Military Intelligence – The Portrayal of the Military on Film

I never meant for it to be this way. One thing people seem to remark about Dante’s Inferno and All Night Video Store is that I go bananas over the way the military is portrayed in movies. I do. I just never thought it would be something people actually noticed.

Now don’t get me wrong. The military has its share of quirks and mistakes. After all, the people that serve are only human, and so are the people that make movies about the military or with military characters in them. A lot of goof-ups I might remark about are just in fun, but some of them really get to me. There are several reasons for this, so I’ll get with the main one here. People who have never served in the military take a lot of things they see in movies about the armed forces as truth. Presently I am an Army Recruiter, so I know this to be a fact. I talk to people and they say, “I saw that the military allows Drill Sergeants to hit you!”. Uh, no little buckaroo, you saw R. Lee Ermey slapping Matthew Modine in a movie, which was about Vietnam, mind you. But yeah, people say that, they really do. Granted, back in those days stuff like that MAY have happened. I don’t know, I wasn’t there! But it gives people an impression that makes us all look bad, and I’m perturbed. I was walking down the street one day in uniform with another soldier and an old lady actually came up to us and called us baby killers…and this was before Iraq Round II. Lady, my friend was a satellite communications technician and I’m a multimedia technician. We don’t all jump out of airplanes and shoot, you know.

Anyway, the bad military flick has many facets. They can be boiled down to these categories:

The military will take ANYONE: If you’re in trouble with the law, join the Army! Sorry folks, the “Go to War or Go to Jail” stuff just don’t happen. Not nowadays anyway. So when you see a movie and they introduce Pvt Billy Bad Ass, the guy that ran drugs, killed someone or did some other dastardly deed, it had better be taking place in the 60’s. If not the movie is full of it. If you have so much as a parking ticket you didn’t pay you’re disqualified from joining until its paid! And if its worse than that you need an exception to policy letter from higher ups. Trust me, Billy bad Ass is going to jail ‘cuz we won’t take him. That also goes for Mr. High School Drop out, too.

The military is run by corrupt generals: Gaaah! This one pisses me off to no end. In a decent movie, corruption at high levels can be done in an entertaining way. In GI Jane, Demi Moore has to face a sadistic Drill Instructor and a slimy politician. I can buy that. It was done in a way that made the characters believable and realistic. Now look at Rangers. A General schemes to let some of his own men die to make some ambiguous deal to get rich? A FAT General that walks around a houseboat in a Hugh Hefner robe. That cheapass flick didn’t even have the decency to be clever about it.

The military is made up of ignorant morons: In the movie Iron Thunder, two soldiers on a special mission are complete losers. Now lets think about that for a minute. If you need a small squad of soldiers to do an important secret mission would you send two of your worst men? For some reason movies like to portray the military as being made up of misanthropic idiots. The current problems with that prison in Iraq sure didn’t help either, but the bulk of the military is actually made up of some of the most intelligent, professional and generous people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. Just like you can’t condemn every person in the middle east as a terrorist, you can’t call the entire force a bunch of nincompoops because of some twisted asshole and his butch looking trailer trash girlfriend from the West Virginia National Guard. Someone who can’t follow orders or has no discipline wouldn’t last very long in the military. That should go without saying, but in the movies you wouldn’t notice it. At least in the cheap DTV movies.

Bad movies show people in the military that would NEVER be in the military: In one of the “Operation Delta Force” Movies they show a Captain who sports a goatee and a moustache. I’m not willing to watch the movie again, but if memory serves they showed a few soldiers with goatees. Do I really need to tell you that men in the military have to be clean shaven? Do I? A moustache is permitted within guidelines, but that’s it. And we all know you have to have a haircut. And if you’re wondering, women don’t have to cut their hair short. They just have to keep it pulled up and off of the collar while in uniform. If the movie you’re watching isn’t a comedy then there ain’t gonna be any fat people either. I can’t speak for every branch of service for that though. I mean, I’ve seen some really porky Air Force personnel and a few fat Navy guys, but in the Marine Corps or the Army, no way. Anyone in any of those services will tell you they get crazy over weight standards.

Weapons: Action movies like Rambo or Commando get a bit of an edge. They’re almost pure fantasy, so its hard to find fault in the use of weapons, but fault there is. Check it out, in Commando, Arnold uses claymore mines outside of his enemies barracks, but the explosion is almost nuclear. Mines don’t explode like that. In Rambo: First Blood II, Rambo fires an anti-tank rocket from the pilots seat in a helicopter. He had people in the seats behind him that should have been roasted alive by the back blast. They weren’t, but hell, in movies like that you almost don’t care. The action and things blowing up dominate any plot holes that may exist. One thing many movies do that drives people nuts is the “Endless Magazine” thing. I’ve seen movies where someone will fire about 500 rounds from a 20 round magazine in an M16. That’s not really so big a deal, and it’s sometimes quite amusing.

Bending the rules: In one of the Operation Delta Force Movies there was a captain with a sergeant as his love interest. Things like that happen I guess. But if you’re in one of those relationships you’d better not make it public. Enlisted members and Officers can’t fraternize. People lose their careers for breaking that rule. Also, one of the dumbest lines I’ve ever heard was spoken in the movie “Supernaturals”. Drill Sergeant Nichelle Nichols (Yes, Nichelle Nichols, Lt Uhura from the original star trek) said “I have the authority to investigate the death of someone under my command”. That’s a paraphrase, but it was jaw droppingly stupid. You have to take it in the context of the movie also. She was a Drill sergeant on a training mission and someone died. That’s like saying if I died of foul play at work my boss has to investigate the case. How’s that gonna fly? He might have been the one to kill me! (I know he probably wants to most days)

And now my biggest peeve…uniforms: Usually I will point out mistakes in uniforms as a minor nit in reviews. I’ve heard that there has to be an imperfection onscreen for military uniforms. The reason is so no one can be faulted for impersonating military personnel. I don’t know if its true or not, and if you have any information it, then please share it with me my brothers and sisters. Anyway, a dinky thing like a nametag missing or on the wrong place, I can deal with it. I’ll call it a nit but that’s okay. But some movies play so fast and loose with military uniforms it makes me crazy. Iron Thunder was one of the worst offenders. They didn’t get one uniform right! Not ONE! I commented on this in my review of that movie and even provided a link to the Army’s regulation on uniforms in the page. The director, Jay Woelfel, wrote me a bit perturbed about it. His reasoning was that someone he knew said they knew about uniforms. Bah! Listen, if you’re gonna make a movie, which takes resources, then make use of all the resources available to you. AR 670-1 is NOT a secret document. Even if it was, there are so many other avenues. Ask someone IN the military, call a local recruiter, check with the VFW…geez. While I harbor no ill feeling to Mr. Woelfel, his excuses were just that…excuses.

The reason it bugs me so much is this. There are men and women that have given their lives in wearing those uniforms. There are men and women that joined any service because they wanted to serve…they wanted to be a part of the team that protects America…and they earned those uniforms. A mistake on one while making a movie…like I said, so what…but not even trying to get it right? That’s slapping every service member in the face.

In closing, I just want to say this to any aspiring film makers out there. If you’re gonna make a movie about the military do a little research. You don’t have to get everything right, but at least try. I think I can speak for all of my fellow defenders of the constitution when I say, we’d appreciate it.