Home2017-2018Here’s how the military influences your blockbusters

Here’s how the military influences your blockbusters

By Dorian Grayson
Staff Writer

Part of your tax money goes to the Department of Defense. This money is used for military equipment and soldiers’ salaries, both of which they pimp out to Hollywood for TV and movies. You read that correctly; Phil Strub, the Department of Defense’s head Hollywood agent, is in charge of determining which movies are allowed to use military equipment and personnel and for what. This process is important for films and TV for realism and cost. The studios have to pay the Department of Defense much less than they would have to access the same equipment elsewhere or replicate it with CGI.

Not every movie gets approval, however. If you’re going to portray the United States military, the Department of Defense has strict limits on what that portrayal looks like.

“Iron Man” was accepted under this program, so Strub was on set as a script supervisor. While not always Strub himself, the program always makes sure there is a military supervisor on set for immediate censorship of whatever they deem necessary. In one scene, Jon Favreau, the director, was going to have a character in the military say, “People would kill themselves for the opportunities I have.” Strub stepped in. Favreau and Strub argued over whether the line should be included. Favreau, exasperated, asked if it would be okay if the character instead said “walk over hot coals” and Strub accepted. The line was not in the final cut of the film.

The military also requires that any depictions they cooperate with do not display the military as shady or willing to launch a nuclear bomb at a major population center. “The Avengers” was denied funding for those reasons. The jets on the helicarrier in the film, F-22s and F-35s, were created in CGI. Luckily, “The Avengers” went on to make a billion dollars, so nobody at Marvel was worried about the costs.

A film that got full military support was “Man of Steel,” which is surprisingly obvious in retrospect. The movie makes the military the central stand-in for human opinion. When the movie is telling the audience what the world thinks of Superman, it does so through the military characters. Clark’s arc about being recognized and accepted by humanity is ended when a military serviceperson compliments him. For this propaganda, they received access to real military locations, equipment and personnel.

Another surprising example of government media involvement is an episode of “Top Chef” of all things. The episode was filmed at the CIA headquarters, the George Bush Center for Intelligence, and featured then CIA director Leon Panetta. Panetta skipped the last course to do work requiring his attention. Or was it a ploy to reinforce the importance of military personnel’s time?

The United States government likes when eyes are kept off of its activities. Did you know that the current administration is refusing to enforce Russian sanctions past near-unanimously by Congress? Probably not, just as you likely didn’t know that filmmakers are forced to compromise their movies to act as more efficient propaganda for the military. When you next watch “Kill Gun 6: Kill More,” or another piece of media involving military equipment, location or personnel, ask yourself what might’ve been changed in this process, and whether the film should be working as the Department of Defense’s public relations department.

 

dgrayson@willamette.edu

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