A still image from the upcoming film Red Dawn (2012)

Here’s a guaranteed recipe for angry comments: I’m going to review a movie that hasn’t been released yet. On your marks, enraged fans!

This fall, we’ll see a remake of the 1984 action movie Red Dawn, about a Soviet occupation of the U.S. Obviously, the Cold War is long over and nobody’s scared of ze Russians anymore, so the update will be recasting the invading force as North Koreans. Please see the chart below:

USSR population circa 1984: approximately 275 million

North Korean population 2012: approximately 24.5 million

You know, typically you want to make a sequel or remake more dramatic. This is a bigger letdown than following The Mighty Ducks 2, where the titular hockey team competes in the Junior Olympics, with The Mighty Ducks 3, where the team plays junior varsity for a prep school.

So why remake this movie in the first place? Screenwriter Carl Ellsworth explains:

“The tone is going to be very intense, very much keeping in mind the post-9/11 world that we’re in. As ‘Red Dawn’ scared the heck out of people in 1984, we feel that the world is kind of already filled with a lot of paranoia and unease, so why not scare the hell out of people again?”

So it’s a horror movie? Huh. I guess I can see the reasoning there. The original combined the fears of a Cold War U.S. with the power fantasy of average people standing up to an outside threat. So the remake taps into the post-9/11 fears of… uh… parachuting enemies troops clearly marked in military fatigues.

Mr. Ellsworth, you can’t just assume something is “post-9/11” because you wrote it after 2001. And similarly, you can’t assume that something will be scary just because it was scary once. Context is everything. The fears of 2012 are not the same as the fears of 1984. You want this movie to work, you need to update it more than just changing the nationality of the bad dudes.

Consider how popular zombies are at the moment (to steal my list from an earlier post:  The Walking Dead, World War Z, Zombieland, 28 Days LaterResident EvilPride and Prejudice and Zombies). Why are zombies so appealing, especially right now? As with all things zombie related, it’s best to ask Night of the Living Dead creator George Romero:

I also have always liked the “monster within” idea. I like the zombies being us. Zombies are the blue-collar monsters.

Every single zombie story has two defining features:

  1. The horde. A single zombie is rarely much of a threat. They’re (usually) slow and dumb. The typical threat comes from an incredible number of zombies. The heroes are always outnumbered. It’s them against the world.
  2. The transformation. At least one of the heroes will always be turned into a zombie. The only thing more important to the heroes than surviving is not becoming one of the zombies. And anyone can become a zombie.

Take a look at these two defining features. Then take a look at the sudden explosion of popularity of zombie movies. Then you can start to understand how well Romero’s “monster within” fits in with modern day fears. We’re not in a Cold War anymore. Our fears are no longer about a powerful, heavily armed “other.” Our “post-9/11” fears are rooted in insidious threats. We’re afraid of the things we take for granted being turned against us. Jet planes were transformed into missiles: that’s the essence of post-9/11 fear. Being invaded isn’t in the national consciousness. Being corrupted is.

That’s what Red Dawn is: the anti-zombie movie. That and a surefire flop.