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The trailer for the remake of Red Dawn has surfaced on the web, and it is shocking. This movie - about an invasion of the American homeland - may be the most brutally subversive critique of US foreign policy since Apocalypse Now. The preview is a catalogue of why our military interventions fail, and why insurgencies succeed. You should watch this film, bring friends, and talk about it afterwards. It might make you write to your Congressman. It might change how you see everything.

Just 39 seconds into the trailer the audience witnesses an airborne operation from the ground - menacing and beautiful columns of aircraft with an American flag in the foreground. The slow-moving line of planes is like a distorted World War II propaganda film, or CNN footage of one of our TV wars with the POV reversed. Immediately an accident destroys a suburban home and brings the terror into stark focus. In that one instant the filmmakers thoroughly dismantle the notion that a tactic like "Shock and Awe" could be anything but a strategic disaster, as "collateral damage" poisons the legitimacy of the attacker among the civilian populations. You can't kill a man's family, and then win his heart and mind with a pamphlet, the director seems to be telling us. Why didn't we realize this before?

Characters then talk about the enemy's superior technology:

"How did this happen? There's a new class of weapon. Everything went offline and
never came back."

The occupier has an edge. But right away, we know that such a weapon can be stolen or defeated. And so the filmmakers explain how a vicious, determined insurgency rises out of the wreckage of a defeated country and destroys its conquerors.

The group coalesces around an off-duty Marine, who trains them in combat tactics and marksmanship:

"I can't. Yes, you can. Just relax... and squeeze."

"I'm going to fight. Anyone else who wants to join is welcome to. We'll hit them on our terms."

The makers of Red Dawn are reminding us of the disastrous decision of the Coalition Provisional Authority to disband the Iraqi army, creating a large class of unemployed and angry people who could organize into a potent threat. At the same time they know that bringing security forces into our orbit does not necessarily solve the problem. Local military and law enforcement always have the potential to connect with hostile elements and betray the occupying army from within. In a few spare words of dialogue this movie is presenting us with the most deadly paradox any victorious military faces if it wants to seize a country and recreate it in its own image.

The video shows the insurgent forces grappling with the invading army using their superior knowledge of the terrain and an ability to move easily in the local population. Every mall, every street becomes a potential trap for the occupier. The director's visual of the Wolverines popping out from the ground reminds us of Arminius crushing the Roman legions in the Teutoburg Forest. Smarter men than this author have observed that the modern Teutoburg - the wilderness that neutralizes the superior equipment and tactics of 21st century centurions - is the human terrain of cities, suburbs, and even virtual networks. We enter this wilderness every time we intervene. But Red Dawn makes it really visible to a civilian audience for the first time.

The rebel leader tells us why they are so effective in the clip: "We're the Wolverines. And we create chaos." An occupying army has to rebuild infrastructure, provide services, and demonstrate its power without brutalizing the people. The rebels just have to topple whatever was painstakingly built in a single, violent moment. And it is always easier, much easier, to destroy than create. We have to relearn this lesson every time we invade a country and attempt to win its people over, Red Dawn reminds us. When will we stop forgetting it?

But it's the personal story of the insurgent commander and his brother that has the most revealing, and depressing, message for US policymakers. As a military officer kills their father, he tells his boys to avenge his death:

"Boys, I love you both. But I want you to do what I would do. Kill this piece of -" He never finishes his sentence. But he doesn't have to.

"They messed with the wrong family," the insurgent commander says later. It is a chilling statement, with a logic as pitiless as Napoleon's famous dictum: "The moral is to the physical as three to one."
"For them, this is just some place," the insurgent commander says, revealing his tactical, strategic, and psychological advantage at once. "For us, this is our home." And these advantages can only multiply. As the occupying force kills fathers, sons, cousins, and friends they only create the next generation of fighters, ever more determined and ever more ruthless. It is the seeming genius of Red Dawn to show us this truth in what would otherwise be a relatively tired action movie plot point.

But it's the meta-narrative of Red Dawn that transcends the medium, and delivers a powerful and vital message to people who haven't even seen the movie. The film's creators originally portrayed the Chinese army as the primary villains, but studio heads forced them to change the antagonists to North Koreans in post-production, according to media reports like this LA Times article.

"The changes illustrate just how much sway China's government has in the global entertainment industry, even without uttering a word of official protest," the report states. "Hollywood has learned the hard way that besmirching China's image on-screen can have long-running implications for the many arms of a modern media conglomerate."

It's obvious that the makers of this film have created a brilliant piece of Andy Kaufman-style performance art around the production of Red Dawn. As the movie is a commentary about the foolishness of fighting multiple insurgencies around the globe, the media chatter surrounding it focuses our attention on how our military expenditures drain our economy of resources while the Chinese government - the villain who must not be identified - uses economic leverage to change the behavior of some of the largest and most powerful American companies.

"For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill," according to Sun Tzu. "To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill." The creators of Red Dawn have drawn our attention to this strategic fact without directly stating it.

The tone and execution of the film are very similar to this bit of journalistic theater. Red Dawn, an artful takedown of American militarism, is so similar to the kind of ignorant, simplistic movies that celebrate this militarism, that some may question whether it is pitch-perfect satire at all. Some might even believe it is praising exactly what it condemns. But this is impossible. For the people who made Red Dawn to expect us to take it as a straightforward blockbuster, they'd have to believe this country has learned absolutely nothing from the awful ordeals of its recent past which have killed thousands of its bravest, most idealistic young people and devastated their families. It would have to be a film produced by a nation of contemptible idiots, for a nation of contemptible idiots.

That simply can not be true.

(Cross-posted on my blog, Goblinbooks.com.)

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Comment Preferences

  •  this is a reboot... (7+ / 0-)

    of the 80's movie and it is not any sort of take down of  US militarism and it is not anything original. There are plenty of movies about people rebelling against their invaders.

    As a nation, the U.S. consumes the most hot dogs per capita. So you'd be wise to never underestimate our powers of denial.

    by jbou on Mon Aug 13, 2012 at 03:00:05 AM PDT

  •  I'm not seeing that (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ralphdog

    You are definitely seeing things in the trailer that i am not.   It appears to be very similar in concept to the original...and that was certainly not a criticism of US policy.

    "When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross." - Sinclair Lewis

    by Bob Duck on Mon Aug 13, 2012 at 03:13:15 AM PDT

  •  this movie is a violent racist fantasy cash in (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ralphdog, tarminian, Black Max, Aspe4, FG

    from a director who has gone way the fuck off the deep end, but still needs to eat, so, he's gone back to the well

    the movie was shelved for 3 years due to MGM being unable to finance distribution.  i was hoping it would stay shelved, because, besides being xenophobic propaganda, it's going to be an embarrassment to the young actors who i imagine didn't really know what shit they were signing themselves up for.  

    but 2 of the kids turned into huge box office stars, Avengers and Hunger Games, so, we all get to watch the nuts of society come out of the woodwork to line up for this move

    i should also note that the villains in the movie are actually Chinese, but they were digitally altered because the Chinese market opened up and they didn't want to piss off a big new country of customers

    you really misread this movie.  sorry.

    so long and thanks for all the fish

    by Anton Bursch on Mon Aug 13, 2012 at 03:50:05 AM PDT

  •  I don't know what's in the movie (7+ / 0-)

    ...but I found these passages from the review quite satisfying:

    Immediately an accident destroys a suburban home and brings the terror into stark focus. In that one instant the filmmakers thoroughly dismantle the notion that a tactic like "Shock and Awe" could be anything but a strategic disaster, as "collateral damage" poisons the legitimacy of the attacker among the civilian populations. You can't kill a man's family, and then win his heart and mind with a pamphlet, the director seems to be telling us. Why didn't we realize this before?
    "For them, this is just some place," the insurgent commander says, revealing his tactical, strategic, and psychological advantage at once. "For us, this is our home." And these advantages can only multiply. As the occupying force kills fathers, sons, cousins, and friends they only create the next generation of fighters, ever more determined and ever more ruthless.
    "For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill," according to Sun Tzu. "To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill."
    Closing paragraph was nicely droll, as well.


    A child of five would understand this. Send someone to fetch a child of five. -- Groucho Marx

    by Pluto on Mon Aug 13, 2012 at 03:56:38 AM PDT

  •  Why insurgencies succeed? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Black Max

    Save your money, watch  "The Battle of Algiers" instead. (French with subtitles. A pity Johnson never saw it. Nixon should have watched it instead of Patton.))

    ",,, the Political whorehouse that is Fox News." Keith Olbermann

    by irate on Mon Aug 13, 2012 at 04:09:16 AM PDT

  •  The North Koreans?? (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Aspe4, Debby, Dont Just Stand There

    Is this remake a comedy?

    The thing about quotes on the internet is you cannot confirm their validity. ~Abraham Lincoln

    by raboof on Mon Aug 13, 2012 at 04:27:10 AM PDT

    •  No, but it might as well be. (4+ / 0-)

      That's the diarist's point, though his snark it a bit too subtle for this crowd, apparently.  

      "Well, yeah, the Constitution is worth it if you succeed." - Nancy Pelosi // Question: "succeed" at what?

      by nailbender on Mon Aug 13, 2012 at 04:41:19 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Well, yeah. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Pluto

        But wouldn't it be great if this remake really was a comedy? Not a subtle and snarky criticism, but an over-the-top farce?

        The thing about quotes on the internet is you cannot confirm their validity. ~Abraham Lincoln

        by raboof on Mon Aug 13, 2012 at 04:46:46 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Well it's hard to compete with actual RW idiocy (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          raboof

          when it comes to making fun of reactionaries.  Of course, since their machinations often bear bitter fruit, it's pretty hard to laugh at them, even when they're as over the top stupid as this film is.  

          Remember the Atlas Shrugged film, though?  It was pure unintentional satirical gold, if you recall.  Maybe this one will match or eclipse it!

          "Well, yeah, the Constitution is worth it if you succeed." - Nancy Pelosi // Question: "succeed" at what?

          by nailbender on Mon Aug 13, 2012 at 05:01:25 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  War Porn = Waste of Time (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Black Max

    asdf

    When I'm stupid and incompetent financially, I get calls from collection agencies and higher interest rates. When the 1% are stupid and incompetent financially they get billions from the government.

    by tarminian on Mon Aug 13, 2012 at 04:30:32 AM PDT

  •  I was browsing Minecraft videos with my son, (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Odysseus, Pluto

    and we came across one that involved a fantasy of blowing up Osama and Kim Jong-Il.  I found myself wondering why the teens who made the video had strong feelings about Kim.  Sure, he's a bad guy, but his power to threaten us is about as potent as Luxembourg's.

    The kid who made the video was much too young to remember the Axis of Evil speech.  But I guess Rush isn't.  Who is pushing this narrative of North Korea as the Big Bad?  And pushing it so hard that it filters down to the kids?

    Do we need an external enemy that badly?  Also: The Mouse That Roared.

    Early to rise and early to bed Makes a man healthy, wealthy, and dead. --Not Benjamin Franklin

    by Boundegar on Mon Aug 13, 2012 at 05:29:08 AM PDT

  •  C'mon (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Pluto

    I enjoyed the review even though the movie looks like just another rehash of an earlier movie that made money- Total Recall, Spiderman, Superman tons of examples of remakes, remakes called reboots, remakes called whatever.

    I look forward to PB's future reviews and his Oscar picks diary!

  •  Isn't it kind of a joke to make the invaders North (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    raboof, Odysseus

    Koreans?  With what we know about North Korea, how could it be believable?

    That's one more thing to add to my long list of small problems. --my son, age 10

    by concernedamerican on Mon Aug 13, 2012 at 05:53:41 AM PDT

  •  Dudes, the diary is even TAGGED as "Satire" (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    raboof, Aspe4, Debby

    I'm looking forward to this one because it looks so stupid and jingoistic.  My god, this one comes with its own Coleman Lantern, it's so campy.

    Besides, anything advancing the career of Chris Hemsworth.

    Or letting me watch Isabel Lucas breathe.

    -----
    Tom Smith Online
    I want a leader who shoots for the moon. The last time we had one, we got to the moon.

    by filkertom on Mon Aug 13, 2012 at 06:11:59 AM PDT

  •  I'll more than likely see it (0+ / 0-)

    If for no other reason than I know one of the guys that worked on the production team

  •  Two schools of thought in this thread: (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FG

    1) How idiotic is this diary, considering the original film inspires right-wing militia wannabes even today, and the reboot seems ready to go even further down that same jingoistic, militia-minded path?

    2) This is snark, you idiots, read the tag.

    Just a reminder: anyone can change tags. If this is snark, it's so deadpan as to fly under almost everyone's radar.

  •  Good one. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Pluto

    I saw the headline and thought it would have been fine if the word "most" had been replaced with "least".  Reading through it, however, I could see how it could be a pretty good movie - if it were set in Afghanistan.

    I am become Man, the destroyer of worlds

    by tle on Mon Aug 13, 2012 at 06:54:57 AM PDT

  •  A Burkian analysis (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Pluto, houyhnhnm

    This post is made possible by the "paradox of the absolute" (Kenneth Burke, "A Grammar of Motives", p.35 and others) . The movie, by being a near perfect (pure) expose of right wing nuttery, opens itself up to the opposite interpretation as the only ground left to form a backdrop for the drama.

    In other words, as this movie seems to have fully claimed, puritanically, the point of view of one side of a dialectic, the only remaining language available to for a critique is the pure form of the opposing point of view. And both sides are equally true to the drama (hence the diary above as a negation of the authors intent)! Wow.

    F'ing brilliant!

    -peace

    "There are two kinds of truth, small truth and great truth. You can recognize a small truth because its opposite is a falsehood. The opposite of a great truth is another truth." -- Niels Bohr

    by paxpi on Mon Aug 13, 2012 at 07:02:28 AM PDT

  •  Nice satire. (0+ / 0-)

    This flick should be released straight to Mystery Science Theater.

  •  The Snow globe shake made me think ah T-Rex! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Pluto

    and dinosaurs would have been more fun... also as soon as any Hollywood trailer cuts into some lame Linkin Park, Korn Lite 'angry' music, I tend to need to leave...

    I wonder if it's going to be like the limp Australian film Tomorrow When The War Began where we never get the enemy pov, which Red Dawn for all it's flaws did at least give the Russian-Cuban alliance version of events...

    "Never trust a man who, when left alone with a tea cosy, doesn't try it on!!"

    by EcosseNJ on Mon Aug 13, 2012 at 07:30:35 AM PDT

  •  Interesting premise, didn't achieve full potential (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Bob Duck, Pluto, houyhnhnm

    This review caught my attention with its title.

    After the first two paragraphs, I was hooked. I said to myself, "Self, this was more than mere writing, it was genuine typing."

    But then, the review flew too high, tried to over-reach in concept - Like Borat-as-Icarus, flying a 767 laden with harbor seals and anvils into an outdoor installation of concept art in front of the Louvre.

    However, there were sudden bright spots in the review that leaped to the fore, like the stars bursting in a migraine.

    "It's obvious that the makers of this film have created a brilliant piece of Andy Kaufman-style performance art around the production of Red Dawn."
    The writer could have chosen the obvious and quotidian path and stated the makers of the film had created yet another undersea documentary as a metaphor for the people's fascination with trivets, adroitly wrapped in an action film tarp. But he did not, and we are all the more grateful for the insight.

    Although perhaps sometimes uneven in treatment, it was an overall well executed review with a subtle, yet concise underlying criticism of today's metal stamping industry.

    Disclaimer: Weapons of Mass Destruction and terrorists may vary according to region, definition, and purpose. Belief systems pandered separately.

    by BlackBandFedora on Mon Aug 13, 2012 at 07:34:31 AM PDT

  •  The northwest corridor (0+ / 0-)

    is populated exclusively by white folk and the occasional black...who knew?

    In wine there is wisdom, in beer there is freedom, in water there is bacteria. Ben Franklin

    by nokkonwud on Mon Aug 13, 2012 at 08:52:45 AM PDT

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