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‘Red Dawn’ is post-9/11 remake of cult favorite

By Staff | Nov 29, 2012

When rebooting a film franchise, filmmakers strive to reinvent, update or explore alternate, previously overlooked story arcs. The cyber terminology seeks avoidance of labeling the new film a “re-make,” to avoid immediate intensive comparisons to the original. Super heroic icons have particular advantages, like switching from the character’s adult life to his or her teen years.

Tackling a revered “cult” favorite comes with preset memory mine fields, especially if you want cool buzz from fans.

“Red Dawn” debuted in 1984 when Cold War nuclear weapon stockpile rivalries centered on Russia (U.S.S.R.), China and the United States. Spurred by a Russian attempt to place missiles in Cuba in the early 1960s, most worst case warfare scenarios involved surviving the aftermath of nuclear strikes on large cities.

Jed, played by Patrick Swayze, drops off his younger brother Matt (Charlie Sheen) at school when shortly thereafter Soviet paratroopers land at the school’s football field. Jed, Matt and other teens head for the mountains where they hope to outlast the invaders.

The finally released remake, which had been trapped in a studio’s bankruptcy vault, adequately imports post-9/11 fears into a homeland invasion from the immature and rogue leadership of North Korea. (Wouldn’t an alliance with al-Qaeda and domestic cults buy greater believability?)

A shock and awe sunrise attack precipitates the mandatory rush to the woodlands by the brothers (now played by Chris “Thor” Hemsworth and former Disney star Josh Peck). Removing the rag tag spontaneity from the original, Hemsworth’s character has just returned from the Iraq conflict, which provides the thesis of U.S. troops so scattered on foreign soils to leave the 48 at risk.

Having laid out these perfunctory setups, comparison should wrap, except that the 1984 version develops from the intimacy of a small group of teens facing the occupation of the U.S., while the 2012 release opts for action and explosives. It’s an apples to oranges, six of one, half a dozen of the other option. Expectations shift from an untrained bunch of kids inflicting surprise raids to a guerrilla band with Marine led “tough choices” training “creating chaos” on small town streets.

Which works best? The expository, limitations and developed personas of the earlier version passes emotional response to surprise governmental take over premise. I kept asking what happened and follow up “whys” watching the disciplined run, shoot, recovery operations by Hemsworth’s sharp shooting troops. Casualties mount but “I care’s” stay with the shallowly boyfriend/girlfriend relationship between Matt and Erica (Isabel Lucas). Vehicle battering and pyrotechnics aside, in the original, I was one of the original Wolverines. Now, with the remake, I’m just watching…even during a spectacular school bus barrier bust and repeated reminders of adrenaline pumping home field defensive maneuvers.

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