only blatant reference to the original film, this scene is replayed, only to conclude with a "Punk'd"-esque FOOLED YOU!!!! "Is that safe?" the targeted noob asks as he wipes his mouth. It's a funny moment, especially considering bullets had been whizzing past his head moments ago.

There's a big emotional moment in the original "Red Dawn" when the Wolverines discover a traitor among their midst. In my memory, Patrick Swayze's handling of the scene is quite good — but then again, I like "Road House." It features a classic Hitchcock exploding table; we know that one of the characters has swallowed a tracking device, and it is only a matter of time before the others find out.

In the new one, ten minutes before the end of the picture, there's another "He's got a tracking device in him!" beat. But it isn't just the rest of the team who doesn't know, it is the character himself, blanching the scene of any intricate emotional resonance.


Milius's film makes good use of iconic imagery: a drive-in turned into a re-education camp, for instance. When the kids first peek down at the town after the dust has settled, they see that the local movie house is showing Sergei Eisenstein's Soviet era "Alexander Nevsky," an anti-Nazi propaganda film in the form of a historical action film.

The 2012 film incorporates some nice product placement from Subway, including use of their "sandwich artist" marketing messaging.

There you have it. One "Red Dawn" is an '80s goof that's a throwback to the Red Scare. The other is garbage.