The Red Dawn remake is finally upon us and it turns out to be a real surprise. Delayed for almost two years by a studio bankruptcy, the movie was the subject of some serious revisions and a ton of rumors that it would never actually be released, the movie hits theaters as a straight-up action picture that should have a lot of appeal to viewers who can approach it without a lot of baggage from the original.
Red Dawn 2012 is almost exactly the same movie as the 1984 classic, minus writer/director John Milius' attack on the post-Vietnam decline of American warrior culture. The original is a stone classic but its critique of (read: attack on) a civilian population disconnected from military culture wouldn't play in a post-9/11 world. (Of course, that doesn't mean it wouldn't be valid, just that no one would put up with it in our "Support the Troops" bumpersticker world). Red Dawn 2012 focuses on the plot, amps up the effects and concentrates on delivering the action goods.
Josh Peck gives what should be a breakthrough performance as high-school-quarterback-turned guerilla-leader Matt Eckert, the same part that made Charlie Sheen a movie star back in the day. That's the same Josh Peck who played the magic-loving high school kid in Drake & Josh, Nickelodeon's tribute to the comic stylings of Martin & Lewis. Josh sat down with us to talk about the movie and his transformation from kid actor to adult action star.
Red Dawn filmed in early 2010 and features Josh, a pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth (in the Patrick Swayze part), Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Powers Boothe), Adrianne Palicki from Friday Night Lights (Jennifer Grey), Isabel Lucas (Leanne Thompson), Josh Hutcherson (C. Thomas Howell) and Tom's kid Connor Cruise (Darren Dalton) as the Wolverines. MGM went into bankruptcy after the film was completed and there were some serious questions about the fate of the movie, especially since the reboot was about a Chinese invasion of the Pacific Northwest and most of the investors who might rescue the studio's assets had some Chinese money attached.
Digital magic transformed Chinese invaders into North Korean ones and it really helped that the invasion leader happened to be played by an actor of Korean descent (Will Yun Lee from Die Another Day), so the changes actually made the movie make more sense. That's the kind of detail designed to send 45-year-old Red Dawn fanatics into a frenzy, but the movie never really defined the enemy in a specific enough way to make the changes a big deal.
UTR: How did you get from TV comedy to a full-blown action picture?
Josh: I had done some independent movies while we were shooting Drake & Josh, a movie called Mean Creek and that led me to this film The Wackness with Ben Kingsley. I had been afforded the opportunity while doing Drake & Josh to sharpen my teeth in some more gritty dramas. From The Wackness, I met the producers of Red Dawn and we were immediately intrigued with one another and wanted to find the right vehicle and, after about a year, Red Dawn came into our lives and it seemed like the perfect match.
UTR: Whose idea was it to remake Red Dawn? What do you say to readers who are worried about a remake of their favorite '80s movie?
Josh: "Before our producers got the rights, I'm sure it had been on the studio's mind for a while because it was so revered in its original form. It lended itself to be remade with the technical advances of today and the way action movies are shot, it seemed like the perfect sort of vehicle to improve upon what the original had done so well already. Like a lot of your readers, the producers were diehard fans and the idea of being part of a new Red Dawn was really attractive to them."
UTR: How did you prepare for all the action in the picture?
Josh: "I had six weeks with Navy SEALs for the physical training with a guy named Logan Hood and then I had a week of Marine boot camp with the rest of the cast. We were in Simi Valley CA in an old, broken-down paintball town and we were shooting high-powered BB guns and learning different strategies and techniques. It was nine Wolverines against three Marines and it could've been 30 of us against them and it wouldn't have made a difference because we stood no chance."
UTR: What was the 2 1/2 year delay after you finished production like for you?
Josh: "It was challenging. You always go through some anxiety after you finish a film because there's a year of post-production. I was really confident in the film so I knew that in the right hands it would have its days. There were definitely a couple of dog days in April 2011 when I was like, 'Man, I really hope this thing comes out.'"
UTR: How much work was involved for you after the producers decided that the Chinese invaders were now Korean?
Josh: "We didn't do any reshoots. Anything that's changed with the enemy is purely from a digital standpoint in changing flags and certain coloring to insignia. And, obviously, the overdubbing of the Korean language for the main General in the the film."
UTR: Were you ever afraid the film wasn't going to be released?
Josh: "I think there was a lot of challenges. The producers and filmmaker lived with the possibility every day. for me as well it was like, "It's time for this to come out. I worked on it for six months of training but they worked on it for two years. I felt like they really deserved for this thing to be seen."
UTR: What do you have to say to people who hate the idea of a remake?
Josh: "This movie falls victim to 'contempt prior to investigation.' A lot of people had preconceived notions or thought there was a huge political bent with the film or that it was saying something that it wasn't. Once people see it, they understand what it truly is, which is a throwback action blockbuster film that's escapism. I knew that if people watched it in that respect, it wouldn't warrant as much controversy."
So, Red Dawn remake. If you grew up watching Nickelodeon, Josh Peck is going to blow your mind here. He wasn't an obvious choice for this movie and he looks totally convincing next to Chris Hemsworth. The screening here in Atlanta was full of young kids who've never heard of the original and they loved the movie, especially all the explosions that far outstrip anything from the original. There's a twist on the deer blood ritual scene that functions as a defiant raised middle finger to anyone who dares question their right to remake a classic.
If you think remaking Red Dawn is the equivalent of trying to remake The Godfather, you might want to stay home. If you're too young for the original and need to slip out of the house over the holidays for an action fix, this one should definitely do the trick.