In the 80s, the US was still involved in the Cold War with the Soviet Union. Yes, the same Cold War that caused the McCarthy era blacklisting among Hollywood in the 50s was still going. Tensions were high. Uncertainty permeated every facet of life. Red Dawn capitalized on those fears by introducing the audience to the possibility of invasion by not only Russian forces but Cuban forces as well. Perhaps it’s because we are so far removed by that threat, the original Red Dawn never feels quite as tense as the remake and as such, it falls flat and never quite makes sense.
Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, and C. Thomas Howell star as Jed Eckert, Matt Eckert, and Robert Morris, the teenagers who flee from Calumet, Colorado when Soviet troops land near their high school and open fire on the school, killing students and hastily occupying the city. Joining them later are Erica Mason (Lea Thompson) and her sister Toni (Jennifer Grey). Intertitles mark the passage of time as the high schoolers hide in the wilderness then slowly start to fight back against the occupation, calling themselves Wolverines after their old school mascot.
For being the original film, Red Dawn makes absolutely no sense. Had I not seen the remake, I don’t think this film would have made any sense in the grand scheme of things. Where the remake showcases the training the kids go through to become insurgents and precise guerrilla soldiers, this film makes it seem like hunting and fishing skills eventually morph into military type skills. I don’t know how to hunt or fish but that seems like it’s a bit far-fetched.
Not only that but the acting was so overdramatic. I think that is simply a staple of classic 80s teen films. It usually doesn’t bother me. Thompson’s Erica was a strange mix of neurotic and quiet that led to out of the blue blow ups that she simply seems unnatural. Not to mention her “romance” with Powers Boothe’s Air Force Captain was really creepy and unneeded in this film. No one else had a “romantic” subplot, not even Jed and Toni.
Also, speaking of Grey and Thomson’s characters, I felt that they were just tacked onto the group of boys. No time was spent on them or their feelings, besides maybe Erica. They got lost in the mass of masculine, army boy testosterone which is sad because no doubt they would’ve been kick ass if given half the chance of the boys.
Maybe it’s because it’s an 80s film or maybe I went from a modern film to an 80s film with its distinct lack of technology. I certainly thought the original Red Dawn was far inferior to the remake. Of course, a lot of it is all a matter of opinion and generational distance.