Glenn Walker On Red Dawn 1984

There’s lots of buzz about this film with the new remake in theaters. The flick is close to the heart of many people. I remember the outrage of some of my friends when they heard they were remaking this movie. Confession time, I have never seen it. Let’s find out why the original Red Dawn is such a classic together, and why “Wolverines!” is such a part of our culture, after the jump.

The Movie

The story by screenwriter Kevin Reynolds that eventually became Red Dawn was called “Ten Soldiers” and was more of a Lord of the Flies type scenario than the pop culture phenomenon it eventually became. The screenplay came from Reynolds and director John Milius and presented an idyllic Midwestern small town (Calumet, Colorado), beset by foreign invaders (the Soviet Union and Cuba), and the story of how they fought back.

The movie begins with a brief text explanation of the world situation, just a few lines at a time, but each line shaping a more and more desperate planet politico. The real action begins when the small town school is attacked by paratroopers, a true WTF moment. Folks in town quickly get the gist of what is what – a foreign invasion force has attacked.

A rag tag group of students, led by Patrick Swayze, escape. Sweeping dad’s sporting goods store, they head into the mountains while the enemy take over the town, placing many residents in a concentration camp, and executing them, notably mostly gun owners. Apparently the Soviets and Cubans were using Hitler’s playbook.

The Wolverines

The kids, slowly being trained by Swayze, start fighting back, calling themselves the Wolverines, after their high school mascot. They include a young Charlie Sheen, an annoying Lea Thompson, and C. Thomas Howell. Also in cast are Jennifer Grey, Powers Boothe, and Harry Dean Stanton. Oh yeah, it’s an eighties flick.

The Politics

It may be hard to imagine in this age of stifling partisanship and idiot Republicans, but at the time this movie came out, Republican Ronald Reagan was in the White House, for his second term, and most folks were happy about it. There were not battle lines drawn between Liberals and Conservatives as there are now, and those two sensibilities were neither mutually exclusive, nor dirty words ready to incite a civil war. In other words, what appears in 2012 as blatant propaganda was just a fun little too-close-to-home fantasy then. No harm, no foul, on the surface at least.

The Bad Guys

But this is subtle political propaganda, plain and simple, but it’s also a chick flick. And by chick flick, I’m neither being derisive, nor talking about a Jane Austen or Julia Roberts movie. Women like eye candy just as much as men do. Don’t fool yourself for a moment in thinking that both Thor and X-Men Origins: Wolverine did not have huge female audiences, because they did. Someone taking his or her shirt off has tremendous box office power no matter the gender. In this case, the pull of Swayze, Howell, and Sheen is impressive.

In many ways a typical 1980s movie, irrevocably a 1980s movie from its very logo to the music video montage sequence. Red Dawn is in many ways, Top Gun meets Footloose, starring the cast of The Outsiders, as directed by John Hughes. That is a metaphor of course, or not.

Despite that image I just put in your head, there is a power in the intense and inspirational score by Basil Poledouris that lends great seriousness to the film. And it is a serious film, for a teenager, or if you don’t put too much thought into it. It’s all of the above, but most of all, Red Dawn is a popcorn movie.


In the years that have passed since its release, Red Dawn has turned from being an allegory from the Reagan era to a Conservatives’ wet dream nightmare, a what-if propaganda piece rather than an entertainment. Despite that, it’s many folks’ first taste of Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen, also a textbook example of fighting the power – for these reasons it remains close to the heart of many. So much so, there’s nothing but anger when they hear it’s being remade.

Perhaps that’s part of why the remake has been delayed so long. It was made some time ago, back in 2009. And perhaps it is only the star power of Chris Thor Hemsworth that has finally gotten it released. This new version stars Josh Hutcherson, Adrianne Palicki, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Edwin Hodge (check out the exclusive Biff Bam Pop! interview here) and Hemsworth, with the film in wide release now.

The original Red Dawn is an icon from an earlier age, a time before 9/11, before war ever touched our shores, and a symbol of patriotism and heroism. The American spirit was alive and well in the Reagan era, as was the movement to get girls into the theaters with the young hunks of the moment. Great time capsule, great flick, leave the politics out of it, and you’ll love it.

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