Friday, April 12, 2013

Red Dawn vs Tomorrow, When the War Began

Red Dawn, 2012, Dan Bradley (stunt man, first time director) -- download
Tomorrow, When the War Began, 2010, Stuart Beattie (writer, first time director) -- Netflix

Red Dawn is the remake of the classic 80s movie ("Wolverines !!") about teenagers in a small American town reacting to invasion by Russia and their Cuban allies.  Tomorrow, When the War Began is the recent movie, based on a series of teen novels, about small town Australia being invaded by "the coalition of three countries" -- Korea and allies.  Neither are very good.

The original Red Dawn was not very good either.  But it was a classic adventure story where teenagers and young adults stand up to oppressive authority and overcome the odds.  And unrealistically defend their town against trained soldiers.  As a kid who "played guns" I was convinced (at 15-16) that we could have done the same, with no problem.

The remake is a patch-work of all the sentiments and ideas from the first movie but blandly updated to the current age.  It was supposed to be China, but China is an American economic ally so it had to be Korea, with some backing from ex-Russia special forces.  You might even assume they are related to the Russians from the first movie.  By patch-work, I am not kidding.  It literally pieces together a bunch of rah-rah patriotism scenes with combat scenes under a non-existent plot.  The dialogue barely serves any purpose, the acting is unfocused and shouty and the villains are disposable.  Hell, even some of the main cast are disposable as, when two youngsters died, it took me ten minutes to determine which ones were killed.  You could see the way this would have been story-boarded with connector arrows on a giant white board, but the stunt man now director assumed the suits meant for him to do it literally.

Bad movie.

And yet, would you expect the movie based on teen novels to be better?  It was, but not by much.  This was CW (the TV channel) style of casting and production where we have the average girl, the pretty girl, the Christian girl and the chubby girl.  We have the pretty guy, the dumb tough guy, the sensitive guy and the stoner.  Once again, we are given the plot where they are away from their small town when the Bad Guys invade.  Subjected to the capture and/or death of family and friends, they have to figure out what to do next -- hide or fight back.

There is a primary difference in these movies and it really highlighted the difference between American and Australian ideals.  In both movies, the kids are overwhelmed and frightened by a situation they didn't think they could happen to their country.  Red Dawn quickly moves onto the patriotic decision to train and fight, moving through montages of learning to shoot, guerrilla tactics and finally expertly defeating (seemingly) badly trained enemies.  Its all about raising the guns over their head and shouting "Wolverines!" while ignoring any ramifications kids-becoming-soldiers might have. At least the first version showed the toil it took on their young psyches.

Tomorrow, When the War Began really focuses on the fear and trauma the kids are going through. That they have to fight back is overshadowed by the fact they are about to kill people.  They know they will have to but it is considered reprehensible.  The main character Ellie even asks, "Really, it just comes down to the fact that I valued my life over theirs, doesn’t it? How many people is it okay to kill in order to keep me alive?"  There is the knowledge they are fighting for their families and there is the knowledge they will have to kill people, some who are not much older than they are.  Even the Christian girl, with her "thou shalt not kill" is put in a tough situation.

Unfortunately, even with these challenging topics posed, the movie is not very good.  Why would they be having boy-talk conversations in the middle of "an operation" ?  And there are too many Baysplosions and too few skilled soldiers.  There really is only one operation against the invaders, but it is supposed to be the first in a series of movies, so that is (thankfully) understandable.  As I said, it is meant to be teen-novel / CW light so it is forgiven its naivete and it is leaps and bounds ahead of its American counterpart.