Servicemembers Get Sneak Preview of ‘Transformers’
By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 29, 2007 Under the cover of darkness in the nation’s capital last night, servicemembers from all branches deployed into their temporary 'theater' of operations -- a movie theater.
About 600 military personnel and family members attended a sneak preview of “Transformers,” the summer science fiction action-adventure film set for national release July 3.
Audience members cheered as virtuous Autobot transformers fought in concert with their U.S. military allies against the depraved Decepticons, while the clash between good and evil played out in stunning images and bone-rattling sound.
“That was without a doubt the best movie I have ever seen,” Army Staff Sgt. Mario Youngblood, dressed in his combat uniform, said as he emerged wide-eyed from the theater. The soldier, who grew up watching the early animated version, said the film did justice to the “Generation 1” Transformers of his youth.
“Transformers” features servicemembers from various branches fighting side-by-side in the thick of the action, depicting joint military operations.
“Obviously, the military has never fought giant robots, and hopefully we never will. But the way this film is structured, if we ever had to do it, this is probably how we would do it,” said Army Lt. Col Paul Sinor, a public affairs officer with that service’s Office of the Chief of Public Affairs.
During one battle scene, members of a joint special operations force are attacked by a Decepticon in the desert of a Middle Eastern country. Using a common cellular phone, the Army commander on the ground dials the Pentagon and tosses the phone to his Air Force combat controller, who directs an Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft to their position. Operators on the AWACS then call in AC-130 Spectres and A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft for air support.
“Go, Air Force!” an audience member yelled when an AC-130 began firing on enemies with its side-mounted artillery guns. “Yeah, Navy!” belts out a sailor upon seeing a team of destroyers cutting across the shining sea.
This battle scene illustrates “netcentric warfare,” the modern military strategy aimed at connecting command centers to airborne control systems to warfighters around the globe.
Liaison officers like Sinor worked with director Michael Bay to ensure the U.S. military’s portrayal -- its core values in addition to its tactics, dialogue and uniforms -- looks and feels authentic. As a testament to the military’s fondness for technical titles, servicemembers refer to the transformer robots as Non-Biological Extraterrestrials, or NBEs.
“Try to keep up with the acronyms,” one of the film’s characters says during an intelligence briefing.
The resolute secretary of defense, played by Jon Voight, gives a nonverbal plug during the film to America Supports You, a Defense Department program that connects military members to a civilian support network. The lapel of the Defense Secretary’s suit jacket is affixed with a pin bearing the ASY logo.
“(Bay) did the Hollywood part of the film, we did the military part, and it was a very cohesive, very easy way of doing things,” said Sinor, who has worked with Bay previously on films that include “The Rock” and “Armageddon.”
Defense Department officials allowed Paramount Pictures to film at Air Force bases in New Mexico and California, and to rent military equipment such as the CV-22 Osprey and F-22 Raptor, which made their big-screen debuts in “Transformers.” F-22s run about $25,000 per hour, according to the rental scale established by the department.
“You can’t go to Tanks R’ Us and rent a tank or a destroyer,” Sinor said. “If you need that in the movie, you have to come to the military.”
The film promoters, who last night treated guests to free popcorn and soda, stood outside the theater doors after the film, asking for audience members’ reactions in an exit poll fashion. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive, and one servicemember remarked about the Hollywood’s portrayal of the military, “This is the first time they got it right.”
“The special effects are definitely going to draw the younger crowd, and then they’ll be able to see just how the Air Force operates,” said Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Mike Gasparetto after the film.
Gasparetto, a career field manager for Air Force Recruiting Service, said moviegoers will get a chance to see some of his service’s more exciting missions.
“I think it will be a great branding tool for the Air Force, to let the folks know that the Air Force does more than just move people around in aircraft,” he said. Hundreds of airmen appear in the film as extras, and nearly a dozen others have speaking roles.
“The military cooperating with the entertainment industry puts a more personal side on what the military does,” he said. “We’re not just about protecting the nation, although that is our primary job. This film shows that we have a human side to us while we are there to protect and help wherever needed.”