The saga of the Red Dawn remake

The Red Dawn remake was, in theory, completed nearly two years ago. Yet there's still no sign of it, and reports suggest it's being re-edited for political reasons. Ti traces the saga...

Wolverines! Before Charlie Sheen became a Vatican ninja assassin warlock (or whatever he’s calling himself these days), he was a member of the Brat Pack and, therefore, star of John Milius’ 1984 homeland invasion thriller, Red Dawn.

For those of you who haven’t seen it, it was based around a hypothetical World War III situation that saw the United States being invaded by the Soviets and Cubans. The film followed a group of Midwestern teenagers (Charlie Sheen, Patrick Swayze, Jennifer Grey, Lea Thompson) who become a resistance group called The Wolverines (after their high school mascot), who proceed to lead an insurgency against the invaders. Most recently, it has influenced the Homefront computer game, which Milius has penned the script for.

At the end of the day, it’s not a great film and is such a product of its time that it hurts. In fact, I’d say it’s up there with Rocky IV for pure jingoistic, Cold War propaganda. So, you can imagine everyone’s surprise when, in 2008, a remake was announced by MGM.

The new film script was written by Carl Ellsworth (Red Eye, Disturbia) and was set to be directed by Bourne Ultimatum second unit director, Dan Bradley. Casting quickly followed with Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Adrianne Palicki (Legion and the new Wonder Woman), Josh Hutcherson (Journey To The Centre Of The Earth) and Isabel Lucas (Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen) all named to star as the teenage freedom fighters.

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The press release at the time said the remake would be “updated to post-9/11 contemporary times” and interest was piqued about who the new enemy would be. But then everything went wrong.

Let’s take a look at just how the project hit problems…

The political climate changed

In the 80s, the idea of taking up arms to defend your homeland was rousing stuff, but today, in this post 9/11 world, where the U.S. is engaged in more than one way, and facing insurgents around the world, something just doesn’t sit right with a remake.

In the original, the Wolverines routinely ambushed convoys and took out heavily armed invading forces and you don’t have to be a genius to see the parallels in today’s world. Plus, even in 1984, there’s something quite wrong about a group of teenagers shooting things up (and as a result, it was the first to get the PG-13 rating)

Today, the concept is even more tasteless, even if the Xbox generation would be damn good shots. However, the studios in 2009 didn’t see a problem with any of this, so the green light was given.

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MGM went broke

Despite the film being shot for $40-50 million (and it being in the can), the studio couldn’t afford the funds to release it. As a result, it hung in limbo, missing its 2010 release date. Now, one could argue that this was a good thing, as it would now come out after Thor, and with Hemsworth’s star wattage set to increase, it will now most likely attract larger audiences. However, there are now new problems…

No-one wants to buy the film

This week, the L.A. Times published an article which stated the Red Dawn remake was being shopped around to potential buyers at other studios.

However, the rumour is that no-one wants to buy it. Now, it’s not because it’s a bad film (not confirmed), but because, in the remake, the invaders are a Chinese army, which means that Hollywood doesn’t want to…

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Piss off the Chinese audience

Despite many films being censored in China, the country is the fifth-biggest box office market outside of the U.S., bringing in $1.5 billion in revenue. That’s a huge amount of cash, even by Hollywood standards.

As a result, many studios work closely with the country. Examples? Well, the recent remake of The Karate Kid was produced in conjunction with the China Film Group, which is in turn run by the Chinese government. Meanwhile, a new Disney theme park is currently being built in China, too.

As a result, insulting China probably isn’t a great idea, as many studios have realised over the past decade or so. Take the  well publicised controversy over thelikes of Martin Scorsese’s Kundun as an example of that (and it’s not the only one).

Despite the studio concerns, China has yet to say anything publicly about the remake. The L.A. Times reported though that a leaked version of the script last year resulted in critical editorials in the Global Times. And the Global Times is a Communist party-controlled paper. It’s not too tricky to join the dots.

The L.A. Times further added that mock propaganda posters of the U.S. Capitol building smashed by a hammer even generated excitement in the country, with one Chinese blogger quoted by the paper saying, “There is no hope for theatrical screening [implying that the film would be subjected to state censorship], wait for pirated version.”

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Still, this has led MGM to….

Erase the Chinese from the film

That’s right. Due to the above concerns, MGM are now busy digitally erasing Chinese flags and military symbols from the Red Dawn remake. Not just that, but the studio is re-editing dialogue and altering the film to depict much of the invading force as being from North Korea, a country that no-one seems to worry about offending.

The re-shoots are set to cost just under $1 million and will include changing an opening prologue depicting the film’s backdrop, re-editing two scenes and transforming many Chinese symbols to Korean. It seems that all references to China will be impossible to erase, but it will definitely be North Korea that’s the ‘Big Bad’.

“We were initially very reluctant to make any changes,” said Tripp Vinson, one of the movie’s producers. “But after careful consideration we constructed a way to make a scarier, smarter and more dangerous ‘Red Dawn’ that we believe improves the movie.”

That’s one way of looking at it. Another is MGM’s way.

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According to Mike Vollman, executive vice president of worldwide marketing, “We have been working with the film Red Dawn‘s director and producers to make the most commercially viable version of the film for audiences worldwide. We want to ensure the most people possible are able to experience it.” In short: we want as much money as possible.

Interestingly, Dan Bradley has kept pretty quiet over the whole affair.

Of course, this now means the film is about the whole of the U.S. being invaded and conquered by North Korea. Now, considering the bankrupt country can barely switch on a TV without international attention, it’ll be interesting to see how the film deals with this.

If the re-shoots and re-editing doesn’t work, then it is expected that Red Dawn will remain in MGM’s vaults or simply go straight to DVD in the U.S.

If only the studio had thought about all of this in 2009…

L.A. Times

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