Gen Z Reviews Classic Movies | 'Red Dawn' is the most violent film of its time but barely worth the trouble now
'Red Dawn' was the most violent film of its time in terms of kill count (2.23 acts of violence per minute) but we now live in a time where movies have turned violence into an art form
The year was 1984 (coincidentally) and John Milius came out with his masterpiece, 'Red Dawn'. The first movie to bear the PG-13 rating in the US, 'Red Dawn' was once declared the most violent movie ever by the Guinness Book of World Record. However, watching it now makes you really wonder what all the hype was about. Is it violent? Yes, but not nearly as much as many of the movies that have been released in the 30-odd years since 'Red Dawn' hit the silver screen.
Keep in mind, the 'Rambo' series had only just begun two years ago and was yet to really get into form. And even in its year of release, 'Red Dawn' only holds the distinction of having been the first PG-13 movies because 'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom' and 'Gremlins' had both been criticized for the level of violence they featured despite having a PG rating.
So in other words, it's not so much that 'Red Dawn' was so violent they had to invent a rating category for it, it's just that it was the first to come out after the change had already been made. It was still the most violent film of its time in terms of kill count (2.23 acts of violence per minute) but we now live in a time where movies have turned violence into an art form and sadly, beyond the violence, there's really not much to the movie.
'Red Dawn' is basically 'The Red Scare: The Cinematic Version'. The movie begins with the invasion of a town in Colorado by Soviet and Cuban troops and revolves around a bunch of teenagers (played by soon-to-be iconic actors like Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen) who begin waging guerilla warfare against the invaders.
If you knock your sense of disbelief out and leave it tied up in the attic before watching this film, you might still enjoy it. But it's so riddled with issues that it's hard to believe that this movie is something of a cult classic, to the point where the military operation that took out Saddam Hussein was called Operation Red Dawn and a remake of the movie was released in 2012.
'Red Dawn' feels like a strange combination of your grandfather's ravings about "the dirty commies" and your weird internet troll cousin's social media posts about the importance of guns and arming ourselves ahead of some phantom invasion or the other. To begin with, the movie's premise hardly holds up.
When the film begins, it is revealed that in this "near-future", NATO has broken up and Mexico is now a communist state. Yet none of that explains why the Soviets and the Cubans would pick Colorado of all places to launch their invasion. It's not a particularly well-written movie in any other aspect either. The plot seems hastily thrown together and the concept of character development doesn't seem to have been considered at any stage in the production process.
The only thing that comes close to explaining the why of the movie is Milius's own political views, which are on the very, very far right. The closest equivalents to his worldview that exist in contemporary politics are the anarcho-capitalist movements that deride both left-wing ideology and the state in equal measure. We see that distrust of the state in 'Red Dawn'. And a nice dose of hatred for "those damn dirty commies", of course.
Ultimately, the movie does have its audience today. Granted, that audience consists mostly of alt-rightists, gun nuts, and the kind of people who watch films solely for the gore, but it is an audience nonetheless. If you do hold the aforementioned political leanings, you might enjoy 'Red Dawn'. If you're just a gore fan looking for some vintage violence, you might enjoy it a little less. And if you're literally anyone else, the only reason to watch this movie is in film school or because you've been asked to review it.
'Red Dawn' was released on August 10, 1984.
'Gen Z Reviews Classic Movies' is a column that revisits some of the greatest films of all time and discerns how they hold up decades later