Published September 07, 2007
Say it ain't so, G.I. Joe.
The popular all-American comic-book military man and action figure dating back to the 1940s is undergoing a significant transformation for the Paramount Pictures-distributed "G.I. Joe" film, which begins production in February and is scheduled for release in summer 2009.
No longer will G.I. Joe be a U.S. Special Forces soldier, the "Real American Hero" who, in his glory days, single-handedly won World War II.
In the politically correct new millennium, G.I. Joe bears no resemblance to the original.
Paramount has confirmed that in the movie, the name G.I. Joe will become an acronym for "Global Integrated Joint Operating Entity" — an international, coed task force charged with defeating bad guys. It will no longer stand for government issued, as in issued by the American government.
The studio won't elaborate, saying filming hasn't begun and details are still in the works, but the behind-the-scenes rumblings are that the producers have decided to change the nature of G.I. Joe in order to appeal to a wider, more international audience.
The word is that in the current political climate, they're afraid that a heroic U.S. soldier won't fly.
Joe's transformation, however, isn't sitting well with diehard fans and military types.
"I find it outrageous that they'd want to drop everything American" from the character, said conservative blogger Warner Todd Huston, who wrote about the rumors this week on Newsbusters.org and his own blog. "That's nuts."
Retired Army Col. David W. Hunt, a FOX News military and terrorism analyst, called the scheme to make a whole new Joe "a shame."
"G.I. Joe is a U.S. guy," Hunt said. "What are we going to call it — Global Joe? International Joe? It's kind of stupid. It's ridiculous that they're doing that."
Paramount wouldn't say whether an American would be part of the new "global entity," nor would it offer specifics about the storyline or the characters.
"It is too early to tell about plots. We just don't know that," Jessica Rovins, a marketing executive at Paramount, told FOXNews.com.
But she did confirm the accuracy of an article that ran in the film trade publication Variety, which reported last week that G.I. Joe the soldier is being transformed into G.I.J.O.E. the task force.
A Navy spokeswoman said the studio and film's writers have already approached people at the Pentagon for input.
"They had talked about what would be the best way forward, but without seeing a treatment we don’t know yet which way it’s going to go," Lt. Stephanie Murdock, a project officer in the Navy Office of Information West, told FOXNews.com. "We're definitely open to assisting them when they get around to asking us."
But with no script in hand, she said, it's hard to gauge how the military feels about the characterization of G.I. Joe.
The comic-book character and toy line have already undergone an evolution of sorts since Joe first won the hearts of American little boys — and some little girls — beginning in 1942 with the comic strip and in the early 1960s with the action figure.
In the 1940s, he debuted as a comic-book hero in a strip that ran in U.S. military magazines during World War II.
In the 1960s, G.I. Joe was a burly U.S. Special Forces soldier, the "Real American Hero" of both comic book and action figure fame. The doll had various versions and counterparts of different races and ethnicities, but he was clearly an American male soldier.
In the post-Vietnam War era in the 1970s, Hasbro decided to downplay G.I. Joe's military theme by renaming the line "The Adventures of G.I. Joe" and recasting Joe as the leader of an adventure team charged with espionage missions and fighting evil.
But in the 1980s, the toy company Hasbro made G.I. Joe more of a superhero and added a host of other action figures, expanding the line to include characters that made up a team of international operatives.
Now some critics say the globalization of G.I. Joe has gone too far.
"G.I. Joe is not an international hero. That's crap," said Col. Hunt. "They don't have to water it down. That doesn't make sense."
For blogger Huston, who played with G.I. Joe as a boy, transforming the entire character into an amorphous task force in the movie feels like a hit to his childhood memories.
"I certainly understand that it's for international audiences, but these things are American icons," he said. "Why even pretend it's G.I. Joe then? I am a little bit upset about the whole thing."
Huston believes it's the latest example of Hollywood's hostility toward all things American, and he said he probably won't go to see the film if the existing plans are executed.
"It's the last spit in the face of our military," Huston said. "The doll was G.I. Joe, the government-issued guy who was a hero and American. It was celebrating this one heroic soldier. They want to take even that away."
But in order to be a true success these days, a film has to play well to foreign markets as well as stateside in everything from box-office to DVD sales.
For some citizens of other countries — where sentiments against the Iraq war and the American government are strong — a U.S. soldier might not be the easiest character to get viewers to identify with.
Paramount's Rob Moore, a high-level marketing executive, recently told AdAge.com that it was too soon to know what the global response would be to the film.
"Until there's a [locked] script, I don't think you can really comment on what the international reaction will be," he said. "There are parts of the world where [the negative perception of the American government] is an issue, like Western Europe, and parts where it isn't, like the U.K., Australia and Asia."
Hasbro, the maker of the G.I. Joe action figure line, declined to comment about what's in store for its line of G.I. Joe toys and action figures.
But the toy company's chief operating officer, Brian Goldner, has previously spoken to the media about plans for the movie and brand.
"There are always challenges ... G.I. Joe is not just a brand that represents the military, it also represents great characters," he told AdAge.com. "We'll weigh our options. Clearly we do a lot of work on consumer insight."
The film will be directed by Stephen Sommers, produced by Di Bonaventura Films — which just did the highly successful "Transformers" movie — and written by Stuart Beattie and Skip Woods.