Russia’s Identical Remake of Commando
Is Communism responsible? Or am I Putin you on?
Barber, Tony. “But Movies Undermine Kremlin Control: Illicit Videos Entertain Moscow Masses.” Los Angeles Times 19 Jan. 1986: n. pag. Print.
“Deadly Riots in Tallinn: Soviet Memorial Causes Rift between Estonia and Russia.” Spiegel Online. N.p., 27 Apr. 2007. Web. 1 Apr. 2016.
Thomas, Bob. “Schwarzenegger Bares Most in Near-Nude Fight Scene.” Los Angeles Times 14 July 1988: n. pag. Print.
Willistein, Paul. “‘Commando’: A Bloody Mess. Movie Reviews.” The Morning Call [Allentown, PA] 5 Oct. 1985: n. pag. Print.
He’s the world’s toughest commando. The biggest, baddest, most one-liner-delivering-est commando who ever commanded a whole squad of commandos. And Arnold Schwarzenegger…
…is not him because this is a Russian movie called “D-Day.”
Time to gear up for a devastating case of Deja View.
“Commando” came out amid an explosion of macho action films of the mid-eighties like “Rambo,” “Missing in Action,” and “Invasion USA.” They were a product of Reagan’s America with bodybuilding one-man-armies who fought for the American Way. The films were over-the-top, jingoistic, and a little paranoid, often dealing with the failures of the Vietnam War or the looming threat of Communism. And yet that same Communism may have had something to do with the Russian remake of “Commando” more than 20 years later.
2008’s “D-Day” tells the story of retired Russian paratrooper Ivan. His daughter is kidnapped and he’s blackmailed into assassinating a foreign president to get her back. But not one to play by the rules, even of his own movie, he secretly “disembarks” the plane and goes on a bullet-spewing rampage to locate his daughter, teaming up along the way with a spunky flight attendant. In other words, it’s exactly the same movie as Schwarzenegger’s “Commando.”
And director Mikhail Porechenkov, who also stars as Ivan, makes no attempt to hide it. In fact he’d been a fan of “Commando” since he first saw it, and he had longed for a return to such cinematic heroes of his youth. “D-Day” was, he said, a response to introspective, so-called “metrosexual” action stars. He wanted a burly, straightforward man of action who said what he meant and then did it. “Commando” gave him the ideal template and allowed him to play on audiences’ nostalgia for the original at the same time.
Except, what nostalgia? And for that matter how had Porechenkov originally seen it? “Commando” came out in 1985. Soviet censorship had a vice grip on cinema, banning all films the State deemed “ideologically hostile.” That included most Western movies, and certainly “Commando.” So Russians couldn’t have seen it before… virtually the DVD era, right? But they did.
When Schwarzenegger flew to Moscow in 1988 to shoot “Red Heat,” he marveled that not only did locals recognize him, but many had videotapes of his movies—courtesy of the black market. Brave citizens and enterprising “exhibitors” were willing to spend small fortunes on imported VCRs and illegally duplicated tapes of Hollywood films. The alternative was dreary nationalistic TV programming. So illicit “video clubs” sprouted up all over the Soviet Union screening subversive hits from the West like “Rambo,” “James Bond,” and “Commando.”
So Porechenkov was aware there was an older generation of film fans that knew, loved and had purposely sought out the original. And he clearly didn’t feel that his very unauthorized remake needed a lot of revamping. From the first frame to the last it follows “Commando” like a how-to guide.
What did change was mostly superficial, with a few nods to contemporary politics. Ivan’s target isn’t the leader of a fictional South American nation, but rather the president of Estonia, with whom tensions were genuinely high. Meanwhile, the fictional Japanese seizure of a Russian island—inspired by a real land dispute—sets the stage for the film’s third act.
But the heavy social issues are little more than window dressing and the overall tone is actually rather light. “D-Day” aims for “extreme” and fun, with more emphasis on humor than its predecessor. And that’s no small feat for a remake of a film famous for its over-the-top action and outlandish one-liners. Nevertheless, the pacing is quicker, the editing more frenetic, the music peppier, and the characters broader. And while “Commando” was criticised for its cartoonish levels of violence, “D-Day” seems to have taken it as a personal challenge.
It’s also highly self-aware. Echoing Porechenkov’s preference for movies made for “ordinary people,” characters poke fun at “arthouse” films like Soviet classic “Solaris.” Ivan’s daughter professes her love for Tarantino and Takeshi Kitano. And lest there’s any doubt Porechenkov thought audiences would be familiar with “D-Day’s” own inspiration…
“He didn’t jump. Schwarz would have jumped.”
And then, of course, Ivan one-ups “Schwarz”!
“D-Day” knows just what it wants to be and pursues it with gusto. The Russian audience that enjoyed the original as a literal guilty pleasure got a slightly crazier but mostly faithful nostalgia trip to the best of ‘80s American action cinema. That makes it an ‘80s-tastic piece of East-meets-West camaraderie the likes of which we haven’t seen since Stallone ended the Cold War in “Rocky IV.”
By the way, the title “D-Day” refers not to the World War II Invasion of Normandy, but the celebration of Russia’s Airborne Forces—the “Day of Desantnik.” Every year on August 2nd, retired paratroopers get into uniform, gather in public places, and get, well, a little rowdy.
Just, not usually that rowdy.
Thanks for watching, and do svidaniya!