Military using its promotional arms in theaters
Aware that Americans’ perception of war gets fuzzier with each generation, the Marines and Navy have joined forces for the first time to produce a polished four-minute, 48-second movie trailer full of Hollywood-style scenes and sound bites from the war on terrorism.
Until the trailer debuted last month at theaters in Southern California, New York and Denver, moviegoers had not seen a rah-rah military booster film since World War II.
“Enduring Freedom: The Opening Chapter” cost the military $1.2 million to make. The high-quality mini-movie is designed to bolster civilian support for the armed forces.
“The piece doesn’t ask anyone to make a judgment or take an action,” said the trailer’s creator, Lt. Col. James Kuhn. “It’s just saying, you’re a taxpayer, here’s a meaningful look at the military.”
Regal Entertainment Group, which as the nation’s largest theater chain owns a quarter of the screens in the country, now is showing the trailer on 800 of them. A company spokeswoman said that it has received some complaints but that it is getting mostly favorable reviews.
On Monday morning, the company issued a statement that read, in part: “The first year of the war against terrorism has required the great sacrifice of many men, women and their families. Regrettably, the American public’s recognition of the accomplishments and sacrifices of these young patriots has been short-lived. It was our intent to inform and educate the public with this film. It is not intended to be propaganda.”
The images are proving disturbing to some, however. One moviegoer, Lori Yonan, 39, a publicist for the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, was settling in with her young daughters for a Sunday matinee of “Jonah: A Veggie Tales Movie,” a G-rated children’s movie, when the trailer aired.
“My girls are 4 and 7, and when that trailer came on, they saw the World Trade Center twin towers crashing down on Sept. 11,” she said. “This was before a G-rated movie, targeting kids younger than 7 years. It’s a bunch of vegetables telling Bible stories.”
“Enduring Freedom,” which is also the name of the Pentagon’s campaign against terrorism, could play on all of Regal’s 4,000 screens by the end of next year. This week, the military is awaiting opinion poll results from theatergoers who saw the trailer.
For Regal, “Enduring Freedom” is a patriotic rollout of its new $65-million digital network, which the company aims to implement nationwide by the end of 2003.
The digital network enables Regal to download advertisements and trailers from a satellite on an individual screen basis. The technology made it attractive to the military because it avoided the distribution costs of a traditional reel.
It offers a business upside for the chain too. “The ads we show now have not been really satisfying for us, financially,” said Lauren Leff, Regal’s vice president of communications. “We have static slides or commercials they made for television that they are transferring to a 40-foot screen.”
In addition to playing before some children’s flicks, “Enduring Freedom” has been shown before films that include “The Four Feathers” and “Sweet Home Alabama.”
The trailer was made by American Rogue Film in Santa Monica, which took studio-based cameras and modified them into hand-held equipment to take on location and into battle.
“We trained 12 cameramen from [the] Marines and Navy and picked four of them. They had to have good eyes and be technicians. We had to feel secure that if one of these cameras broke on a carrier, they could fix it,” said Lance O’Connor, owner of American Rogue Film and one of the trailer’s producers.
The camera crews went with two anti-terrorist squads onto the Indian Ocean and into Kabul, Afghanistan. They also shot off Hawaii; at Twentynine Palms; Yuma, Ariz.; and at bases in Norfolk, Va.
After several months, they had 250 hours of footage; the leftovers will be crafted into recruiting commercials and DVDs. The technology, O’Connor said, was superior to anything his company has done for the military in 10 years of advertising campaigns. For starters, Raytheon designed infrared lenses to put on the cameras, so footage of U.S. troops taking over Kandahar, Afghanistan, at night enables glimpses of what O’Connor described as “real Taliban in there.”