'Dawn' of the new millennium: High-profile remake of a 1980s cult favorite
Soldiers and shabbily-dressed civilians are standing at a cordoned-off area around Griswold and Michigan Avenue that's sprinkled with military vehicles, red banners and propaganda posters. A large platform holds somber-looking dignitaries in dark suits and uniforms. "We are not your enemies," says a man at a podium.
This occupying force is the cast and crew of "Red Dawn," the remake of the 1984 action flick that's been filming since September in metro Detroit and is expected to stick around until early December.
It's one of the biggest movies to come to Michigan recently, with an estimated budget of more than $40 million — and one of the splashiest, considering the many explosions that have been staged for the shoot.
"Red Dawn," which has filmed in city and wooded settings, is another example of Michigan's versatility as a location, says Janet Lockwood, director of the Michigan Film Office.
But the project also has a unique niche. While locally made films like "Gran Torino" and "Whip It" have had prestige and star power, they haven't been cultural talkers — the kind of works that generate publicity with edgy, audacious themes.
"Red Dawn," set to open in November 2010, is becoming a talker. The Web is littered with unauthorized photos and videos of the production and fan speculation on the updated story.
The interest is fueled by the lasting resonance of the original movie, which had a cast of rising stars (including a pre-"Dirty Dancing" Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey) and exquisite timing: It came out in 1984, an era when the Cold War was still kicking and President Ronald Reagan was calling the Soviet Union an evil empire.
The story of high-school kids banding together to defend themselves against invading Russians (and Cubans and Nicaraguans) was called corny and xenophobic by some critics. But it made a big impression on Gen Y viewers at the time.
"It had a huge, awesome impact ... to think of the Russians taking us over," says Andrew Esslinger, 34, of Detroit, who used to re-enact scenes as a kid.
This time, the cast is equally fresh-faced and intriguing and the enemies are the Russians and the Chinese. But the essential theme of young people banding together is the same, and it could tap into the worries of 2009.
"'Red Dawn' is playing to the current moment. People feel kind of isolated and alone ... anxious about domestic issues — the economy, health care, jobs — and we feel anxious about what's going on around the globe," says Jerry Herron, an American studies professor at Wayne State University.
Producer Tripp Vinson says he can't talk about the storyline yet, but he says the reboot is "heavily inspired" by the original.
"I think we have our work cut out for us, certainly. ... There's a lot of fans out there that loved the original," says Vinson. "All I can tell you is we spent a lot of time thinking about the story and how to augment it to make it work in today's world. And I think we've done a pretty good job of that."