November 24, 2012. Hollywood. It’s an eye-opening dose of reality to find out that MGM Studios finished filming the remake of the 1984 teen classic Red Dawn, only to edit it into a completely new movie out of fear of insulting the Communist Chinese. The original remake, which sat on the studio’s shelves for two years, had the Chinese invading and conquering America. But the producers had any reference to China photo-shopped out and replaced with North Korea.
1984 Red Dawn
Various TV and movie guides give the original 1984 teen classic Red Dawn only 1-Star. But for movie-goers like this author who was 14 when it first came out, it was probably the first spark of liberty-loving patriotism they encountered in their short life. In fact, like other such movies as Star Wars, Slap Shot and Rocky, the film undoubtedly fueled the desire in many teens to pursue a different path in life than they otherwise might have. For that reason alone, Red Dawn ranks up there with such greats as the Green Berets, the Longest Day and the Alamo.
The original movie starred Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, C. Thomas Howell, Leah Thompson, Powers Boothe, Jennifer Gray, Darren Dalton and Lane Smith. The subject of the movie, like its 2012 remake, is the invasion and occupation of America by an enemy army. The story line follows the lives of a half dozen high school kids as they become insurgent fighters against the occupying forces.
The setting is 1984, Calumet – a town somewhere in the American Northwest at the base of the Rocky Mountains. At one point early in the film, Powers Boothe’s character explains to the others what happened. Russians invaded through Alaska and Canada but their southern invasion was stopped at the Rockies. Russian paratroopers landed and control the entire west coast, but their eastward advance was also stopped at the Rockies.
Cuban and Eastern Block armies invaded through Florida and captured the entire east coast, with their westward invasion stopped at the Mississippi River. While South American communist armies led by the Nicaraguans came up through Mexico, invading northward, only to be stopped and held in Kansas. Ironically, in the 1984 version, China is one of America’s few allies. According to Boothe’s fighter pilot character, America’s European allies are, “sitting this one out…twice in one century was enough.”
Stumbling upon each other in the mad scramble to evade the murderous and invading paratroopers, a small band of high school kids picks up one kid at a time until their group numbers 8, led by ‘Jed’, the recently graduated football star played by Swayze. All in all, the film was incredibly realistic, with teens reluctantly fighting small handfuls of Soviet troops using shotguns, hunting rifles and bows. And for those who were alive in 1984, they’ll remember America was at the dangerous peak of its Reagan-era final confrontation with the Soviet Union.
2012 Red Dawn
In the twenty-first century remake of the classic, America’s real-life growing threat is cast as the film’s enemy character – Communist China. Battling the US in the UN Security Council over the Middle East, butting heads with the US Navy in the south China Sea, facing near war over the slow-moving occupation of Taiwan, the trillion dollars Americans owe China, and the long-standing American grassroots support for Chinese-conquered Tibet – all the real-world conflicts between the US and China made the Chinese the perfect invading force in the movie. Plus, their 1 billion citizens made it plausible.
But fearing a backlash from Chinese investors in MGM’s parent companies and affiliated corporations, not to mention the revenue a Chinese audience might bring in, producers enlisted a team of graphic artists to edit the entire film. Anywhere Chinese flags, symbols, references or explanations appeared, they were photo-shopped out or overdubbed with photos, videos and audio using instead, North Korean invaders.
Critics were quick to criticize the change, insinuating that pandering to the Communist Chinese in real life exemplifies the idea that China already conquered America in the real world. When the citizens of the US are too afraid to insult their biggest national enemy, it says something about the hierarchy of nations and the true balance of power.
For the record, MGM Studios is owned by a list of investment funds and firms, led by 6 major owners. For the past 22 years, MGM has been a Japanese-owned company with Sony Entertainment Japan as its parent company. Other major investors, at the time of the research, were Providence Equity Partners, Quadrangle Group, TPG, DLJ Merchant Banking Partners, Comcast Corporation and Sony Corporation of America.
Aside from the universal insult many Americans feel over the switch from the believable Chinese invaders to the unbelievable North Korean invaders, film critics were quick to criticize other aspects of the film as well.
Calling it an average movie overall, they unanimously agree that the strong performances by the movie’s main cast saved what was an awkward, poorly-written script. In the remake, Chris Hemsworth plays ‘Jed’, Josh Peck plays ‘Matt’, and Josh Hutcherson plays their sidekick.
A review by CBS’ local affiliate KJRH sums up the opinion of most critics when it says, ‘The film shouldn't be compared to the original, because its teen target audience doesn't care. Ditto on the film's yawning credulity gaps.’
The credibility gaps listed by reviewers are typically led by the largest complaint - North Korea isn’t large enough or powerful enough to invade and occupy America. Other critiques say it’s impossible for average high school kids to gain such advanced training in military weapons in a matter of days. At least in the original version, as mentioned above, the kids used average hunting weapons to fight back, something commonplace throughout Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado and South Dakota. That’s the setting of the first Red Dawn. This second version sets the characters in Washington State.
The same CBS affiliate finished its review of the new Red Dawn saying, ‘Even with the high octane provided by frequent car crashes, gunfire and explosions, the overall effect is as wooden as the single facial expression of Connor Cruise (Tom Cruise's son, who plays a Wolverine). If shootouts, bomb blasts and remorseless killing are all you're after, stay home and play Call of Duty.’
For more information on the Red Dawn remake, visit the film’s website at RedDawnFilm.com.