Ever since the early days of Hollywood, filmmakers have seen the benefits of working with the American military. Often the Department of Defence are willing to provide military equipment as props, and offer advice – as long as they portray the military as accurately as possible. But sometimes the Pentagon uses the filmmakers’ dependence on their equipment to change scripts and films.
Here’s a list of some of the most interesting effects the US military has had on big budget films.
Pearl Harbor may be an absolute turd of a film, but the producers were granted full military support and were even allowed to film scenes at the real Pearl Harbor. A member of the Naval Historical Center’s curator branch, Jack Green, was made available to the production to advise on the finer points of naval warfare. He also had a hand in completely changing one of the film’s characters. Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle was originally depicted as ‘a boorish, oafish type of fellow.’ Green didn’t like this and asked for the character be rewritten to make him more sympathetic to the audience. The producers listened, and the character was altered to better fit with what Green wanted.
The military don’t just get involved with real life military operations, they’re also open to helping sci-fi and fantasy films, presumably because fighting an army of giant evil transforming robots is more flattering than the murky business of showing actual people die. The military offered a vast amount of military support to the transformers series. The second movie, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, was called “one of the largest joint films made with the military” by Lieutenant Colonel Gregory Bishop, the film’s military liaison officer. While the armed forces’ extreme visibility in the movie was criticised by some, others’ believed that the military’s support for a franchise essentially aimed at children is an attempt to influence future recruits. In an interview with Variety, Captain Bryon McGarry, the deputy director of Air Force Public Affairs, confirmed the criticism to some extent with this statement: “Recruiting and deterrence are secondary goals, but they’re certainly there.”
Clear and Present Danger
Clear and Present Danger, which tells the story of a secret war between drug dealers, was reviewed by a number of military branches because of the wider scope of the film, and requested major changes be made to it. The navy wasn’t pleased with a scene that had naval personnel brush off civilian casualties after an air strike. Objections were also made about the way the Colombian government was depicted, as they were worried that a negative portrayal could damage US-Latino relations. Due to these worries, a scene with the navy bombing a civilian target was altered, and all references to the Colombian government working with drug traffickers were removed. The army also requested that their soldiers always fight trained and heavily armed combatants, so the fights looked fair – even if they weren’t in reality.
After World War Two, America and its intelligence services were worried about communism. To help fight the ‘red menace’, the CIA funded a number of projects that were pro-democracy and anti-communist. This included books, journals and films. In the 50s, they acquired the rights to George Orwell’s dystopian masterpiece 1984 and began producing a film version in 1956. The CIA chose to ignore the wishes of the deceased Orwell and changed the plot of the film. Rather than have the film end as the book does, with Wilson defeated and broken by the totalitarian state, they changed it to him dying in a hail of glorious gunfire, defiant to the end. Orwell’s estate removed it from circulation after the distribution agreement expired, suggesting they weren’t best pleased with the change, although it is freely available on YouTube.
The US military has helped out in several Bond films but they’ve taken exception to a few of the script choices in the past. In Goldeneye, the military didn’t like the depiction of an American admiral who was made to look incompetent, when he was seduced and murdered by the films deadly femme fatale, Xenia Onatopp. To keep the peace, the scene was quickly rewritten to change the admiral’s nationality from American to Canadian. This may make the American military look a touch sensitive, but it’s nothing compared to the changes they asked for in Tomorrow Never Dies.
In the original script, Bond was going to illegally parachute into Vietnam. However a CIA agent was going to warn him of the dangers saying: “You know what will happen. It will be war. And maybe this time, maybe we’ll win.” The Pentagon was a bit self-conscious about the line as they’d just re-established international relations with Vietnam, and they worried that the line had the potential to incite an international incident. Consequently, the line was changed and did not appear in the finished film.
Zero Dark Thirty
Zero Dark Thirty, the Oscar nominated story of the worldwide manhunt for Osama bin Laden, had several changes made to it duing production, and the story of how the film was made is quite interesting.
While writing the script an odd relationship developed between the writer and director and the counter terrorism unit advising them. After the death of bin Laden, they began meeting with CIA officials to discuss the script. They also invited the screenwriter to a special award ceremony honouring those involved in the bin Laden raid, despite the fact that classified information was revealed in the speeches.
The movie was criticised by US senators for implying that the CIA used torture to discover bin Laden’s whereabouts. However, if we consider how closely the CIA was involved in the writing process, it’s not shocking that the movie’s plot matches the CIA’s official stance on torture or ‘enhanced interrogation techniques‘ (EIT), a practice that the spy agency insists was instrumental in helping catch bin Laden. After Zero Dark Thirty’s script was completed, the CIA requested seven changes altogether. One of which directly influenced the on-screen depiction of EIT. The writer was asked to change a scene where a dog was used to threaten a prisoner. The CIA claims that it would never use dogs to intimidate prisoners.