Red Dawn Review & Comparison
Red Dawn (2012) Review & Comparison
What better way to spend Thanksgiving weekend than to watch a bunch of high-schoolers fight off a foreign invasion? Red Dawn is the remake of a polarizing and controversial 80s movie depicting the Soviet invasion of a suburban American town only, this time, the North Koreans are the antagonists. Allow me to start by saying that this is more than just a review of the remake. I’ll effectively be breaking down both the original film and the new one as well as comparing their similarities and differences (for better or worse). PLEASE BE AWARE THAT SPOILERS ARE ABOUND. DON’T READ IF YOU PLAN ON SEEING THE MOVIE AND FINDING THINGS OUT FOR YOURSELF.
First, let me recap the original. Red Dawn (1984) depicted a reality where World War III was on the rise and, to make matters worse, an allied force consisting of the Soviet Union and Cuba launch an invasion of the United States. The film is set in a small town in Colorado where two brothers, Jed and Matt Eckert (played by Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen), are tasked with forming a guerrilla force to take back the town. This group is comprised of Jed and Matt’s high school classmates who name their task force the Wolverines after their school’s mascot. Over the course of the film, this bunch of scared high school students learn to scavenge for supplies and fight off enemy troops as they become battle-hardened freedom fighters. Red Dawn proved to be rather controversial as it essentially (graphically) depicted the worst fears conservatives had of a Soviet invasion on U.S. soil. However, many people agree that the film was well-written and directed regardless of the political message and it eventually became a cult classic, influencing many works of media that depict similar thematic elements such as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.
Now on to the remake. The film had a troubled production as it took a while 3 years for it to see the light of day. For a multitude of reasons, critics seem to hate the film at this point. While I found it rather flawed, I still thought it was entertaining enough to sit through and I don’t feel like it deserves its abysmal Metacritic score that rivals the likes of The Green Lantern and Priest. The remake has the same general plot structure of the original with key events turning out different. At the very least, anyone who has watched the original won’t have too easy of a time predicting plot twists, etc. The main characters are still Jed and Matt Eckert, this time played by Chris Hemsworth (Thor) and Josh Peck (Drake & Josh… yes, you read that right), respectively.
Casting was handled pretty well. All the actors playing the Wolverines are age appropriate and play their roles believably. Chris Hemsworth does a surprisingly good American accent and pulls off the role of an Iraq vet without a hitch for the most part. Josh Peck is a notable casting decision because, while pretty much everybody knows him from his Nickelodeon shows, he actually does very well portraying a mature teenager who is forced to mature even more under dire circumstances. I feel like the cast as a whole did a good job at fitting that bill, even newcomer Connor Cruise (the adopted son of Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman). A notable character in the remake is Captain Cho played by Korean actor Will Yun Lee (some of you gamers might know him as Wei Shen from Sleeping Dogs). The character of Captain Cho could have been more significant but he doesn’t speak much English, if any, and mainly serves the “bad guy” role at a bare minimum.
Action-wise, this movie delivers. If you’re going to the theaters expecting an explosive popcorn-munching flick, you won’t be disappointed. Throughout the movie, the Wolverines scavenge enemy weapons and equipment and resort to guerrilla warfare to take back their town. It is quite interesting to see how a bunch of high-school students with makeshift gear take on an invading military force. Those with a thirst for violence, however, might be a bit disappointed. While there is a lot of shooting and things blowing up, there is very minimal bloodshed and visible wounds, especially for what is essentially a war movie.
All in all, it probably won’t cement itself as a classic like the original did but I believe that the Red Dawn remake is entertaining enough to memorable to the general moviegoer. Like the original, the movie’s ‘What if?’ setting is what makes it shine even if it doesn’t exactly have a stellar script. And let’s face it: how many other movies portray a foreign invasion on U.S. soil?
Which brings me to something that has had people scratching heads since the remake was announced: the North Koreans being the bad guys. This isn’t that damaging to the movie seeing as how they actually handle it pretty well in the movie but I feel like this issue must be addressed to clear up any confusion. In the original, the U.S. was invaded by an alliance between the Soviet Union and Cuba, which was pretty believable at the time of its release since we were in the middle of the Cold War. When the remake was announced, the Chinese were supposed to be the antagonists. This was later changed so that the movie would be more marketable. However, this brought up logistics issues as to whether North Korea would actually be able to invade the U.S. How this is handled in the movie is similar to how it was dealt with in the video game, Homefront. The Red Dawn remake takes place in a not-so-distant future where the EU has mostly collapsed and Russia is now controlled by an Ultranationalist party. What isn’t made apparent in promotional material is that the North Korean invasion is essentially bankrolled by the Russian Federation (who is in charge of invading the East Coast while NK is invading the west). [spoiler] Later on in the movie, the Russians even send in a group of Spetsnaz to assist in the matter when the Wolverines become too problematic for the occupying force.[/spoiler] Just keep this in mind before you watch the movie so your brain hurts a little less.
Now on to the comparison. While critics are pretty polarized, I think that if you enjoyed the original you will probably enjoy the remake due to how similar they are. You got the two Eckert brothers who recruit a bunch of high-schoolers consisting of some dudes, two chicks, and [spoiler] and an eventual turncoat[/spoiler]. Lt. Col. Tanner is also in the remake, now played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Supernatural). Thematically, the movies are the same in that they depict a bunch of scared teenagers thrusted into an unbelievably tough situation and each character has a different level of success in coping with it. Not really a spoiler, but they end up successfully fighting off the invading force, essentially turning the tide of the war and, yes, there is still a scene where they victoriously shout, “Wolverines!”
The differences between the two movies may make or break your opinion of the remake depending on fond you are of the original. To make this coherent, I’ll start from the beginning. The Eckert brothers are made slightly more important off the bat because their father is the sergeant of the town’s police department instead of just some dude. There is a bit more exposition at the beginning of the movie in which characters and friendships are introduced and life before the invasion is depicted in more detail whereas the invasion in the original film happens in the first scene. In the remake, Jed Eckert is more than just the cool big brother of the main cast. He’s portrayed as an Iraq vet and is essentially the only Wolverine who has any combat experience. The Wolverines themselves are characterized a bit more in general. The token female characters of the group are a lot more significant and useful in the remake and the theme of betraying your own country to save your life is made a bit more prevalent. One of the characters that has been dumbed down a bit is, unfortunately one of the cooler ones, Lt. Col. Tanner. He has far less characterization and this time, he is accompanied by two other squadmates thus making his achievements seem less significant. However, that’s a bit of a double-edged sword as his teammates are characters in and of themselves: you got the wise-cracking joker-type character and the token Korean who is able to speak the enemy language and confuse them over radio chatter. Which leads me to the main antagonist, Captain Cho. Originally, he was to be Captain Lo of the Chinese Army which I found rather odd seeing as how they casted a Korean actor to play him anyway. The result of this is that some of his closeups show obvious dubbing because the character probably wasn’t speaking Korean in the original shot. As a character, Captain Cho was far less interesting than the Cuban colonel from the original. Col. Bella was a polyglot (which I find automatically interesting), fluent in English, Spanish & Russian and was actually made to look sympathetic in the original film. Captain Cho, however, is made a pure card-carrying villain and the fact that he only speaks Korean in the film detaches viewers from him and makes the audience root for his death the entire time.
The main issue with the remake is that it isn’t particularly well written. The original film was written and directed by John Millius, who wrote the screenplay for Apocalypse Now and would later write the story for the videogame Homefront which was similarly set in a United States being invaded by North Korea. Millius’ rendition of the original plot made the film feel more like a political piece while the remake feels more like propaganda, which is funny because the original was pretty anti-communist to begin with. Further adding to that notion is the fact that the remake is, for the most part, ‘happier’ than the original. In the original, [spoiler] ALL of the Wolverines die to win the final battle and the antagonist surrenders[/spoiler]. In the remake, [spoiler]the antagonist dies a pretty cliche death and the Wolverines suffer only a few casualties[/spoiler], a notable one being [spoiler] Jed Eckert, who is unceremoniously shot in the head after the final battle has been won[/spoiler]. The remake ends with [spoiler]Matt Eckert giving a rousing speech to a significantly more numerous band of Wolverines while the original ended on a minimal note[/spoiler]. Why the remake’s ending was made so optimistic, I don’t know. Perhaps Hollywood is afraid to depress the modern teenage population, but unfortunately, this makes the remake seem a bit more cliched than the original.
Final verdict: while it is not as politically significant as the original, the Red Dawn remake is an entertaining watch for those who are willing to accept the paranoid idea that your very own backyard could be invaded by a communist dictatorship. It will most likely please anyone who is into action/war movies but will probably offend any liberal intellectuals or poli-sci majors out there. If you’re looking for engaging dialogue and a sense of realism, you might be better off with an actual war movie.
Video Game Controversies and Context
This is one of my first blog posts in a long time, and I’m returning to the tumblr scene because I feel the need to rant.
Today’s topic is about ‘controversies’ surrounding certain video games and how they tend to be blown way out of proportion because critics don’t give a flying fuck about context.
Let’s begin my tirade with an overview of why this shit happens in the first place. Video games have come a long way since the days of polygons and onomatopoeia resembling incoherent bleeps and bloops. Nowadays, most game companies try to make their games look realistic and bring their settings and scenarios to life through game and art design. As a result, video games nowadays can be as visually stunning as computer generated films but with an added degree of interactivity. Unfortunately, the realism of modern video games paves way for undesirable in-game situations that can cast a negative light on the encompassing product. From here I shall explore, in chronological order, several cases of video game controversy and how they’re taken out of context.
I’ll start with the classic example of the Grand Theft Auto series. The GTA series was always the target of criticism because of its genre and how much freedom it gave you to run amok in the city. The series’ biggest controversies arose with the third installment, Grand Theft Auto III, and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City after it.
One reason was that since the game gave you so much freedom to do what you felt like, most players resorted to shooting everything and blowing everything up. Unfortunately, media linked this with cases in which actual murders/rampages were committed due to either confessions from the perpetrators that they were inspired by the game or the fact that they owned the game. This led to the GTA series and similar games being branded as ‘murder simulators’. The biggest question here is: are they? Is there something about these games that influence people to want to hurt or kill one another, or does the freedom the game grants you allow an already-violent person to find an outlet to act out their aggression?
This open-ended style of gameplay also leads to two other criticisms surrounding the series. The first is prostitution. After the release of Vice City, it became well-known that it was possible to illicit prostitutes and then kill them and take your money back should the player desire to. The second scenario was drunk driving. In Grand Theft Auto IV, it was possible to become intoxicated after drinking. This would add the in-game effect of blurry visuals and swerving while walking or driving.
The problem with these criticisms is that all of these behaviors that the series gets flack for are completely optional. In fact, they’re actually not encouraged at all. Never in the games are there times when your objective is to kill civilians, get blowjobs from hookers, or drive drunk. The game actually punishes you for that type of behavior most of the time. Committing crime in Grand Theft Auto nets a predictable response, intervention by law enforcement. Yes, the game actually sends cops after you when you commit crimes, and as they escalate, they send the army. Crimes being punished by law enforcement? Who knew. Anyone who’s ever had fun free roaming in GTA knows that the game doesn’t just relent and let you go on a crime spree uninhibited. Those boys in blue are going to shoot your ass down at some point. And then there comes the drunk driving. MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) really had a field day with the inebriation mechanic in GTAIV. They claimed that it encouraged drunk driving and it taught gamers a horrible lesson about a habit that kills people on a regular basis. The problem with that is that being drunk fucks you up in Grand Theft Auto as much as it does in real life. Remember how I mentioned that drinking makes your vision blurry and messes up your movement controls? That actually has in-game consequences. As in, you’ll crash. A lot. You know, just like you would in real life. If we were to apply real world logic here, crashing and killing yourself in game every time you drink beer should discourage a player for the same reason it would in real life because, you know, dying is bad.
Not pictured: the main character’s ass getting shot down by the entire Liberty City PD.
Our next game is something a lot more recent: Resident Evil 5 (or Resident 5 Evil if you read the menu screen). This time, the controversy isn’t surrounding violence, but instead, racism. Yes. Racism in a video game. While it is all too possible to put elements of racism in a video game, people looked at Resident Evil all they saw was racism. Why? Because you play as a White man killing Black zombies. Woah, that sounds pretty racist, doesn’t it? But wait a second, what was this post called? Oh yeah, Video Game Controversies and Context. In RE5, you play as Chris Redfield, one of the protagonists of the first game, and you’re operating in some fictional region of Africa. Apparently it’s not fictional enough because it happens to be full of Africans. You know, Black Africans. Because most of Africa is comprised of Black Africans. Wouldn’t you know it, the Plagas virus (or whatever the hell it was called) hits the region and people start turning into zombie-like creatures that, in typical zombie fashion, have a penchant for fucking up everything they see. Unfortunately, since Chris, last I checked, isn’t Black and he is smack dab in the middle of unnamed region in Africaland, he has to fight zombies who happened to be Black because they happened to live in Africa and not, say, Europe or Asia.
Where are the Scandinavian zombies in Africa? Racist.
Of course people see the first couple screenshots and immediately cry racism. However, that would only be true if you took the pictures for their face value. The racism argument then falls flat when you bring in several factors. 1. The main character is White only because he has always been since the beginning of the series and, since the fifth game was meant to end the series, it would only be fitting to play as a fan favorite one last time. 2. The enemies (most of them, anyway) are Black because THE GAME TAKES PLACE IN AFRICA WHERE, CHANCES ARE, EVERY OTHER PERSON YOU SEE IS BLACK, AND THEN SOME. 3. Little did people realize, the game isn’t about running around beating the shit out of hapless Africans who are just minding their own business. They’re zombies. I’m pretty sure if someone’s mouth split open and tried to devour you, you wouldn’t care what skin color they were or who would think you’re racist for killing them.
Think about it this way, if the game took place in China (which I hope you all know is mostly populated by Chinese people), would it be racist? If it took place in Mexico, would it be racist? Excuse the world for having regions that are predominantly populated by a single ethnicity. The reason why the game takes place in Africa is because of the plot point that the T-Virus originated in Africa and the developers wanted a sunlit, exotic locale to act as a contrast to the drab, Western areas of the previous games. Not to mention, RE5 even has two allies that are Black, Sheva and Joshua, who both play prominent roles in the game.
Flash forward to November of that same year and we have a story that I’m sure most of us would be familiar with. I’m talking about the No Russian mission in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Of course, this wouldn’t have gotten so much coverage if it weren’t for the fact that Modern Warfare 2 was one of the best selling games ever. The context (keyword: context) here is that Private Joseph Allen is chosen to go undercover in a Russian terrorist cell that seeks to incite animosity towards the United States in order to brew a full-scale war. How they plan to do this is to pose as Americans (leading to the tag-line “No Russian.”) and commit a massacre at the Sheremetyevo International Airport (renamed Zakhaev International Airport in the game’s universe) in Moscow. The player has a choice whether or not to participate in the civilian massacre and the game neither rewards nor penalizes your for doing such. All this scene serves to do is to set the dark tone for the game and villainize Vladimir Makarov, the series’ antagonist from that point on. The player can even choose to skip this scene if they feel uncomfortable with playing through it. This combined with the fact that your character most likely didn’t agree to this and was undercover for the CIA flew over many people’s heads and all they saw was Call of Terrorism: Modern Terrorism 2.
You are an undercover agent who doesn’t have to shoot civilians, unlike these schmucks.
Of course, we can all rest easy knowing that a majority of the Call of Duty fanbase hasn’t played the single player campaigns anyway.
Now we have the most recent controversy and the one that motivated me to write this post. Here we have footage of Deus Ex: Human Revolution. I just finished this game and it has a great story and atmosphere, but there was one small thing everyone seemed to notice: Letitia.
Letitia was one of Adam Jensen’s informants back when he was still on the Detroit Police Force. Letitia is African-American and, as you can see in the video, her vocabulary is… interesting. In other words, if Ebonics was a field of study, she’d have a master’s degree. Immediately, people cried racism (surprise, surprise), especially Evan Narcisse of Time Magazine who compared her portrayal to that of a blackface minstrel show. Other people hopped on the hate train and agreed that this character is a negative portrayal of African Americans. Of course, this instance seems easier to accuse of being racist than Resident Evil 5. The problem there, though, is that this is only one, single character. In fact, she is pretty much the only character in the entire game that acts in such a way. Furthermore, there are other African Americans in the game that act as one would expect in a normal, functioning society (interpret that as you may). There’s even a character, Nia Colvin, who is the first African American character you meet and is a goddamn SCIENTIST. And no, I don’t mean a meth cooker or a grape drank bottler like some detractors would want to believe but a full-blown scientist who researches DNA and cybernetics for a multi-million dollar corporation. Not to mention, I live in California and have seen some odd people who talk like Letitia, yet I acknowledge that a majority of African Americans aren’t like that. Is it that hard to believe that there is one person in goddamn DETROIT that acts like that? You’d think the kind of people who play Deus Ex would be intelligent enough to not apply this one character to their entire perception of African Americans. I’m sure that would only happen if Call of Duty and Halo were full of Letitias.
So now to wrap up this whole tirade. Why do video games gain such notoriety for these things? It’s because of several reasons. First and foremost, most of the critics and detractors of video games are of the older generation who are relatively unfamiliar with the world of gaming, and as we’ve all seen in human psychology, it is very easy to criticize that which you are unfamiliar with. Unfamiliarity also allows detractors to take cherrypick and take certain things out of context in order to support their argument. The reason why they do this is because, most of the time, the gaming community isn’t large enough to dispute it. Most people on this Earth, or at least the ones who have authority anyway, are adults who are too well above the age range to be part of the gaming scene. This includes the people behind news and media outlets. Couple this with the perception of gamers being immature and anti-social neckbeards who will never amount to anything and it is easy to demonize the gaming industry and allow enough circulation to eventually turn bias into fact. People fail to realize that each gamer is an individual whose morals and ideals have been shaped since the day they were born. As such, it is the responsibility of each individual to control their actions and interpret what they must. Therefore, if someone gets their sick kicks from murdering people in a video game, is that the fault of developer or is that simply the person’s nature to commit such acts? It has been proven that people with violent tendencies tend to be drawn to violent media and there has been no conclusive evidence that violent media in and of itself causes people to become violent. Same applies to media that portrays vulgar content such as sex, drugs, and racism. Like all sociological factors of influence, it all depends on the person.
Regardless of evidence to the contrary, critics of video games still have the tendency to lump all gamers into one broad category and assume that we are all magically more susceptible to the sins and vices of this world. Why? Because we play video games. Why do they put us in a lower station than them and assume that, for some reason, we are more vulnerable and impressionable than they are? Because we play video games. Why are all these instances taken out of context and any justifications are automatically dismissed? Because we play video games. If you were to ask such prominent critics such as Jack Thompson, Cooper Lawrence, and the boys at Fox News why gamers are made targets so often, they’d probably say: “Because they play video games. Oh, and fuck em’, that’s why.”
Well. Time to go back to Human Revolution, a.k.a. the prostitute punching simulator.