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'Transformers' breaks out the big guns forsequel
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By Anthony Breznican, USA TODAY
WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M.
The United States military has declared war on giant, shape-shiftingalien robots.Amid blinding platinum dunes baking in the 105-degree sun, scores of elite servicemen and women cluster inand around real tanks, rocket launchers and personnel carriers as they unleash a machine-gun barrage at aninvisible (and entirely fictional) enemy: Transformers.These troops, many of them recently returned from the actual life-and-death realities of Iraq and Afghanistan,aren't professional actors. But for the moment, they are the stars and this is the climactic battle of next summer'ssequel
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
."I'm convinced. If we were to actually fight Transformers, this is how we would do it," jokes Lt. Col. Francisco"Paco" Hamm, the Air Force liaison to the film, who oversees the use of the branch's humans and hardware.
LaBeouf, Fox come under fire, for real
Get a sneak peek at 'Transformers 2' The U.S. Department of Defense gave its official stamp of approval to the Michael Bay-directed film, not onlyallowing production amid the pristine dunes of the Army's New Mexico missile range, but also letting filmmakersfollow jets and fighter planes through the sky from nearby Holloman Air Force Base. More scenes were shot onthe Navy's aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis, and Marines fill the ranks of the strike team battling the invadingTransformers.The DOD has long seen benefit in joining forces with Hollywood, though its participation depends on scriptapproval. The Pentagon demands some measure of realism
at least in how the military behaves, despite thegiant robots. And it expects the films it partners on to shed a generally positive light on the service. Movies suchas
, regarded as a major boost for recruitment in its day, and the recent Robert Downey Jr. blockbuster
received military cooperation. Films that are darker or more critical, such as
A Few Good Men
, are ontheir own.One reason the military cooperates with filmmakers is to provide a boost to the rank-and-file, Hamm says. "Themorale level goes through the roof. There's nothing like an airman taking his family out to
andwatching the kids see something their father or mother does on the big screen."
Borrowing machines and men
What makes the sequel to 2007's
different from other Defense Department movie partnerships isscale.The film's Army liaison, Lt. Col. Gregory Bishop, notes: "As far as I know, this is the biggest joint militaryoperation movie ever made, in terms of Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines. I can't think of one that's bigger."Among the equipment the movie is using in this desert sequence alone: two A-10 Thunderbolt II "Warthog" tank-killing jets; six F-16 Fighting Falcons; 10 armored Humvees; the Army's Golden Knights parachute team; twoAbrams tanks; two Bradley tanks; two missile-launcher vehicles; two armored personnel carriers; and a quarter-mile of the missile testing range, cleared of unexploded ordnance and built into an Egyptian town and temple.(Signs warn not to cross a perimeter just over the gypsum dunes, because live bombs could be hidden in thesand.)Among the most important military assets, however, are the off-duty enlisted men and women paid to be extrasor play bit parts, Hamm says. "They are absolutely loving it. It's a great opportunity for them. Not only do they getto be in the movie, but they get to showcase what they can do. When Michael Bay's directing them, they know allthe basics of their weapons and what they're actually supposed to do, so it's easier for filmmakers to direct thescene because they're real soldiers and airmen."So many people are firing so many guns that civilian crew workers go through between shots, gathering upbuckets full of empty brass shell casings. Having so many scattered around clutters later shots, and theworkers say they can trade them in as scrap and get enough money for a few cases of beer.There's a standard rivalry between the Air Force and Army, but it's even more intense in this part of New Mexico,with the Army's White Sands Base and the Air Force's Holloman so close to each other. The military extras splitinto camps favoring the two main military characters: Josh Duhamel's Army Ranger Capt. Lennox and TyreseGibson's Air Force Master Sgt. Epps.Gibson taunts Duhamel that he's the one with the promotion this time, from tech sergeant in the original. "Theymoved me up in rank," he says. "I felt like in the first film we were following him and chasing him around. Now, Ibreak down all the coordinates and let them know where to drop bombs and bring the rain."Duhamel says the leader they're all following, military and actors alike, is Bay, who is known for such large-scale blow-'em-up popcorn movies as
, both films that also had large militaryelements.
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