Give Unto Me Your Favourite Military Briefing Scenes

I am writing a book about space marines, ’cause I like stories where high-marine types are sent into remote locations and get torn apart by monsters. Aliens. Starship Troopers. Doom. Predator. That kind of shit is my jam, yo. It sings the sweet songs of my youth too my inner child, and those songs go pew! pew! pew!

When I hit the third chapter, I’ve got a scene that’s…problematic. Lots of military types gathered together for a briefing, learning the details of the remote planet where they’re destined to be torn to shreds. This is a scene that has the potential to be…dull.

Very dull.

Lots of info-dumpy shit and not a lot of conflict.

So, this week I’m searching out movies and books that do this kind of thing exceptionally well. Things I can study and learn from, in terms of their techniques.

Star Wars, for example.

Star Wars is the first briefing scene to burn itself into my psyche, ’cause it’s got the urgency of impending doom and the insertion of small-scale conflicts to give the scene juice. Random alliance guy stands in front of a computer screen and explains the hopeless situationSome pilot says, that’s impossible. Luke says, yo, womp rats, motherfucker. I kill them.

Then it’s all may the force be with you as the pilots are sent off to die with the gormless farm-boy looking cool as shit for refusing to be freaked out by the impossible.

Aliens? In Aliens, James Cameron uses the mission briefing to establish the difference between Ripley and the Colonial Marines. She tries to tell them what they’re heading into. They’re all STFU, stupid civilian. What would you know about blowing shit up? 

Which, because it’s a sequel, we know is mightily stupid on their part and pits the characters up against the audience as well as Ripley, who knows exactly what’s coming.

Those scenes are my starting point. I’m looking for more.

So I’m sending out a request: what briefing scenes do you rememberer from fiction and film? Which ones stick in your mind?

  3 comments for “Give Unto Me Your Favourite Military Briefing Scenes

  1. 02/12/2015 at 9:41 AM

    Zulu – all the briefings show tensions between junior/seniority, innocence/(perceived) experience, prejudice/openness, dismissiveness/respect for enemy, and usually happen in situations of high pressure. This movie does a number of things exceedingly well (also I think Jackson used it as a touchstone for the Helm’s Deep scenes, but it works better).

    Twelve O’Clock High – I don’t have clear memories of this one, but my dad used to use it training officers as an example of leadership. Also: Gregory Peck.

    Most WWII airforce movies are pretty good on the briefing scenes. Usually pre-dawn, people being dry and calm and stoic in the face of imminent danger and very high likelihood that few will make it back. So, not unlike being sent off to be torn apart by monsters. (Memphis Belle has the added enemy-at-home in the form of John Lithgow’s very upbeat publicity officer, whose positivity threatens everyone’s careful equilibrium). The Dam Busters and Reach for the Sky are my usual recommendations but I don’t recall if they have briefings – DB is more physics focussed, iirc, and Reach for the Sky is mostly about Bader disobeying authority and escaping from POW camps without his legs, so.

  2. 02/12/2015 at 12:58 PM

    Futurama: http://theinfosphere.org/Transcript:When_Aliens_Attack

    I think there’s one at the end of Guardians of the Galaxy too.

  3. 02/12/2015 at 10:14 PM

    It’s not strictly military, but I think the greatest briefing scene of all time occurs in The Greatest Move Ever Made – Robocop. Specifically, the unveiling and demonstration of ED-209. Does about 17 things at once in terms of plot, characterization, etc, and also contains one of the most hilariously dark violent deaths in cinema history.

    I’d say the section in The Sting called ‘the setup’ is also worth a look – not military, but manages to combine an info dump with dramatic tension and plot progression nicely.

    Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive? Richard II? Pretty sure there’s one in The Rock for the SEAL team that’s pretty good…

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