When a remake of Red Dawn was announced last year, my initial reaction was ‘Why?’ Not because the original film is some sort of untouchable masterwork, and not because I’m all hung up on remakes. Remaking this movie just felt especially pointless, as the social and political fears and anxieties that informed John Milius’ film just didn’t exist anymore in 2008. We weren’t afraid of being occupied, we were afraid of being infiltrated. Our nebulous Al Qaeda enemies don’t want to take over this country, they want to blow it up.
But things have a way of changing when you least expect it. Last night, during a party for the remake of Last House on the Left, I chatted with Carl Ellsworth, the writer of the remakes (both Last House and Red Dawn), and we agreed that the way the world is turning makes a new take on Red Dawn sort of weirdly timely. ‘We’re working on new drafts to keep up with what’s happening,’ he told me.
In 1984 the fear was the domino effect, that America’s lack of vigilance and intervention as other countries fell to the Communists would leave us open to an invasion. Today the fear is a little vaguer; it’s the anxiety that comes with a crumbling empire. We look around us and realize that maybe we’re not the biggest kids on the block anymore, and all of a sudden the tough guy is wondering if there’s someone tougher. The new Red Dawn would be about us meeting that tougher guy.
Ellsworth was cagey about who would be the villains in Red Dawn, but he did say that the current economic crisis plays into the justification for the invasion. As we continue to find ourselves completely in debt to other nations, might they take action to ‘fix’ this country in order to protect their investment? The credit crisis and the national debt have just taken on a whole new sinister set of implications.
He assured me that this was going to be a kick ass action movie, first and foremost; Ellsworth had just come from a five hour brainstorming session with director Dan Bradley – the second unit director and stunt coordinator for the Bourne films, among others – and the writer said that the action scene ideas were coming fast and furious. Bradley wants to bring a visceral impact to the movie, using a lot of handheld and bringing you right into the action, as opposed to Milius’ glossier version.
And this version will not hold back on the mayhem. Ellsworth assured me that the Wolverines will be out there killing bad guys, not knocking them out and tying them up in order to guarantee a softer rating. You’re going to have 15 year old kids with machine guns wreaking havoc.
Which led me to my next question for the writer: it’s obvious that any story of an occupied people rising and up and doing what was necessary to throw off the yoke of the invaders will bring to mind parallels with Iraq. All of a sudden corn fed heartland kids are becoming insurgents, waging an asymmetrical war. This isn’t something the new film will ignore. ‘These kids have become what we’re fighting [in Iraq],’ Ellsworth agreed.
Ellsworth’s a Hollywood guy – he joked that he had never seen a movie that came out before Star Wars*, and the aspects of the ending of the new Last House on the Left that I found too slickly Hollywood were things of which he was very proud – and I think that’s what this movie needs. While Bradley might be getting caught up in the potential Greengrassness of the film, Ellsworth is focusing on the things that will make this movie a mainstream crowd pleaser just like the original was. He’s really intent on making it not a big political statement but a story about these kids defending their home town. He’s doing the research to make the film plausible – he’s given a lot of thought and talked to a lot of high level people about how the ubiquity of networked technology would change the initial scenario of a bunch of kids running into the woods to fight back. How different is it when they all have iPhones? – but he seems also aware that the film needs to be plausible enough, not documentary-like.
He’s also aware that audiences will react to rah rah patriotism differently now than they did in 84. But I think that not only has the economic crisis and the inexorable decay of American empire made the film very current, so has Barack Obama. All of a sudden there’s a feeling that this is a country worth defending; the malaise of the last 8 years has slipped off, and instead of jingoism we’re experiencing a wave of real patriotism. I think at this point even the biggest lefty in the audience will be applauding when some blandly attractive CW star lifts an assault rifle over his head and shouts ‘Wolverines!’
* this sort of shockingly includes The Virgin Spring, the Bergman film which Wes Craven essentially ripped off when he made the original Last House.