The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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MGM's 'Red Dawn' re-edit: 'A whitewash to preserve corporate profits'

March 17, 2011 |  4:14 pm

Chris_hemsworth You've probably heard, thanks to this scoop by my colleagues Ben Fritz and John Horn, that, worried about potential fallout from the Chinese government, MGM has digitally re-edited the upcoming action film "Red Dawn" so that America is invaded not by the Chinese--as portrayed in the original cut of the film--but by the North Koreans. Even though it's hardly the first time that Hollywood has bowed and scraped for Chinese approval, salivating at the prospect of reaping windfall profits by winning access to the most promising entertainment market in the world, it's still a huge embarrassment for MGM, which has been screening the film for potential buyers at other studios, in the hopes that the movie wouldn't be a total write-off.

The people I've spoken to in la-la-liberal Hollywood have been critical of MGM's move to digitally erase the Chinese from the film, since it sets a pretty dreadful precedent in terms of creative autonomy. But it turns out that conservatives are just as unhappy about the move as liberals. In fact, MGM got a sound thrashing from conservative film blogger Jason Apuzzo, who has actually seen the movie and was so ticked off by MGM's cowardice that he's run a review of the movie, even though he'd initially agreed to keep quiet about having seen the film until closer to its release.

It turns out that Apuzzo likes the movie, calling it a "rousing and patriotic film that in some respects resembled 'Battle: Los Angeles,' currently in theaters, in terms of depicting a plucky and outnumbered group of Americans (teenagers, in this case) gamely taking on a vastly superior and oppressive invading force." He's a particular fan of the performance by Chris Hemsworth as an Iraq War vet who displays the kind of "toughness of spirit" rarely seen from young actors who, as Apuzzo sees it, have all been turned into Michael Cera softies.  

But he calls MGM's decision to re-edit the film for political reasons "appalling," especially since the decision undercuts one of the major themes of the film, which viewed  the Chinese military invasion as having been prompted by economic motives. "The basic premise of the film involves the Chinese invading America in order to 'collect' on an economic debt America owes to them--a debt that in the real world, as it turns out, China will now be 'collecting' by MGM's film simply being re-edited," Apuzzo writes. "We're sorry to learn that MGM will now be participating in this general whitewashing of China's regime, in order to preserve its corporate profits. MGM's profits here are coming at a very steep price for the rest of us: that of free speech."

It's hardly a surprise to discover that media companies will do anything to court the favor of the Chinese. After all, Rupert Murdoch has apparently been doing it for years, with former News Corp. employees having accused him of blocking reporting that was unflattering to the government of China, including one delicious episode where a Page Six editor said he was ordered to kill an item about a Chinese diplomat and a strip club because it would have angered the Communist regime.

Of course, some people would call Murdoch a pragmatist who has simply done what it takes to protect his business interests. By that definition, I think it's safe to say that when it comes to China, soon all of Hollywood will be proudly waving the green flag of pragmatism, green as in the color of money.

--Patrick Goldstein 

Photo: Chris Hemsworth at a Golden Globes party in January at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Credit: David Livingston / Getty Images