Red Dawn: An ’80s Classic Or an Outdated Dud?

RED DAWN, from left; Darren Dalton, C. Thomas Howell, Charlie Sheen, Jennifer Grey, Patrick Swayze, Brad Savage, Lea Thompson, 1984,
MGM/courtesy Everett Collection

Having been born on the Soviet side of the Cold War, I thought it was time to finally watch the 1984 film Red Dawn, which follows a group of Colorado teenagers, named the Wolverines after their high school’s football team, as they fight against a Soviet/Cuban invasion at the start of a fictional World War III. Considered the most violent film at the time of its release, the movie, which came out to very mixed reviews, has clearly made a cultural impact, being that Wolverines graffiti was spotted in Ukraine during the start of the current conflict with Russia. (There was also a pretty funny 2003 episode of South Park in which the elderly residents go to war with the children over their reckless driving and refusal to give up their driver’s licenses.)

I get it, I do! Except for mullets and neon spandex, nothing was cooler in the 1980s than destroying communists — and now that mullets and spandex are back in style, and it’s cool to hate Russians again, we have proven yet again that all cultural trends come back around eventually. However, this movie is just not very good. A 2012 remake starring Chris Hemsworth in which North Korean invaders take over the U.S. has an even lower critic score than the original.

RED DAWN, Patrick Swayze, Darren Dalton, Charlie Sheen, C. Thomas Howell, Jennifer Grey, Lea Thompson, Brad Savage, 1984

MGM/courtesy Everett Collection

Why? It’s not the concept of foreign invaders that makes these films fall flat. No one is claiming that as an impossibility. It’s just not done well. A flimsy concept with an even flimsier follow-through is a recipe for an unsatisfactory movie, despite the all-star cast, which included Charlie Sheen, C. Thomas Howell, Harry Dean Stanton as well as future Dirty Dancing duo Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey. Had this movie come out today and not 40 years ago, it would have likely been forgotten within the year.

Pros

The more 1980s films I watch, the more I wish I was living in them right now, or could at least take a time machine to the nearest mall. As usual, the interior design of every home is impressively well put-together, and the coat selection, especially Swayze’s leather bomber jacket, in this film is impeccable. I could do without shoulder pads and poofy hair, but one thing I can say for sure is that 1980s’ style is timeless ― or should be anyway.

The Lenin posters in the background were great, in terms of believability anyway. Made me feel right at home!

RED DAWN, 1984,

MGM/Courtesy: Everett Collection

Cons

One big pet peeve of mine when watching American movies with Russians in them is that they never hire Russian-speaking actors to play Russians. I’ll give these guys credit for trying to speak convincingly, but couldn’t they find one actual Russian immigrant to consult with production? The Russian in this movie is so bad. It’s not just that the translations were slightly off, but even when they spoke Russian, sometimes it sounded like half gibberish and half German. There’s a scene where a Soviet soldier is dying and he is supposedly saying God help me, and he doesn’t use the word God or help. I have no idea what he was even attempting to say. It just feels a little lazy.

RED DAWN, Darren Dalton, 1984

Courtesy of Everett Collection.

In addition to the subpar plot, character development was probably the biggest issue for me. The teenagers are cartoonishly two-dimensional, with nothing much to distinguish them, other than the fact that I could recognize Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen. Lea Thompson‘s character seemed overly distraught over the death of a soldier who is only with the group for a very brief time. I think we were supposed to care, but I just didn’t, because none of the characters seemed like real people so it made it hard to care when any of them died. A lot of the dialogue is overwrought and overly hysterical, too.

Also, you really want to tell me that a bunch of American teenagers with no military training can outsmart the Soviet army? During winter? Is this a fantasy film? Sorry, just not buying it.

RED DAWN, Lea Thompson, Patrick Swayze, 1984,

MGM/courtesy Everett Collection

Questions

Is it ever explained why exactly the Soviet Union decided to invade and for what purpose? Writers often write about things that give them anxiety, so I understand why during the Cold War one might attempt to foresee what a Soviet invasion would look like, but if you’re going to do that, at least come up with a reason!

Furthermore, I have never met one person from the Soviet Union who speaks Spanish. How are the Soviet soldiers communicating with soldiers from Cuba and Nicaragua? In the film they just understand each other somehow. At least throw an interpreter in there.

And More Questions

Did they win? The plaque at the end commemorates the Wolverines who died at the beginning of World War III. I have to assume since the plaque is in English and not Russian that they won, but considering the lack of attention paid to languages throughout the film, I cannot say for sure, and that should be something viewers are told. This may be a biased opinion, but I think the Soviet Union would have won this war, at least in the 1980s, which, judging from all the films of the era I’ve been watching, seemed like a really fun time in America. You know what wasn’t fun in the 1980s? Life in the Soviet Union! Which, sadly, would make for a stronger army (also, they had required army service, and a much larger population). Sorry, Wolverines.

What did you think of the movie Red Dawn? Do you think it holds up?

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