Apparently so few original ideas for new films are circulating in Hollywood these days that the filmmakers must rely heavily on remakes in the hopes of filling theater seats. In fact, at this writing, no fewer than 50 (Yes, you read it correctly.) remakes are in the works. For the record, I loathe remakes of films because they never are as good as the originals upon which they are based, and, more often than not, they always seem to desecrate the originals in some way.
Among those 50 films scheduled for remakes are the following: “Robocop,” “Carrie,” “Porky’s,” “Barbarella,” “Pet Sematary,” “Lethal Weapon,” “The Birds,” “My Fair Lady,” and “Dirty Dancing.” Sorry, but I won’t have the least bit of trouble sublimating my desire to see any of those pretenders.
The most recent remake to hit the silver screen is “Red Dawn,” an updated version of the 1984 film starring the late Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, Lea Thompson, and Jennifer Grey. The film was set in Calumet, Colo., and dealt with how some high school students banded together to fight against the Russians, whose invasion launched World War III. The action-filled film was both entertaining and touching as it dealt with the close bond among a small group of students and especially two brothers.
This time around, the setting is Spokane, Wash., (Detroit doubles for Spokane.) where Jed Eckhert (Chris Hemsworth) was born and raised and where he is spending time on leave from the United States Marine Corps. Jed’s father, Tom (Brett Cullen), is a police officer in the town, and Jed’s only brother, Matt (Josh Peck), is a star on the local high school football team nicknamed the Wolverines.
The peace of Spokane is destroyed forever one afternoon when a brief power outage signals the invasion of North Koreans. As Jed and Matt dart out of their house, they find the sky filled with enemy paratroopers and aircraft. And the war is on. Jed and Matt jump into Jed’s truck and go looking for their dad. When they find him, he instructs them to flee to their secluded cabin, and, after picking up several of their friends, they do just that.
Shortly after arriving at the cabin, Jed conducts a training camp to teach his “recruits” the finer points of combat, and they all christen themselves the Wolverines as they proceed to wreak havoc on the North Koreans, and they ultimately meet up with Andrew Tanner (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a sergeant major in the Marine Corps and his two men, Sgt. Hodges (Matt Gerald) and Cpl. Smith (Ken Choi).
After introducing himself, Tanner tells the Wolverines how the North Koreans hope to use a special weapon that will leave the U.S. military without power. He also says that Capt. Cho (Will Yun Lee), the commander of the North Koreans, has in his possession a suitcase containing a device capable of allowing the U.S. forces to summon reinforcements. And of course the Wolverines agree to help Tanner obtain the suitcase from Cho.
Although “Red Dawn” contains some fairly good action scenes, it doesn’t live up to its predecessor on a number of fronts. The first of these is the relationship between Jed and Matt. The superb chemistry that existed between Swayze and Sheen in the original is sadly lacking with Hemsworth and Peck in the updated version. This relationship made the ending in the first film particularly effective and moving, but because the remake has a completely different ending, the brotherly bond really plays no big part in it.
One of the most memorable scenes in the original occurs when Matt kills his first deer, and Jed teaches him the ritual of the hunt. The new film makes a complete mockery of that scene, and I really disliked that.
If you saw the first “Red Dawn,” you will recall that the incipient invasion occurred outside a schoolhouse as students watched through their classroom windows the descent of myriad paratroopers. I found the shock value of this much more effective than the way the invasion was handled in the remake even though the latter employs many more parachutists.
In the film’s production notes, producer Tripp Vinson explained how the remake relied on the original.
“The re-boot is heavily inspired by the original. There are a lot of fans out there that loved the original, but we spent a lot of time thinking about the story and how to augment it to make it work in today’s world. I think we’ve done a pretty good job of it.”
The main thing with I take issue with in this statement is the use of the word “augment,” which by definition means adding some kind of improvement. I found absolutely no element in the new film that made it better than the original in any way. And how in the hell could changing the incredibly emotionally charged ending of the original be conceived as being augmentative?
Also in the production notes, Hemsworth explained what he liked about the project.
“I’d heard about the film and had seen the original version years ago, and could vaguely remember it and sort of liking the idea of it, but then I read this script and just loved it. You know, Jed was a great character. There were a bunch of different levels and things going on, and for me it was a story about brothers and friends and family. And I’ve got two brothers, so having that in my life, it was definitely something I could draw from for the film. And I think finding the truths of the journey of my character, and in relationship to the other characters in the movie, was definitely interesting to work with.
“When my character left home to go into the military he was a great football player and had a bunch of thing going on for him. But, he threw them away for various reasons, including the disillusion of his family structure. There’s a lot of regret and lots of guilt for having done that. And he carries all of that around with him. Plus, who knows what he’s seen overseas, as well as through his war experiences. And then he returns home, goes to his brother’s football game, and the next morning all hell breaks loose and all of his training kicks in, and the rest is this remarkable journey.”
What Hemsworth says is spot on, but unfortunately the cast in this film doesn’t convey the camaraderie among the characters as well as those in the original did. And as I mentioned earlier, Hemsworth and Peck fall a bit short in convincingly portraying the brotherly relationship so important to the film’s overall effectiveness.
In the final analysis, my advice is that if you want to see a true cult classic, rent the original. After you see that, you can choose to go to theater and watch a prime example of how remakes of films like “Red Dawn” (Give this one a final score of four.) just don’t work.
After watching this movie, I long for a time when the remake will forever be thing of the past. That would be a welcome dawn of a new day in Hollywood.