Red Dawn

200px-Red_dawnIt’s time to pick up the Formative 10 Films series, after abandoning it after the fourth entry…

Red Dawn. 1984. A bunch of misfit high school kids work together to defend their town from an invading Russian military force. Patrick Swayze as the cool older brother. Charlie Sheen. Lea Thompson (I had such an ’80s crush on Lea…). Jennifer Grey. What’s not to love? WOLVERINES!

I was in grade 10, a misfit outcast just starting high school, and watched this movie maybe a dozen times. It was set in small town redneck Colorado. Which felt not too different from Calgary…

There was something about the threat and horror of nuclear war, “the enemy” on North American soil, and an underground guerilla resistance movement that stopped and repelled the invaders that captured my imagination. It’s something that would be simply taught in history class for anyone growing up in Europe – but here, safe in Canada, we’ve never had to put much serious thought into aggressive invading armies (well, not for a few years, anyway, but we showed them! *shakesfist*)

I guess what caught me was the forced self reliance, the adaptability, the absolution of caste, and the need to work together to survive. Sure, the movie was violent, but it was a guerilla war movie. It needed to be violent. The fact that it wasn’t a shiny, happy, “good guys always win” story was important, too. The Wolverines didn’t magically kick Soviet ass, as they would have in a Jerry Bruckheimer or Michael Bay film. They struggled. They died. They sacrificed. And in the end the remaining survivors withdraw in the hopes of finding others.

Growing up in Canada, I wasn’t living in daily fear of Soviet invasion, or nuclear warheads raining out of the skies. We figured if anything went down, we’d likely be catching the debris as Reagan’s Star Wars™ shield zapped Soviet missiles over Canadian airspace. Boom and sizzle, sure, but not invading occupation forces. During the olympics in ’88, the Soviet team pins and jackets were the hottest items for trade. Everyone wanted to get Soviet stuff, and meet the athletes. Certainly no fear, at least.

And now I see they’re doing a remake of the movie, due out in 2010. Not sure how I feel about that. The TV series Jericho, which was a thinly veiled revamping of Red Dawn, didn’t do so well.


corral-driveinJim’s recent post including the drive-in intermission clip made me think about the last time I watched a movie in a drive-in. It was 1980, and my family packed into the Olds Custom Cruiser station wagon to head out to the Corral Drive-In. My sister and I got to stretch out in the back of the car to watch the movie in comfort. We’d do that pretty regularly. I remember back when the sound came from a box that fit onto the window of the car – before they got all fancy with their own mini radio stations for the audio.

alligator-posterThe movie was Alligator. Not great cinema, but it was memorable. It scared the crap out of me. I remember being scared to sit on the toilet for a long time after watching this – and having to flush a few times beforehand just in case an alligator was stuck in the pipe. I still think about this movie. Giant man-eating alligator, terrorizing a city. Because some schlub kid flushed his pet down the toilet.

B Movie Monster Sci Fi at its best, and worst. I remember the acting being terrible, but somehow compelling. I remember not seeing the alligator for much of the movie – being more afraid of not seeing it than when it was attacking. Not as powerful as Jaws, but more terrifying because it was lurking beneath the city. It could be lurking beneath my city (if I forget for a moment that my city is well below freezing for much of the year, and there’s little hope that an alligator would survive there, never mind thriving to 2000 pounds of man-eating terror).

Yet another of the films that affected me while growing up, with a strong zoological (or at least cryptozoological) angle. This does explain the whole BSc Zoology thing (although – was the fascination with these movies correlative or causative?)

star trek: the motion picture

I was a hardcore Star Trek geek as a kid. Who wasn’t, really? Captain Kirk going all maverick on the galaxy, finding cool new planets, and nailing hot alien babes. Space is cool! I think I watched every episode at least a couple dozen times – yay syndicated reruns – but for some reason it’s the first motion picture version of the franchise (released in 1979) that really affected me.


Holy crap. The Voyager space probe, damaged and worn. And pissed off, looking for its creator.

So, we fire off some probes into space. We don’t have the technology to really track them, or communicate with them. 300 years later, one is found by a mechanical civilization, and taken in as an injured entity. Repaired, as well as it could be, then sent home. Hindsight makes it pretty clear that this is at least the precursor to the Borg storylines – mechanical civilizations, attempts to communicate with them, etc…

It brought up all kinds of issues that have nothing to do with science fiction – do we have a responsibility to the things we create? What does it mean to be “the creator”? What does this mean with respect to religion, theology and belief in general?

The effects in the movie are completely laughable – the psychedelic optical effects are stunningly lame compared to the film resolution digital effects of today – but the premise of the movie struck me as profound. Our actions have consequences – they may be far in the future, far away, in ways unimaginable to us now, but our actions have consequences.

Of course, the movie franchise has been mind-blowingly inconsistent. Basically, the even-numbered movies were pretty good (KHANNNNNNN!!!!! KHAAAAAAANNNNNNN!!!!!!!), the odd-numbered movies pretty much sucked, but they all feel like bubblegum pop filler. V’Ger was a game changer though.

the iceman

After thinking about Quest for Fire, I realize that another of the most formative movies for me was 1984’s The Iceman. The body of a prehistoric man was found frozen in ice, but still alive. He’s placed in a zoo-like containment room at an arctic research facility (filmed in Churchill Manitoba, no less) where he can be studied. Another fascinating movie, not because of special effects or high budget, but because of story. Any movie involving a prehistoric man singing along to Neil Young has to be OK…

The movie was about alienation. About belonging. About finding out who you are, and where you need to be. It was about human nature. It was about fear. And mythology. It was about standing up for what you believe in. And also a little about anthropology.

I remember watching and rewatching this movie several times, mesmerized by the details. And knowing that a high budget version of the movie would have lost almost everything that made this movie great.

quest for fire

Inspired by Jim’s description of one of his 10 formative movies, I realized that one of the movies that’s had the most impact on me is Quest for Fire. The 1981 Canadian anthropological movie about 4 separate tribes of homo erectus, neanderthal and homo sapiens, and their interactions.

I remember being absolutely fascinated by the movie, watching it dozens of times (it was one of the early movies offered on our fancy new SuperChannel Cable Movie Channel when I was a kid). I haven’t thought explicitly about the movie in years, but have realized that it’s really affected me by helping to viscerally see and empathize with the various cultures depicted.

Quest for Fire was so powerful to me, because it was so real. It didn’t feel like fiction. It felt like what we would now call embedded reportage. Following the story, without shaping it. (of course the story was shaped – it’s a work of fiction – but it doesn’t FEEL like a work of fiction) It made anthropology, evolution, natural selection, adaptation, and so many other concepts clear and alive.

It showed how science isn’t a separate thing – it is the world around us. It is us.

I just bought the movie, and have been waiting for it to finish downloading from iTunes so I can rewatch it. Looking forward to it!