By: A.J. Serrano
When I was just eleven years old, I became an addict. I blame my parents for introducing me to the stuff. I was young and all those bright lights and sounds and colors blended together to create an intoxicatingly electrifying experience. Though the specifics are a bit hazy for me to recollect today, I can say this with clear-eyed assurance: after my parents bought me the special edition 2-videotape version of Saving Private Ryan for my eleventh birthday, there was no looking back. I became a war movie junkie. I consumed war films with a voracious appetite akin to a sugar-deprived diabetic cat.
Admittedly, I was an easy target for the studios that were producing this overly patriotic fare. As a child, my Saturday afternoons were spent in the backyard woods playing “War” with friends from the neighborhood. Hockey sticks doubled as machine gun rifles, acorns as grenades. The small stream that ran in front of my house provided shelter as our base camp. After these mini-wars, battle weary and hungry, I would retire to my favorite spot on the couch and pop in DVDs like Black Hawk Down and We Were Soldiers. Movies provided the gritty realism and stunning heroism that could not be accurately captured in our backyard battles.
Call of Duty changed everything. Simply by placing a finger on the R1 button of a PS3 controller while performing thumb aerobics on the two joysticks, a gamer could became a soldier- or as close to becoming a soldier as is possible while still comfortably lounging on a sofa and chomping down on Cheetos.
Somewhere in the mid-2000s, war movies seemed to reach a peak in their quest for realism. All the fake blood and whizzing bullet noises could not disguise one glaring factor that the movies lacked. Just like in their childhood backyard battles, fanboys wanted to have control over the action. So, the video game Call of Duty gave them everything they love about war movies and added its own unique element- interactivity.
Video games seem to have usurped film’s position as America’s go-to form of storytelling and Hollywood is not pleased. That is why in the past five years, most every action movie released looks like a video game: 300, Avatar, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. For a select few of these films, their video game-like qualities provide an interesting aesthetic. But for the most part, as Mr. Shakespeare would say, it’s a whole bunch of sound and fury, signifying nothing. If you don’t believe me, try getting through the entirety of Sucker Punch without feeling the urge to gouge out your own eyeballs.
This dubious search for the most “realistic” realism brings us to the new trailer for Act of Valor. The trailer’s intertitles boast that the film’s characters are portrayed by “active duty U.S. Navy Seals” and that, though the story is fictional, the weapons and tactics used are “real.” With all these reassurances of realism and authenticity, I was surprised when the first thought that entered my head while watching the trailer was, “Every shot in this preview looks like a screenshot from a Call of Duty: Modern Warfare game.” It’s all there: the first person sniper camera, the Vietnam-esque jungle scenery, the night vision goggle POV shot. Hollywood has outdone itself. This movie is literally a video game.
Therein lies the fucked up nature of this whole situation; video games have become movies have become video games have become real. Since when did realism, an aesthetic and thematic tool used in storytelling, become replaced with the real? And is this what we actually want? Whether we want it or not, if Act of Valor succeeds at the box office, there is no telling how far the boundary between the real and entertainment will be pushed.
Since when did soldiers become movie stars?