(NEW YORK) MintPress – “The only thing Hollywood likes more than a good movie is a good deal,” explained journalist David Robb shortly after the 2004 publication of his groundbreaking book “Operation Hollywood,” and that’s why the producers of films like “Top Gun,” “Stripes” and “The Great Santini” have altered their scripts to accommodate Pentagon requests in exchange for inexpensive access to the military locations, vehicles, troops and gear they need to make their movies.
Robb should know. During the years he worked for Daily Variety and the Hollywood Reporter he often heard about a quid-pro-quo agreement between the military and movie studios and decided to investigate, combing through thousands of Pentagon documents as well as interviewing dozens of screenwriters, producers and military officials.
Robb found that the cozy relationship had endured for decades. He shows how, for example, in the Nicholas Cage film “Windtalkers,” the Marine Corps strong-armed producers into deleting a scene where a Marine pries gold teeth from a dead Japanese soldier, which was a historically accurate detail.
And in “The Perfect Storm,” the air force insisted on giving the Air National Guard credit for rescuing a sinking fishing boat, instead of the actual Coast Guard heroes.
Given similar stories with regard to some more recent films, it seems that today Robb might even have enough material for a sequel.
In one of the latest collaborations, the Defense Department’s latest crop of advanced stealth jets, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, will appear in the next installment of the Superman franchise, “Man of Steel,” when it is released next summer, far sooner than any of the troubled aircraft will ever be seen in action.
“It was a target of opportunity,” said Phil Strub, the Pentagon’s Hollywood liaison in a recent interview with Wired.
Strub is no stranger to seeking out opportunities. As the head of the Film Liaison Office, a special bureau at the Pentagon, his mission is to study the scripts of American war movies and decide whether to offer them support or not, depending on their interest for the nation’s military leaders.
In the forward to Operation Hollywood, Jonathan Turley, a public interest law professor at the George Washington University School of Law, wrote, “Most Americans have no idea who Phil Strub is. Very few would give this bureaucrat the authority to tailor the films and programs that they watch.
“Yet Strub routinely insists that filmmakers adhere to his view of America and the armed forces,” he continued.
When the “Man of Steel” filmmakers visited Edwards Air Force Base base in California in January to get shots of military aircraft, they learned that some F-35s were on the base for flight testing.
Not surprisingly, Strub was on location with them and arranged for the base to tow two of the jets into the shot being filmed.
“They liked the idea of having the most modern, the newest fighter aircraft in the background,” he said.
And Strub undoubtedly liked the idea of propagating the myth that all is well with the most expensive weapons program in history; in fact, the Pentagon is no longer predicting when it will be viable.
Too big to fail?
The F-35 Lightning II is a family of single-seat, single-engine fighters being developed by Lockheed Martin to perform a multitude of roles using stealth technology to avoid detection. It is meant to be the future backbone of the Air Force, Navy and Marines’ combat air fleets.
But the fighter is already way over budget. The government now projects that the total cost to develop, buy and operate the F-35 will be $1.51 trillion over the next 50-plus years. That is up from about $1.38 trillion a year ago.
It is also way behind schedule and has extensive — and expensive — engineering flaws.
In January 2011, Defense Secretary Robert Gates expressed the Pentagon’s frustration with the skyrocketing costs of the F-35 program when he said, “The culture of endless money that has taken hold must be replaced by a culture of restraint.”
Yet Gates’ successor, Leon Panetta, has stated his support for the program.
Flexing military might
This is hardly the first time the Pentagon has tried to promote some of its major hardware on the big screen.
It has also not shied away from trying to put a shine on its special operations, providing technical assistance on “Zero Dark Thirty,” the upcoming movie about the Navy Seal raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan.
Noted Robb after the release of Operation Hollywood, “The Writer’s Guild, whose stated mission is to protect the creative and economic rights of its members, has never made a single protest that its members’ scripts are being manipulated and changed by the military. And Congress has done nothing.
“Hollywood likes the way it is, and the military likes the way it is; they don’t want to change it,” he added. “The only people who have a real interest in this are the American people. They’re being saturated with military propaganda in their mainstream movies and TV shows, and they don’t even know.”