Transformers beat G.I. Joe in battle for DOD support for summer blockbusters

By JEFF SCHOGOL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 27, 2009

ARLINGTON, Va. — In the battle of 1980s cartoons turned live-action movies, “Transformers” defeated “G.I. Joe” in securing support from the Defense Department.

The “G.I. Joe” filmmakers had a limited relationship with the Defense Department after they asked to use Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, said Vincente C. Ogilvie, deputy director for entertainment media.

“They wanted MRAPs just at the time Secretary Gates made a decision that emphasis would be placed on getting MRAPs to the combat zone as quickly as possible, so unfortunately we couldn’t help them with that,” Ogilvie said.

That pretty much ended the conversation until much later, when filmmakers asked and received permission to film at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., he said.

Meanwhile, the “Transformers” filmmakers had been allowed to film helicopters, tanks, a submarine and an aircraft carrier, said Philip M. Strub, director of entertainment media.

The disparity does not mean “Transformers” painted a more flattering portrayal of the U.S. military than does “G.I. Joe,” Strub said.

“The difference has less to do — in many respects — with us than the filmmakers,” he said. “I mean I think in the case of ‘G.I. Joe,’ looking back, I think we feel that the filmmakers belatedly realized that we could have provided more support.”

In contrast, Strub persuaded the “Transformers” filmmakers to include the Navy and Marine Corps in their portrayal of the military so that the Defense Department could give them more stuff to use, he said.

Another issue is that the characters in “Transformers” are under U.S. command and control, while “G.I. Joe” is not a Defense Department entity.

“When I spoke to the producers, they said they went about looking at G.I. Joe as not wholly American. They wanted to appeal to the international audience, so they decided to create an acronym, and the acronym was GI JOE,” Ogilvie said.

According to the Internet Movie Database, the “G.I. Joe” plot was changed to make the unit American instead of an international team based in Belgium after negative reaction from fans and servicemembers.

A spokeswoman for the studio releasing “G.I. Joe” was not immediately available for comment Tuesday.

A poster for “G.I. Joe” hangs outside Strub’s and Ogilvie’s office in the Pentagon.

Ogilvie said he debated putting it up due to the level of support the film got from the Defense Department.

“They still got support from us, so I went ahead and said, ‘Put it up,’ ” he said.

“Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” is due in theaters in June. “G.I. Joe” comes out in August.