C. Thomas Howell
RED DAWN is completely a movie of its time (1984), full of Cold War patriotic sentiments and Communist antagonism as much as any propaganda film from the 1950s. Even though it’s dated and borderline cheesy at parts, it’s still fun as an alternate universe scenario, as well as awesome in the way that a lot of 80s action movies are now. And who doesn’t want to see World War III starring Dalton from ROADHOUSE?
Director John Milius (of CONAN fame) wastes little time with set up. Within minutes, the Ruskies have landed and begun shooting kids and firing rockets in to the school. This is a good time to point out that RED DAWN is a pretty brutal film. Though the violence is never glorified—it tends to feel awkward in underage hands—the movie captures the same terse climate as BATTLE ROYALE and definitely wouldn’t get made today without significant controversy. The cast of young 80s icons helps smooth things over a bit though, including Swayze, his future filthy dancing partner Jennifer Grey, Charlie Sheen, Lea Thompson and the original Soul Man, C. Thomas Howell.
It’s obviously a political film at heart, but Milius puts other factors to work here. Throughout you’ll find comments on gender, social and especially class roles. It’s enough that the film centers on high school revolutionaries, but it goes farther and characterizes everyone by their cliques. There’s the jock, the nerd, the slimy class president—and even though everyone eventually becomes faceless soldiers behind machine guns and RPGs, their roles still subsist. Milius is a little less successful when dealing with the opposing side though. We spend too much time with several different enemies, all reinforcing what the audience already knows. (They’re the bad guys!) It’s also obvious Milius doesn’t want to just paint every Russian and Cuban as clichéd villains, but spots where he tries to characterize them as sympathetic don’t mesh too well with the rest of the movie.
RED DAWN is perhaps best at showcasing what war would look like on American soil, and what it would be like if Patrick Swayze was our only hope for freedom.
Carnage Counter: RED DAWN was once in the Guinness Book of World Records for “Most Violent Film.” Here you can keep track of each explosion and Soviet Death thanks to a nifty (and rather detailed) counter at the bottom of the screen.
Red Dawn Rising (22:59): A retrospective documentary looking back at the filming and release, with special attention to Milius’ intent in making the movie. Pretty much the entire cast also turn up for interviews, and they all agree that RED DAWN was the most fun they’ve had on a movie. C. Thomas Howell looks completely different now.
Building the Red Menace (9:37): The one thing they don’t skimp on in RED DAWN is production value. There are hordes of tanks, artillery, planes, helicopters and no CGI. Curious as to where you would get 15 Soviet tanks for filming? Watch this and find out.
Training for WWIII (9:47): The cast and crew comment on the training they received, from handling weapons to learning military strategy.
WWIII Comes to Town (13:25): A look at the production design, specifically how to create and blow up a town to make it look like a war zone.
Extra Tidbit: RED DAWN was the first movie to be released with a PG-13 rating. 2.23 glorious acts of violence occur every minute.