Call of Duty 4 and the end of action movies

December 26, 2007

I haven’t enjoyed action movies for some time. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, and my taste in movies has matured, so that I no longer feel satisfied by the whizzing cinematography and glib violence found in a typical action movie. But at the same time, the grand cliché of the aged – they don’t make ’em like they used to – might hold some truth. If one defines an action movie as a film in which the on-screen spectacle is of equal or greater value than the plot, and charitably excluding the sub-genres of superhero (Batman Begins), sci-fi (The Matrix), and historical (war movies not starring Mel Gibson, with the exception of Gallipoli), the last decent action movies I saw were Casino Royale and Ronin. Ronin is even pushing our plot requirement.

This is not to say that there has been a paucity of action movies. On the contrary, big-budget action movies are as readily available as Arby’s sandwiches. It’s just that as action movies seem to be incorporating more and more advanced computer graphics, their plots are steadily devolving. Not only do there seem to be more and more movies made from games, but action movies are beginning to rip out parts of games wholesale – supposedly, in the Doom movie (no, I didn’t see it, and I won’t see it) the camera transitions to a first person perspective for a hearty chunk of the last part of the film. So that it looks just like a video game. Which you paid 10 dollars to watch someone else play.

On the other end of the spectrum, video games seem to be on the evolutionary rise. Games have long taken inspiration from movies, and as games rapidly approach film in terms of visual verisimilitude, they are taking plot and other cinematic elements as well. For instance, Infinity Ward’s Call of Duty 4 is basically your own personal action movie, as demonstrated by this lengthy clip below. The game’s graphics are amazing (though the quality of YouTube doesn’t do it justice), and while its plot won’t win it any Academy Awards (Russian Ultranationalists and Middle Eastern terrorists working together? Mon dieu!) the ability to actually participate in all of those action movie scenes is remarkable fun.

While serious movies don’t have much to worry about from video games (a real-life My Dinner With Andre video game is years away), action movies either need to start evolving plots, or go the way of the dodo.

••• For those who couldn’t imagine anything more profoundly boring than watching other people play video games (or, the Quidditch matches in the Harry Potter films), watch from the beginning to around minute two, then from minute six to the end.

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