With an assist from the Pentagon, the battle for verisimilitude is won
War is hell.And pulling together all the necessary elements — military manpower, jets, tanks, subs and choppers to make combat look authentic on film — can require the patience of Job, the stamina of Samson and the savvy of a street-wise Solomon. These are qualities vital to both Hollywood and Washington if a big undertaking is to be attempted, particularly one with the scope of, say, a film like “Armageddon,” “Black Hawk Down” or “Pearl Harbor” — all produced under the rubric of Jerry Bruckheimer. With “Pearl Harbor,” it wasn’t just getting an aircraft carrier, a mothballed battleship and a B-25, says the Pentagon’s Philip Strub, an ex-Navy man who acts as special assistant for entertainment media. The WWII epic also faced “all the environmental and historical preservation concerns that had to be addressed in an amazingly short period of time: bird nesting grounds, fish hatcheries, the hallowed waters that surround the Utah and the Arizona. The booklet listing these requirements is about two inches thick. “And with ‘Black Hawk Down,'” adds the Vietnam vet, “there was every additional kind of obstacle to circumvent. It had to do fundamentally with filming in Morocco, plus the difficulty deploying eight combat helicopters and upwards of a hundred soldiers for weeks at a time to a country which is an absolute monarchy, where nothing like that happens without the king’s approval.” As if those concerns didn’t constitute enough migraines, the State Dept., Strub recounts, “said we had no legal authority to go there.” With more than 17 years on the job, Strub is accustomed to such complications, and approaches each with a combination of patience and diplomacy. He might be a Dept. of Defense liaison, but Strub — also a USC film school grad — lapses into studiospeak when he says it all starts with the script. “With (Bruckheimer), it can be very collaborative,” he says. “Some other producers, though, don’t want us to see all the pages, just the military parts. But we check the entire script. And that’s never a problem with Jerry. But if something does not fit — then we can’t help even him.” This was the case with “The Rock” (negative military image) and “Crimson Tide” (nukes issue). But when it comes to an “essential deployment order,” Bruckheimer enjoys a special cachet that dates back 20 years to “Top Gun,” the Simpson/Bruckheimer movie that starred a fuzzy-cheeked Tom Cruise and soared into the box office stratosphere. “Top Gun,” says Strub, “changed the public’s perception of the military.” So much so that the film acted as a veritable recruiting tool, an idea to which Bruckheimer himself is not averse. “If you take the best and the brightest who come out of our universities, we can make the military look good for them,” Bruckheimer tells Variety. “I want to do that, because it makes our world a better place to live.”
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