A few months back, inspired in no small part by the Family Guy episode where Peter stars in Red Dawn: The Musical (you can watch it here, it's at the very beginning of the episode), I decided I should finally sit down and watch the original '80s classic. Red Dawn may be fondly remember by viewers who were children or teenagers when it came out and who liked to imagine themselves in the place of the freedom-fighting rebels, but – make no mistake – it is Awesomely Bad.
The plot is simple: the Soviets team up with the Cubans to launch an invasion of the American heartland. In a small, Colorado town, a handful of teenagers take to the hills and form a guerrilla unit which becomes an ornery thorn in the Communist invaders' side. If this doesn't already sound stupid to you, then have a look at the cast: the teenagers include Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey (the couple in Dirty Dancing), Charlie Sheen (currently starring in America's favorite TV comedy: Two and a Half Men), C. Thomas Howell (perhaps best known for his blackface tour de force in Soul Man), and Lea Thompson (Caroline in the City, Howard the Duck, the mom from Back to the Future). And, bizarrely, Harry Dean Stanton has a cameo.
There's an irritating right-wing, cowboy undercurrent which runs through the movie, but let's try to ignore that. Below are some thoughts which I've been ruminating on since I watched the movie.
(1) So the flick starts with some opening blurbs about the Sandinistas and crap which do their best to present a plausibly alarmist setup for a Communist invasion of the United States. Then, literally five minutes in, the paratroopers start landing (no beating around the bush for this movie!) and immediately get to terrorizing civilians. You know, killing a teacher, aiming a rocket launcher at the high school, blowing up a yellow school bus, shooting at random people on Main Street. Clearly this is the way you want to start your invasion of enemy territory; you'll be winning over the people's hearts and minds in no time!
(2) Not long after the town falls to the Communists, the teenagers scurry out of hiding to check out the aftermath and see what happened to family and friends. Despite the fact that they are wanted by the authorities and the town is all on lockdown and being run like a police state, it is amazing how easily they manage to sneak in and out without incident. They even stop by the drive-in-cum-internment-camp where the Communists are keeping suspected dissident (or, as the case may be, any ole person they happened to round up on the street).
(3) I though it was an amusing touch how, post invasion, the town movie theater was showing Eisenstein's 1938 classic Aleksandr Nevsky. Were some of those Soviet paratroopers packing film reels in their knapsacks? Also, don't they know that rednecks hate foreign films?
(4) Is it just me or does it seem like, from the beginning, the invaders have allocated a disproportionate amount of firepower to subduing this town of like 15,000? I mean, paratroopers, armored tanks, tons of troops... does this town have some sort of strategic importance (maybe it was on their supply route?) or are we supposed to believe that every such town in America gets a similar occupying force with 20-50 tanks?
(5) The teens (who start calling themselves the Wolverines) spend months roughing it up in the forests of the Rocky Mountains, in the dead of winter, and yet we never once see them finding or building any type of shelter. Are we supposed to believe they were just sleeping in the snow all that time?
(6) It seems like in one scene the Wolverines are cowering in the forest crying and trying not to get caught (also drinking deer blood), and in the next they've organized themselves into an effective insurgency that's scoring some major points off the Communists. Their only qualifications are that, like, two of them used to go hunting with their dad and a bunch of them were high school athletes. I just think it would have made a lot more sense if they hadn't gotten their act together and become Al-Qaeda in Iraq until after that downed fighter pilot guy joined them. Like maybe he could have been training them. I don't know....
(7) I think the movie is deliberately coy when it comes to the size of the Wolverines' guerrilla unit. At some point it seems like they've increased significantly in number (I guess because it would require a superhuman suspension of disbelief to think that a half dozen people were responsible for all those victories we saw them pulling off), but by the end we're back to the original six.
(8) And it seems like the rebels have an inexhaustible supply of ammunition. Usually weapons and ammunition are big issues for guerrillas, but the Wolverines have their automatic weapons ablazin' in every scene, like emptying a full clip at every rustling tree branch. Those raids on Soviet tanks sure must have been fruitful. On a related topic, is it weird that when they were going to execute the traitor in their midst (the son of the collabatorationist mayor who apparently popped into town to betray his friends off-camera at some point) my first thought was "no firing squad! Hang him, save your bullets!"
(9) I enjoyed the occassional peeks into the minds of the occupying Communists, like how they couldn't wrap their heads around the fact that the insurgents called themselves the Wolverines after the high school football team. And I particularly liked the part where the mayor (collaborationist bastard) was telling the Cuban colonel how his son was harmless and certainly not a member of the resistance, and the colonel was like "isn't he a prominent student leader?" You know that Communists take leaders of student organizations seriously! I think he also referred to the Eagle Scouts as an "elite paramilitary organization."
(10) When the Wolverines capture this Russian soldier, who seconds ago was trying to kill them, he tries to claim that they can't kill him because he's a prisoner of war and that would be against the Geneva Convention. Patrick Swayze's obnoxious, ignorant answer to this is "I never heard of it!" Don't get me wrong, I'm not against killing him, but I feel like a better answer would have been something like "Oh, and what about all those unarmed civilians you lined up and shot earlier in the film?" Also, I bet the history teacher was getting to the Geneva Convention before he was shot by paratroopers.
(11) And, finally, I am pretty sure that an assault helicopter – although impressive – is not the best weapon for flushing out guerrillas hiding in the woods.
After I watched Red Dawn I found out that they are apparently working on a remake as we speak!!! Heaven only knows who the bumbling invaders will be in Red Dawn 2.0. Also, looking back at the movie today, the Communists' poorly planned occupation and the resistance they meet from resentful locals of course brought to mind the failures of the US' current overseas wars. Thus, it's interesting to note that the military mission that resulted in the capture of Saddam Hussein was named Operation Red Dawn.
Images from Red Dawn by United Artists