COMING attractions: More movies with Pentagon fingerprints

Wednesday, May 16th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ If Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle comes across as particularly heroic in the new war epic ``Pearl Harbor,'' the credit goes as much to the behind-the-scenes influence of the Pentagon as to the vision of Hollywood filmmakers.

Likewise, if the Marines get a special mention during a rescue sequence in the coming movie ``The Sum of all Fears,'' it was their idea.

In exchange for providing Hollywood with military advice, personnel and awesome equipment for movies and TV shows, the Pentagon gets an advance look at scripts and has a chance to negotiate changes.

``If you want to use the military's toys, you've got to play by their rules,'' says John Lovett, an outside military technical adviser to filmmakers. ``That's how it's done.''

It all happens at no cost to taxpayers, since moviemakers reimburse the military for any out-of-the-ordinary expenses. Like the $3 million Sony is paying for eight Army helicopters and 100 soldiers recently flown to Morocco for filming of ``Black Hawk Down,'' a movie about the 1993 Somalia raid in which 18 Americans died trying to capture a warlord.

``What you have here is mutual exploitation,'' says Lawrence Suid, a military historian who wrote about the relationship between Hollywood and the military in the book ``Guts & Glory.''

Moviemakers want to show all that cool equipment and the Pentagon wants the story told in terms that are favorable to the armed forces, or at least somewhat plausible, from its point of view.

That's why the military provided no help for ``Apocalypse Now,'' about one officer in Vietnam dispatched to kill another, among many other movies it declined to assist.

For ``The Sum of All Fears,'' about a terrorist plot to blow up the Super Bowl, at least one Pentagon wish was easy to accommodate: It wanted a team of rescuers to be identified as who they were, the Marines.

Pentagon ``project officers'' often are on location when military movies go into production, watching every salute and bugle call. Each arm of the military has a Los Angeles office.

``We do it because we see it as an opportunity to inform the American public about the military and help our recruiting and retention programs at the same time,'' says Philip Strub, head of the Pentagon's film liaison office in Washington.

The practice dates to the silent movies, when the Pentagon cooperated on ``Wings'' in 1927, and extends through movies like Darryl Zanuck's 1962 war spectacular ``The Longest Day'' to the current TV series ``JAG.''

Right now, the Pentagon's film officers are busier than they've been in years, says Strub.

``Pearl Harbor,'' the Michael Bay film that makes its debut next week, was one of the more complicated collaborations. Disney paid more than $1 million for military assistance, including extensive shooting at Pearl Harbor, with adjacent Ford Island virtually transformed into a production back lot.

The Navy supplied more than 20 inactive ships from the 1960s and 1970s (modified by computer to look like World War II vintage) for use in recreating Battleship Row, and it sailed the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis from San Diego to Pearl Harbor to hold the movie premiere on its flight deck.

Jack Green, of the Naval Historical Center's curator branch, was on location for eight weeks of filming, offering advice on everything from Air Corps drinking songs to the formations of Japanese vessels.

Sometimes, the resulting changes were significant.

For example, Green says he persuaded filmmakers to give Lt. Col. Doolittle, played by Alec Baldwin, a more prominent and sympathetic role than in the original script, which depicted the leader of the first bombing raid on Tokyo as ``a boorish, oafish type of fellow.''

``Doolittle was rewritten and made a little bit more of the real hero he was,'' says Green.

``Black Hawk Down,'' about the failed raid in Somalia, might seem an unlikely project to win Pentagon assistance, but Sony's Susan Tick says the military ``went over and above anything we could have reasonably hoped for.''

The Pentagon liked the project, Strub says, because it was a chance to show the soldiers' bravery and to demonstrate the tough choices that the United States has to make in deciding where to intervene.

The military gets dozens of calls for assistance each year, with wish lists ranging from simple items like a few feet of stock film footage to requests for weeks of filming on an aircraft carrier.

More often than not, Strub says, the Pentagon declines.

Sometimes, the premise of the story is deemed objectionable or implausible. Two examples: ``Crimson Tide,'' a 1995 film about mutiny aboard a nuclear submarine, and ``G.I. Jane,'' starring Demi Moore as a woman determined to join the all-male Navy SEALs.

In other cases, such as Steven Spielberg's ``Saving Private Ryan,'' the military didn't have the vintage equipment being sought.

For the Gulf War film ``Courage Under Fire,'' negotiations just didn't work out. In that case, says Strub, ``one of the big problems was that in Meg Ryan's crew, there wasn't a good soldier among them.''

Suid says the Pentagon's leverage over Hollywood is waning as technology gives filmmakers new alternatives.

``Fifty years ago, the Pentagon could refuse to cooperate and stop a production if they thought it wasn't accurate,'' Suid said. Now, filmmakers can use computer technology to ``make their own airplanes,'' he says.

A case in point: ``Independence Day.''