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Red Dawn 1984: Pseudo what pack?

John Milius wasn’t born; he punched himself out of his mother’s womb – probably prematurely, and on a battlefield – and was immediately bathed in deer’s blood to forever share the wild spirit of the forest creatures. Similarly, John Milius the writer doesn’t just ‘write'; he smelts iron and forges the molten ore into words with his manly fists, which he then drags through the wilds and punches into live bears. The bloody pelts of which are then sometimes made into films…films like Red Dawn.

I missed Red Dawn when it did the playground discussion rounds as a kid. Instead I watched Patrick Swayze in Steel Dawn, which was quite enough films starring Patrick Swayze with ‘Dawn’ in the title, thankyouverymuch. It’s a shame really; while watching Red Dawn on Netflix it struck me that Red Dawn would probably have bypassed every other region of my ten-year old brain and deeply embedded itself in the part that distributes random positive adjectives. There it would probably have been labelled ‘ace’, ‘skill’, ‘mint’, ‘fresh’ or ‘awesome’. And it would have probably stayed there for some time, reaching ‘best film of all time’ status before losing its place to Renegade or Robot Jox.

On a base level Red Dawn is like an incredibly violent episode of The A-Team that lasts for two hours and features children as the heroes. This is evident from the opening: a group of commie parachutists surround a high school, shoot the teacher and then proceed to blow up loads of cars. A group of pseudo-Brat Packers escape to the mountains, but not before stocking up on the essential items you’d normally find at a motorway service station: knives, arrows, bullets, rifles and cans of Sprite.

It’s not long before the John Milius hallmarks creep in. The boys hunt a deer with their rifles. The novice hunter is blooded by Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen (uh-oh), who tell him that drinking the deer’s blood allows you to take on its spirit and that doing so changes you forever. In typical Milius fashion – and as is no doubt the case when Charlie Sheen introduces someone to a new substance – the boy does actually change and you’re not sure if his new violent demeanour is down to the dehumanising effects of war or the deer spirit actually having its revenge by making him act like a tool.

Milius’ renowned obsession with Theodore Roosevelt also gets an airing: the statue outside the school bears a quote from the former president and the National Park from where ‘the Wolverines’ fuck shit up is also the site where Teddy planted loads of trees*. Rooselvelt was a progressive cowboy, combining intellect with a love of guns (apparently these aren’t mutually exclusive – despite what years of watching bottom shelf actioners has taught me). His mantra: ‘Speak softly and carry a big stick’ is perfectly met in John Milius: a right-winger firmly ensconced in the arts.

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It’s this contrast that makes Milius the go-to guy for films that possess more masculinity than Chuck Norris’ favourite tipple (a mixture of whisky and dragon semen for the interested). It’s also this contrast that rears its head in Red Dawn. Despite the invading army possessing the motivation and personality of a Manimal villain for the most part, the naughty Cuban general takes time to open up his heart and pine for his lost love. This isn’t uncommon in Milius’ work; he’s forever contrasting the tolls of war with affairs of the heart: Kurtz’s letters home in Apocalypse Now, Conan the Barbarian pining for his deceased lass by burning her body and looking a bit confused.

Without the Milius hallmarks Red Dawn would be exactly like what my ten year old self would have taken from it: a violent A-Team film. With them it becomes sombre, dark and expansive – whilst also being an undeniably bat-shit piece of entertaining propaganda that wears its right-wing heart proudly on its sleeve. You can say what you want about John Milius – and I expect many already have – but he’s sure-footed, unique and puts his stamp all over his projects, which means Red Dawn leaves an impression and, despite its politics, isn’t the brainless forgettable fodder I was expecting.

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Red Dawn 20??: Plot, villains and sets added in post

If its pre-release is anything to go by, I suspect the remake of Red Dawn will fulfil the brainless remit. Originally set for release in 2010, it replaces Russians and Cubans with invading Chinese. Unfortunately, producers thought better of alienating one of the world’s largest economies and so changed the origin of the invaders to North Korea in post-production – presumably because all Asians look the same.

Since then there was a slight chance of the western world befriending North Korea, which must have made the producers fairly nervous. And then the Russian government started acting like dicks again, which probably made them question whether audiences could tell the difference between ‘Choreans’ and ‘Chussians’. But, if his love of food, polyester and weapons is any indication, Kim Jong-un seems like a chip off the old tyranical block, so they can probably rest assured in their second choice of villain. Not that it matters as the chance of seeing the Red Dawn remake seem about as plausible as Russians actually invading the United States. Until then the default Red Dawn is a dated but compelling tale from a time when Hollywood was either braver or more naive. Either way, it’s a worthy watch.

*The Roosevelt duality is illustrated further with a Russian translation that incorrectly states that the site is where Roosevelt slayed thousands of Indians in battle. This example also serves to make the Russian’s look incredibly stupid, which is a win-win for Milius.

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