29 August 2013

FWS Topics: Weapon of Choice

When it comes to character development in any work, either on the page or the screen, there are many ways to set characters apart from the background or even each other for the audience. In the realm of military science fiction, action movies, and shooter video games, the weapon that the characters or player chooses, is an important element in the identity of this character/player. In this blogpost, FWS will explore genesis of why certain weapons are chosen to be featured in a media

The Trendy Gun-of-the-Moment
It seems every-fucking-thing has a trend. Clothing, shoes (remember Reebok Pumps?), hairstyles, toothpaste (no shit), soda, movies. Even yogurt, YOGURT for christsakes, has trends. This also includes firearms, and at the moment, the M4/M16/AR15 are the trendy gun. Everyone I know has an AR15 that they are modding out, and every video game/TV show/movie has an M4 carbine. This was not so when I was a kid. Back then, the M16/AR15 appeared dead, and it looked like the US Military was going to replace it at any moment. In those days, the AK47/74, MP5, Desert Eagle, and the Beretta 92F were the trendy guns. In these situations, the weapon of choice is not about the realities of the tactical situation, but because it is trendy, and the creator cannot or will not think outside of the box.
Take Predator for example. There was little doubt that the MP5 was  one hot gun back then. Every counter-terrorism unit, SWAT team, and close protection detail was adopting this little 9mm SMG that could. In the film, the elite Special Forces rescue team is a mixed bag of weaponry, however the most common is the H&K MP5. There is little tactical use for the MP5 in a jungle warfare setting, and it is not like sheath was the key element in the unit's assault plan (just watch the movie). My only thought for the inclusion of the MP5 was because it was trendy. It became even worse of a stereotype after the epic masterpiece Die Hard where no less than two trendy weapons were showcased: MP5 and the Beretta 92F.
 After John McClane shot up international terrorists with the Beretta, it seemed you couldn't see a movie or go to a gun show with seeing this handgun every damn place. One reason that Die Hard featured the Beretta was because of its recent adoption by the US military as their official handgun. This trendy gun element continues today with the Colt M4 carbine. Since the operations in Afghanistan and the War in Iraq, the popularity of the M4 along with the rail attachment items, have soared. Fueling this popularity, has been the availability of hi-res photos on the internet, along with demand driving the paintball/Airsoft market to crack out copies of the M4. Much like the H&K MP5, the Colt M4's popularity has filtered down to this carbine (and commando carbine) being widely adopted by SWAT units, international military organizations (the British SAS), private security firms, and seemingly every recreational shooter I know. Despite the AR15 platform being nearly fifty years old, she has never been more popular.

The Shit Has Just Hit the Fan
We've all been there in video game or watching a movie. There comes that part, when the character gets that epic rapid-fire rocket launcher, or the rotary cannon of death, or just your standard issue big fucking gun. I've seen in any of the DOOM games, HALO, or the best example: Predator with Old Painless. You knew some badass shit was about to go down when Blain whipped out that bad mutha futha cannon! That is one way that a weapon of choice is selected, the situation has altered for the worst, and the character(s) need more firepower that is not available from close support elements. Mercifully, in most video game developers allow you access to mega-damage weapons like the BFG-9000 in order to dispatch hell-spawn like a boss.

This Guy is a Badass
Weapon of choice can clearly communicate to an audience that a certain character has abilities behind the rest. Back in the 1980's, sound suppressed submachine guns were the symbols of counter-terrorism units and Special Force ninjas. Inclusion of these types of weapons in films like Delta Force, Escape From New York, and 1974's McQ where to communicate to the audience that this guy is one bad mother fucker. Even a different variant of the standard weapon can make for separation of these badass characters from a group. The best example is the use of the Colt Model 653P carbines in Platoon for the characters of Barnes and Elias. When I saw this as a kid, I know instantly that these guys were the badass warfighters of the unit. When I take to the paintball field, while I'm no badass, my choice of tiger-stripe BDUs, black kit, Tiberius pistol and Tippmann Alpha Black Tactical somehow tells everyone in the assembly area that I'm so sort of retired Team Six Jedi Knight, and everyone joins my team.
It does not even need to be a carbine or SMG, pistols work just has well to inform the audience of the uber-skill level of the character. Consider the characters of Jack Bauer, Dirty Harry, the Agents from the Matrix films, and Arnold Schwarzenegger's Soviet police character from Red Heat. All carried pistols, and brought them to gunfights where their enemy is outfitted with all manner of military-grade weaponry (especially with Jack Bauer). Because of the Shaft-like-badassness of these characters, they no problem with win the day with just their pistols...even more so, if the pistol is a revolver...just watch any Clint Eastwood movie.  This even applies not just to guns, but also melee weaponry. Consider Chingachgook from 1992's Last of the Mohicans with his bright blue gunstock war-club (yes, I own one), Voodoo's tomahawk from Medal of Honor, and of course, Rambo.  

"Which is the Way He Wants It. Well, He Gets It..."
Preference of weapons is often of the largest factors in selecting a weapon of choice in the real-world and fictional works. In the realm of the most elite special forces, DELTA operators have a long history of preferring the Colt 1911s, while the Navy SEALs use the Sig Sauer P226, and the SAS used the Browning Hi-Power for many years. Professional shooters are well known to choice weapons based on their devoted fondness for a certain firearm company or certain pistol, rifle, or even ammunition. This fondness for one certain type of weapon is explored in fictional character as well. This can be because the creator has their own attachment to the weapon, or that it symbolizes something about the character's personality. In the Manga Gunsmith Cats, the main character, Rally Vincent is very selective of her weapon of choice, and the manga loving explains why Rally feels that the CZ-75 is the best semi-automatic in the world.  In the Ghost in the Shell manga, Major Kusanagi belittles Togusa for carrying his weapon of choice, while singing the praised of the 5.45mm Seburo M5.
When I was a kid, I watched a ton of violent action movies (that is what is wrong with me), and Steven Seagal's were some of my favorites, propelling me to take Aikido in high school. In the majority of his action films, Mr. Seagal had a trend of using Colt 1911s and deep in the credits, gunsmith Terry Tussey was cited as Mr. Seagal's personal outfitter. This speaks to another category of Weapon of Choice, because the actor or creator wants it. This was true of the H&K USP45 seen in the hands of Tom Cruise in Collateral. Michael Mann specifically wrote in the script for Vincent to use an "HK .45". Some actors use this specific weapon because they used in another line of work, they like it, or that it says something about them.

Based in Reality
Some creators put a specific gun in the hands of their characters or situation because it is based in reality.  If a creator is committed to getting it correct, than the weapons of choice is more of an easier decision than picking weapons of choice based on style or what is hot at the moment.Having the Navy SEALs use the sound suppressed H&K MP5SDs on a hostage rescue is accurate (for the time) in the abortion-of-a-movie Navy Seals. Seeing DELTA operators use Colt Commando carbines with scopes in Blackhawk Down is accurate to the historical event of October 3rd, 1993. In the more current Zero Dark Thirty, we see DEVGRU operators wielding H&K 416s with sound suppressors, also based in reality and on-scene accounts. This is also true of the upcoming film based on the book Sole Survivor, where the filmmakers used photos and consultants to put the correct Colt M4, along with accompanying weaver rail attachments in the hands of the actor playing Navy SEALs.

Say Something Without Saying a Word
Defining the character is key in any work. There are many tools at the disposal of the creator: wardrobe, accent, haircut, vehicle, and weapon of choice. You can instantly communicate with an  audience  about the character just based on the weapon that you chose for them. Take Zoe from Firefly for example. She uses the cut-down "Mare's Leg" Colt Model 1892 Lever-Action carbine. Like FWS has stated before, cut-down compact weapons are often a sign of badassness, Joss and his team were aware of this. They were also aware that the Mare's Leg pistol-carbine was also closely associated with one of the most cool actors in the history of cinema: Steve McQueen. In his Western TV show, Wanted: Dead or Alive, McQueen's character used the Mare's Leg and this weapon impacted a generation of viewers. If you know about the Mare's Leg, than Zoe's character becomes alot cooler. Of course, this can also work in reverse, sometimes a weapon of choice is used to communicate that this character is an asshat, like Mickey Rourke's character in the 1991 forgotten classic Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man. Towards the end of the film, Harley whips out a .454 Ruger Super Blackhawk, and Marlboro just shakes his head.

Making it Yours
Military organizations are big on uniformity, weapons included. Much of soldiers in the real world and other medium, will be uniform in weapons and gears. Often in war, soldiers take their base weapon and modify them and this as been so from the rice paddles of Vietnam, to the deserts of Iraq, to the cold mountains of Afghanistan. While the weapon of choice could be assigned to you, like an Colt M4 carbine, there is a chance to make it your own. With the recent weaver rail madness, an regular soldier or marine can modify his or her M4 carbine with all manner of flashlights, sights, scopes, hand-grips, and other attachments. While the base gun is more or less universal, the attachments allow for making a mandatory weapon of choice to be made in your own firearm of choice. We can see customization of a base weapon in the Call of Duty and Medal of Honor games. This was not just with the current crop of weapons, personalization of weapons has been a trend in firearms since the beginning, and doesn't seem in any danger of disappearing.
While many gamers use the awesome M27 and Tac-45 in Black Ops: II, they can attach all manner of equipment, camo patterns, and perks to make that assault rifle something unique..after all, there are many M27s, but this one is mine! One of the better examples of this customization is in the lightsabers of Star Wars universe. While every Jedi Knight and Sith warrior use the single or double blade directed energy melee weapon, the user can fully customize the hilts, color of blade, and how many blades, allowing for the base Jedi/Sith weapon to be truly a symbol of the warrior that wields it, and iconic pieces of the characters. Fans of the movies, have create a cottage industry of custom cosplay lightsaber hilts to modify the standard armament of these sci-fi warriors to match the wearer.

Standing Out in a Ensemble Cast
Movies like Predator, Saving Private Ryan, Firefly, Gunsmith Cats, and Gunslinger Girl allow for the weapon of choice for the character to define some element of the characters' personality, along with setting them apart from the others. If we look at Firefly, everyone used a weapon that allowed them to standout, from Jayne's LeMat, to Zoe's Mare's Leg Model 1892 carbine-pistol, to Mal's highly modified Taurus Model 85 .38 revolver. This were iconic pieces of kit for the character, and were easily identified with the character. The same is true of the Jedi and Sith seen in the Star Wars films, or the attachment kit on the M4s in Tears of the Sun. In Saving Private Ryan, we saw the Rangers in Captain Miller's unit having different WWII-era weaponry, allowing for some characters to be easily identified via this weapon. Some examples were Edward Burns' character, Pvt. Reiben used a rarely seen Browning BAR, or Barry Pepper's Pvt. Jackson's Springfield M1903A4 sniper rifle, or even the 101st Airborne Paratroopers using the M1A1 Paratrooper variant carbines. The ability for this connect to a cool gun to a character was a strong connection for me. I may not have known the actor who played Reiben at first, but I fully knew that it was the guy with the rad BAR!

The Right Tool for the Right Job
Sometimes, the weapon of choice just comes down to the right tool for the right job. There are reasons why the majority of soldiers use an assault rifle or carbine, why shotguns are great for home defense, and why nuclear weapons are effective against xeno-inflections on corporate off-world colonies. Weapons, like dog breeds, are developed to fulfill a certain purpose. Take Elephant guns, anti-tank rifles, bird-shot shells, and personal defense weapons. All of these specialized weapons were designed with an intended purpose beyond the general role of a gun...to kill.
Weapon of choice can come down to what are you going to do and where. For example, during the early days of the conflict in Afghanistan, British SAS where staging night raids on AQ and Taliban cave complexes. Given the conditions of the tactical environment, the SAS turned to their venerable suppressed H&K MP5s. During on of these raids, an AQ/Taliban fighters came out and took a piss inches away from a SAS operator. When he finished, he noticed something, and before he could breath a word, the operator slammed half-a-magazine of suppressed 9mm lead into his chest. The enemy guards on patrol never heard a sound....the right tool for the right job. Here is my favorite quote from the Professional that seems to apply: "The rifle is the first weapon you learn how to use, because it lets you keep your distance from the client. The closer you get to being a pro, the closer you can get to the client. The knife, for example, is the last thing you learn"-Leon,

It's a Reference...
 There is little doubt that some weapons of choice are a conscience decision to reference another work, or that work influenced the creator(s). This is common in the Call of Duty game series, which liberally borrow from the 1980'sand 19*90's action movie classics (Terminator 2 and Commando and Rambo). Sometimes, the use of a reference weapon of choice is to pay homage to the original work that is often important to the creator.This was the case with the original Colonial sidearm in the Ronald D. Moore Battelstar Galactica that was patterned after Decker's handgun in Blade RunnerThis was also the case with the Winchester Model 1887 featured in Terminator 2. Cameron used the design of the loop-cocking handle as a reference to the Winchester Model 1892 "Saddle Ring" Carbine seen in 1969's True Grit. Gun References could be attempt by the creators to be sly,seeing if the audience is paying attention and gets the reference. This came up in the ID file for TODD-3465 in the 1998 MSF movie Soldier. In the small print of his ID, you can read that Todd is trained in the use of the ALIENS M41A1 pulse rifle and the Smart gun. Then there is the shitty kind of weapon of choice reference...ripping off the original work because you have little or no imagination.

The recycling of weapons in films and TV is not because the production is going green to save Mother Earth, but because they are trying to save money, and recycle a prop. One of the more famous sci-fi guns, "Vera" from Firefly is actually a Russian made shotgun, the Izhmash Saiga and was originally a prop from the 2002 action-comedy Showtime...yeah, never heard of it either. Vera was alternated from that 2002 box-office bomb, and put into the hands of Jayne Cobb. This was similar to the M590 assault rifle from Space: Above and Beyond. It made the rounds after the show that it was designed for shut down. It would appear in several sci-fi shows, including an episode of the X-Files. This is, at times, not the fault of the work that the recycled prop shows up in. TV shows and movies normally hire specialized prop houses that deal in blank-fire or non-fire weapons, and they bring a number of these weapons to a shoot, and sometimes by blind-luck, a recycled gun shows up.

Sometimes, the Creator(s) are Stupid
I hate to say this, but sometimes creators of a certain work, especially movies are idiots, and have zero practical weapons experience, that their weapons of choice is devised from this vast ignorant of firearms, and/or trying too hard to be cool. For example, in the more recent and more ridiculous  Resident Evil films, the use of
dual-wielding saw-off double barrel 12 gauge shotguns by Alice is just plain fucking stupid, and shows ignorance on the side of the filmmakers of these films.
Another very stupid weapon of cinema is the EM-1 Railgun from the 1996 film Eraser. They attempted to fit a futuristic hand-held rail-rifle that was fitted with an x-ray scope into an action movie to generate some originality in this very generic script. According to the film, the EM-1 fired aluminium sabot at near the speed of light! Simply put, the mere physics of this movie-weapon would prevent its use, and would be a danger to the shooter as well as the target. Worst of all, there is no way that a hand-held Railgun rifle could be fired akimbo, or even have the onboard power source to generate an EM to propel a sabot at near light speeds. The projectile itself would most likely burn up before hitting the intended target. Other times, it is not the weapon itself that is foolish, but the manner in which it used. Take Predators for example, excellent film overall, and a worthy successor to the original 1987 classic, but the main character, Royce uses an AA-12 fully-automatic 12 gauge shotgun has his primary weapon.Why? While the AA-12 is an epic weapon that brings the hate in truck-loads, it is a poor-general use weapon, especially considering the ammunition consumption. Even a great movie like Predators can suffer from stupidity about guns, I guess. Still, it was nice to see the AA-12 in action. 

Shameless Product Placement
Another way that a weapon becomes the choice for a creator is that someone pays them to use it. Production placement in TV shows, movies, books, and movies is nothing new, there is current trend that has gun companies inserting their products into the work. This was seen in the recent (and terrible) Medal of Honor: Warfighter with weapons from LaRue Tactical. In 1998, Tommy Lee Jones tells Robert Downey Jr to get himself a Glock, in the movie US Marshals, and that was paid for by Glock. Smith & Wesson put the slow-selling Model 29 .44 into 1971's Dirty Harry and sales reached the moon.
 Remington, Colt, and EoTech have been rumored to pay for placement into the Call of Duty video games A few articles I read made mention that gun product placement was Hollywood's "dirty little secret". Product placement is a odd game. On one hand, in the real world, people drink Coke, wear John Varvatos, drive Porsche, and use iPhones. Soldiers do use Colt, Sig Sauer, and Magpull...so, is it product placement if it is authentic gear? Of course, there is a way to invent fictional companies to take the place of real-world...like Weyland-Yutani. In some ways, I think firearm product placement ought to come from organic place in the fictional work. Would the character use the weapon if the creators were not being paid?   

Just Because It's Cool...Hey, That's a Reason!
The desire to be cool and appear cool to others is a strong impulse for human behavior, just look at how many people start smoking because it "looked" cool, or bought Members Only jackets. Weapon of choice sometimes comes down to the coolness factor that can be separate from the previously mentioned "trendy gun of the moment" factor. In the 1988 Sam Elliot film Shakedown, Sam's NYPD detective character has a rare LAR Grizzly .45 Mag pistol with a compensator. I seriously doubt that any New York detective carries or ever carried a LAR Grizzy in .45 Mag or any Miami undercover cops carried the rare Bren Ten 10mm Auto pistol. In the case of that classic 1980's series that I watched, the producers wanted a "cool" signature gun for the main characters.
That right there is the primary reason a myriad of Desert Eagles appear in media...because they are cool...until you fire one.  I read once that the reason for the Desert Eagles .50 Action Express being the Agents in the Matrix films was because the directors thought that the Desert Eagles were badass cool. At times, the "cool gun" idea spreads, and becomes a standard that leads to the "trendy gun" or introduces the audience to a new idea in firearms. The original Ghost in the Shell manga introduced me to the PDW and the PDW specialized cartridge all because Shirow thought it was a cool idea. I know that I'm guilty of this, and so are many others...like placing weapons based on the AKS-74U and the Seburo M5 in my own sci-fi works. I also give into the "cool gun" idea Black Ops: II, where I use the KSG shotgun and the Executioner in a class because I think that they are cool badass weapons. I especially love taking down my prey with them. Nothing is better than using the KSG to one-shot some dickweed sniper or those riot-shield assholes. I also love storming a building with my Executioner and pounding 28 gauge shells into my prey. Okay...time to play some Black Ops: II!


  1. "dual-wielding saw-off double barrel 12 gauge shotguns by Alice is just plain fucking stupid"
    I don't know man it seems pretty bad@$$, at least in a video game *Nazi zombies

  2. Yes...yes it does. I personally dual wield Shotgun Revolvers in Black Ops: II...but in a live-action...ugh