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February 12, 2016

Pentagon Liaisons to Hollywood Have Some Great Stories

Transformers robot Bumblebee tours Sydney harbour by barge to launch the DVD of "Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen" at Mrs Macquaries Chair in 2009. (Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

Transformers robot Bumblebee tours Sydney harbour by barge to launch the DVD of “Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen” at Mrs Macquaries Chair in 2009. (Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

“Top Gun,” a film about Navy pilots, did wonderful things for Air Force recruiting. Real-life submariners found “Crimson Tide” to be “laughable.” Those are just two of the anecdotes loading up this Al Jazeera America story on the collaboration between Hollywood and the Defense Department.

There are too many to recount here, so make sure you read the whole story, which also details the history of Hollywood’s dalliance with the Pentagon, and how active they are in making changes to scripts for films that seek an affiliation with DOD.

The article mainly interviews Capt. Russell Coons, director of the Navy Office of Information West, and Phil Strub, the Pentagon’s entertainment-liaison officer. Both are happy to trash films that didn’t team up with them or that didn’t follow their advice.

“World War Z”:

“We were never contacted for ‘World War Z,'” Coons said, referring to Brad Pitt’s zombie apocalypse movie, “and I can tell you the portrayal of the captain kicking the family off the ship to the zombies — that would never happen.”

“Crimson Tide”:

Not all consultations turn into collaborations. “Crimson Tide,” a thriller about a mutinous executive officer (Denzel Washington) and a trigger-happy captain with a nuclear bomb (Gene Hackman) had “two fundamental showstoppers,” Strub said: the mutiny, and the compromise of nuclear weapons. “If there was a compromise of communication we’d just assign comms to another submarine,” he said, adding that real submariners found the film laughable.

For some reason, they don’t hold themselves accountable for being affiliated with films the critics laughed at, like “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.”

This isn’t the first time a Pentagon/Hollywood liaison story has been written, but it’s one of the more enjoyable reads. And the subject is not all bright and shiny. National security-focused government agencies have been questioned for straddling the line on propaganda when playing in the entertainment world, and the Department of Homeland Security’s liaison efforts were challenged by government spending watchdog groups.

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