Last week, I had the opportunity to speak with producer Tripp Vinson about his remake of seminal '80s opus Red Dawn, directed by Dan Bradley and starring Chris Hemsworth, Josh Peck, Josh Hutcherson and Adrianne Palicki, which opens this Wednesday after several years sitting on MGM's shelf thanks to the studio's unsteady financial situation. With the film finally hitting theaters, Vinson was eager to discuss its long journey to the screen, as well as the similarities with and differences from its predecessor. What follows are some highlights from our conversation. For an expanded version, click here.
Zaki Hasan: This movie was announced in '08, and we're looking at a little over four years from then to now. Did changing political sensibilities have any effect on the movie we're seeing now versus the one that was filmed?
Tripp Vinson: I don't think the movie was designed to be political, which is kind of a great irony because it did become political. But when we set out to make it we really tried to focus the story on the fantasy and wish fulfillment of being a kid and being faced with an incredible situation, being an underdog and rising to become a hero. That was always the focus of the story. The politics were not something that were all that interested in.
I've got to say, given the fact that we've gone through a year and a half election season, I'm really glad today that we made that choice. We tried to make something that was fun and popcorn-y. And at the same time, was true to the spirit of the original.
But that was really it. The only other political thing that was in the forefront of some of our minds as we were making the movie was there was something very interesting about making a movie that celebrated an insurgency, that seems, that was something very interesting to explore when we were developing the script.
I was young when I saw the original, so I see why it was such a political film, but when you're 12 or 13 years-old and you're seeing Red Dawn for the first time, what I related to and what I took my experience with the movie, it was about these kids who were in high school who had to come together to fight impossible odds.
That's what it spoke to for me. I know that that's not gonna be true for everybody, but when you see a movie, the context of your age and where you are in your life I think powers the way you view the movie and even though I'm much older now, the first time seeing Red Dawn, that experience is what I remember and what I take with me to this project and that's what is going to be reflected in the movie that we made.
When we look at the original Red Dawn it's definitely a lot darker than a lot of mainstream films we see these days...
I agree. It definitely is compared to the mainstream. However, I think that one of the things that I loved about the original Red Dawn was that you didn't know who was gonna get killed, and that really added to the suspense of the movie and that was something that I think we all felt we needed to stay true to and [in] my opinion, we know, we were pretty uncompromising in that regard.
For people who grew up with the original, are there enough new surprises here to keep them engaged?
Absolutely. I mean, I could tell you that the approach was to take a look at the original and find a way to keep the spirit of the original alive in the reboot, but the reboot was really designed to be its own thing. Certainly there are moments from the original movie that we use in our movie, but when we could we tried twists on those original moments. I think that part of the fun is to watch this and if you've seen the original you think you know where we're going but we throw a little curve ball at you.
What themes from the original did you want to make sure this new one embodied?
I'll tell you, when you're taking a look at something like this, the first question you have to ask yourself is, "What is it about the original that made that story work?"
And you know, I think some people would say it was the politics, the geopolitical climate of the world was one of the things that really contributed to making the movie work. Fair enough, I understand that position.
But, for me, I think that there's something more to it. And I think particularly for an American audience, the idea of an invading army is something that speaks to the American psyche. Why? Because going all the way back to "The red coats are coming!" it's a part of who we are. At least, a part of our history in this country.
One of the changes that was made was how Red China was turned to North Korea. I was wondering if you could elaborate on some of the thinking that went on behind that and what your reaction to that was.
Well, it's a long story but remember MGM was in bankruptcy, but when they went through their bankruptcy they cut back quite a bit on staffing at the company and that included distribution, so when the studio re-emerged from the bankruptcy, they no longer had the ability to distribute movies.
And Red Dawn, Cabin in the Woods, they were made and another one in there were movies that were finished and they were shopping those movies for distribution to some other companies. At that point it became clear to them that they weren't going to be able to get distribution for Red Dawn due to the Chinese element in the movie.
And I'm not privy to all the details of it, that was something the folks at MGM were handling. But bottom line was, if we wanted to get the movie released, some kind of change was going to have to be made. And, that is an unprecedented card to be dealt. I don't know of another example in the history of Hollywood where something like this has happened.
But, it was something that was really difficult and you take a lot of pride in all the work you do and we had completely posted the movie and it was finished so it was very difficult emotionally to have to deal with that issue. But, at the end of the day, once we found a way to do it, I gotta say I was really pleased with the way it all worked out. I said publicly, and I still believe this, I believe the version we ended up making is a better version than what we had before.
The original version that we made, there were some problems with it. There wasn't a very compelling -- there wasn't as compelling a reason for the invasion as I think we would have liked. And once we came to the decision to involve North Korea as part of a coalition it freed us up to set the movie in a world that is slightly different than our own.
And that's established in the credits sequence. That goes through a series of events that actually haven't happened but if the dominoes fell the right way could. So to have a little step back from reality, I think let us give up to set up the movie in a darker, scarier world and I think that plays better over the course of the movie.
I know there's been a lot of skepticism about North Korea being involved in the movie, but you should see the movie, because they're not the only invading force, we took into consideration the size of their military and their capabilities and I think we found some ways to justify the existence of North Korean troops in the setting of our movie. Just as John Milius achieved that with the Cuban troops in the original Red Dawn.
It sounds very similar to what Milius did in the original, with a card in the beginning that does kind of say that.
It absolutely was and that's kind of an interesting point to bring out because what lead us to how to achieve this was going back to the original movie and how they handled it. It was a huge influence on what we ended up doing.
I know I've said this already but I mean the movie's designed to be something that is fun to go watch. And of course it needs to be logical and I think it is and hopefully people can go in and get a bag of popcorn and relax and enjoy the ride.