To mark the home entertainment release of Zero Dark Thirty , two of Total Film 's finest were whisked off to a top secret facility (intelligence suggests was somewhere in the darkest recesses of Warwickshire), to be trained in the art of storming a building and sweeping it for threats.
Acting as our guide through this extremely unfamiliar terrain was a former bonafide super-marine by the name of [ REDACTED FOR REASONS OF NATIONAL SECURITY ]. A proper badass in the Rainbow Six vein, our mentor was equal parts awe-inspiring and terrifying.
Much like the final mission in Zero Dark Thirty , we were trained to do all this under the cover of pitch black darkness. Once the day got underway, we soon discovered that a bunch of journos weren't necessarily the ideal candidates for such a tense, rigorous and tightly-controlled mission.
What follows are the various mishaps of the Total Film team, as we learned just quite how ill-equipped for the mission we really were...
Get The Right Kit
First things first, we suited up in the appropriate attire. After providing our blush-inducing measurements, we kitted ourselves out in military fatigues and (relatively) sensible footwear.
Settling in for the first of many briefs, the details of the day were outlined by the military experts on hand to train us up for the mission. Our guides were knowledgeable, experienced and surprisingly patient when it came to handling a bunch of out-of-their-depth writers.
Just like watching the Zero Dark Thirty squads on-screen in that pulse-pounding finale, or reminiscing about the action icons of our youths, there was an undeniable thrill when we were handed our guns for the day. We each became quite attached to our airsoft assault rifles, some of which were kitted out with cool features like torches and snazzy laser-targeting scopes.
Mercifully, we were weren't given the full water packs to strap to our torsos and haul around. Having got the measure of one while we were suiting up, we're not sure our office-acclimatised bodies could've handled the weight.
Method Of Entry
Some of the techniques we learned for the various part of the mission were so secretive that we can't even repeat them here.
What we can say is that we were instructed in various methods of entry, ranging from the moderately unsubtle (various tools designed to tackle the particular hinges a given door might have) to the downright Italian Job -esque explosives design to blow the (bloody) doors off.
It proved pretty difficult to maintain an appropriate sense of decorum, waiting in formation for a door to blow (especially as we knew that if our device failed to breach the entry point sufficiently, it'd fall on us to kick the thing down with brute strength. Unlikely.)
Needless to say, cool guys really don't look at explosions. They cower in nervous anticipation, with heads down and fingers in ears. It's hard not to feel like Arnold Schwarzenegger/Sylvester Stallone/Linda Hamilton/[ appropriate action icon of your youth ] when you charge into the smoke-filled corridor though…
It quickly became apparent that the movies had been lying to us (or at been soft-pedalling the truth with artistic licence) when it comes to gunplay.
Our posing and preening was quickly stamped out by the instructors, who had us working on our body position, posture and aim.
While the temptation was to strut into a room, swaggering like an Expendable, the reality of the situation means your weapon needs to be held tightly into your body at all times, with one eye always looking through the crosshairs.
And as well as just holding the things, we had to actually fire them. Accurately. Settling in for a bit of target practice (aiming to dispatch cardboard cutouts with an efficient one-two head-chest shot), some of us proved surprisingly capable at besting the static targets. Others, however, spent half the session looking through the rifle's scope with their closed eye. Again, we commend the patience of the instructors.
If hitting the targets was do-able, we'd still have our work cut out when it came to dispatching moving targets that were firing back.
Work The Room
Being taught to work the room was another essential. And not in a schmoozy, networking sorta way…
Every new zone we entered had to be assessed ("ONE DOOR! RIGHT!"), 'cleared' (checked for enemies and potential threats), and moved through as ruthlessly efficiently as possible.
That meant sticking to the walls, moving in pairs, and assessing and neutralising any potential dangers.
After several stuttering starts, we started to vaguely get the hang of it, in the sense that we could make it through a room at least without half of the team being struck down.
It also improved the communication between the team, as we soon got the hang of barking orders and calling for cover. Cool codenames seemed to elude us though...
Rather than bursting in, all guns blazing (the expectation), we were assigned team leaders and first officers, and had to go in with some semblance of a plan (the reality).
Which meant assigning different roles and duties across the team. The short straw? Whoever got lumped with the shield. Throughout the day's many, unrelenting practice runs (the instructors seemed determined to whip us into shape through sheer repetition), we all had a go with the shield.
The bonuses of being 'shield guy' are; 1) You get to have a shield (handy when you're in the line of fire). 2) Erm, that's pretty much it…
On the downside, you've got an insanely heavy piece of kit to lug around (on top of your gun, ammo, and armour), and you'll be the first person entering every dangerous room while you're team mates use you for cover. And if you're using it at night-time, your already poor vision is reduced to zilch.
But at least you've got a shield, eh?
We're not going to lie, but it was hard to hide the giddiness of setting off an explosive, and lobbing it into the next room in order to clear it and provide a covering of smoke.
We're also not going to lie about how hard it was to keep a straight face during several inept launches, which saw paper signs on the wall catching fire, and over-zealously launched grenades bouncing out of the room in question and rolling back towards our team…
Tactically speaking, the grenades did prove pretty handy when it came to regrouping the team, as the explosives-handler would have to positioned behind the shield-wielder, ready to launch once the entry-point was breached.
And through the haze of the grenade smoke, everyone looked that little bit cooler, even if it did inhibit our already limited aim (there was an undignified amount of friendly fire on the day).
As it turns out, there's strict procedure for absolutely everything , even riding in your vehicle en route to the mission.
With a couple of 4x4s assigned to our squadron, we travelled in threes, with someone keeping watch out of the top at all times. We'd like to say we were mature enough to not have argued over the who acted as the lookout. We really would.
Disembarking from the vehicle was also a more regimented procedure than we're used to, leaping quickly but stealthily out of the back of our ride, before quickly approaching the side of the building for cover, and making our way to the entry point.
We stumbled ungracefully at first, but eventually a bit of muscle memory kicked in, and we were hitting our destination like something vaguely resembling an organised team.
A key element of our assault on the imaginary precinct was the use of night-vision goggles, something we'd previously never experienced outside of a videogame.
Unlike the videogame avatars that generally do the heavy-lifting for us, the goggles were surprisingly heavy, weighing down the front of our helmets and transforming us into nodding bobbleheads in the process.
Once we'd gotten used to that though, it was time for our eyes to adjust to the greenish hue the goggles gave everything. With our only reference point for the equipment being the aforementioned videogames and movies, it was an eerily unreal experience.
Taking our positions in the 4x4 that'd eventually lead us to the building we'd be assessing and storming, there was a palpable frisson of tension in the air, despite the fact that we were essentially just a bunch of overgrown kids playing with some very cool toys.
Trust Your Team
While none of us may have become marine-calibre action heroes during the course of the day (outside of our own imaginations), we did at least develop a more effective way of communicating, and became something of a functioning group.
Despite the make-believe absurdness of the whole thing, there was something cheering about knowing that your team-mates had your back, and it was weirdly satisfying to get closer to nailing the routine, gaining a glimmer of an understanding into what goes into building these kind of units.
Which brings us to the final assault…
The Final Mission
With all of our skills in place, the final assault under the cover of darkness should have been a cakewalk.
There were positives - we neutralised the threats, and managed to avoid shooting and save a couple of innocent hostages.
But, in the claustrophobic confines of an explosive-strewn building, even with the goggles on, our vision was limited. At least, that's the excuse our shield guy gave on the night, after running repeatedly and directly into a solid wall like a videogame glitch made flesh, when he was meant to be clearing the next zone for the team.
The howls of abdomen-destroying laughter that followed probably didn't do much to strike fear into the hearts of our enemies.
On that note, it seemed as good a time as any to down our weapons for the forseeable future (until a casting director for the inevitable Zero Dark Thirty spoof comes calling).
Zero Dark Thirty is available on Blu-ray and DVD from 10 June 2013.