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Salvation Army

On location in Morocco, BLACK HAWK DOWN battles to re-create a rescue mission gone terribly wrong.

At the moment, Jerry Bruckheimer is pretty damned pleased with himself.

Standing on the scorching tarmac of a Moroccan air force base on the outskirts of the North African capital Rabat, the producer whips out a ridiculously pricey camera with a telephoto lens the size of a hoagie. He’s brought it all the way from Los Angeles, packed and padded as securely as a donated kidney, because he wants to forever freeze this moment of pure Hollywood power. He holds the viewfinder up to his aviator shades, and snaps away at the most expensive star of Black Hawk

Down. The grin plastered across his face says he likes what he sees.

Now, no offense to Josh Hartnett. Or any of the other actors in Bruckheimer and director Ridley Scott’s new war film. But the star that the producer’s shooting so lovingly is a helicopter – four of them, actually. And it took all the clout the 56-year-old Bruckheimer’s billion-dollar resume could muster to get them here from their home base: the U.S. Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment at Fort Campbell, Ky. After all, these aren’t the lumbering Vietnam-era Hueys that Coppola and Kubrick wrangled for their war movies. These are Black Hawks. Fourteen million state-of-the-art bucks’ worth of computer gizmology and self-cooling turbine guns a pop. All together, that’s $56 million in props sprawled out on the sun-bleached runway like giant, menacing dragonflies.

Even Bruckheimer seems amazed by his coup. He goes on and on about the choppers, dropping military specs and jargon like flash grenades. ”You have no idea what it took to get these here,” he says. ”The State Department got involved, the Moroccan government – this is considered a troop movement!”

Leave it to a reporter to deflate his balloon.

”So, Jerry, what happens if there’s a situation somewhere and the Army needs these things back?”

Bruckheimer looks down and fiddles with the lens cap. And when he raises his head, the sugarplum smile’s vanished.

”Well, they take ‘em. This is just a movie. This isn’t the real world.”

That was last April. And needless to say, after Sept. 11 the Army did, in fact, need them. But by then Bruckheimer and Scott had wrapped their $90 million movie. Now those very same Black Hawks are in Afghanistan. And, in a way, their journey has paralleled the movie’s, albeit on a far more portentous scale. After all, as Bruckheimer said, this is just a movie; Hollywood isn’t the real world. Still, the filmmakers have been forced to grapple with the fact that the movie they set out to make is, in many ways, no longer the movie they have on their hands.

Based on journalist Mark Bowden’s 1999 best-seller, Black Hawk Down chronicles in brutal minute-by-minute detail a 1993 raid in Mogadishu, Somalia. There as part of a U.N. peacekeeping mission to help Somalis create a stable government, U.S. Army Rangers and the elite Delta Force attempted to capture two of food-hoarding warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid’s top henchmen. The mid-afternoon assignment was supposed to take an hour. It ended in tragedy the next morning with 18 American soldiers (and more than 500 Somalis) dead.