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Posted by Ian Carsia at 11:35PM   |  Add a comment
Box Art for Milton Bradley's "Battleship" (1967)

Blog posting written by Ian Carsia, Cinema & Photography '14, FLEFF Intern, Hamilton, NJ

Part I: War, the Game

"I see these car crashes as part of a long tradition of American optimism. They are positive events, full of the old 'can-do' spirit. Each car crash is meant to be better than the last. There is a constant upgrading of tools and skills, a meeting of challenges...it's not decay they are seeing but innocence. The movie breaks away from the complicated human passions to show us something elemental, something fiery and loud and head-on. It's a conservative wish-fulfillment, a yearning for naivete. We want to be artless again...It's a celebration. A reaffirmation of traditional values and beliefs...Look past the violence...There is a wonderful brimming spirit of innocence and fun."  - Murray in Don DeLillo's White Noise (207-208)

In my last review for the Ithacan (not yet published), I was tasked with qualitatively assessing Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh's Act of Valor.

It's a fairly by-the-numbers action movie, with its defining characteristics being that it stars active-service Navy SEALs and sports some pretty brilliant cinematographic work.

One of its strongest visual points is its use of extended P.O.V. during its battle sequences. They are shot in such a way that they imitate first-person shooter games.

Imagine that brief scene from the Doom movie, except with a greater degree of creative investment and cinematic literacy.

Another clever decision McCoy and Waugh employ is to fill in the blanks left out by Call of Duty: At one point, the P.O.V. is maintained as a SEAL drapes a blanket over the brutally tortured woman they are rescuing.

McCoy and Waugh's film is certainly propaganda, a male-centric recruiting tool that represents the military through a jingoistic lens. In its use of women, its rhetorical approach is not altogether different from D. W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation.

But I have a hard time judging Act of Valor as harshly as many critics have done. The Rotten Tomatoes summary of critical consensus even, hilariously, accuses the film of ignoring "the complexities of war."

Act of Valor is not The Hurt Locker. Heck, The Hurt Locker is not even The Hurt Locker.

They are both dumb action movies. They just happen to be rhetorical opposites.

The Hurt Locker is a dumb action movie that reflects upon itself. It presents us with all the self-indulgent tropes of action films and then forces us to confront how problematic they are. It just happened to situate itself within the context of a war that was occurring as the story was being told.

McCoy and Waugh at least try to use the propaganda film to comment on something that exists outside the film itself. With the use and subversion of the FPS-perspective, the filmmakers accuse their audience of engaging in sterile, sadomasochistic fantasies that undermine the complexities of war and the sacrifices of veterans.

Act of Valor is a recruiting video whose slogan is DAMN FEW.

Translation: "War is not a game. You are unworthy of the burden that it is your responsibility to shoulder."

If you genuinely found yourself offended by the artifice and jingoism of Act of Valor, I would like to take you on another excursion to the cinema.

On a previous assignment, I bore witness to a trailer for the upcoming Hasbro promotional film Battleship.

At one point during the trailer, amid the orgy of cartoonish destruction that the 'aliens' inflict upon the Earth, one image struck me in particular:

It was the sight of a piece of a destroyed building falling in such a way that it became stuck between its own remnants and the opposing building. Only a brief second long, I watched as the mass of glass and steel viscerally tore down the sides of its architectural kin like a piece of chalk crumbling against a blackboard.

Without a shred of context, I watched the implied death of potentially hundreds of invisible people.

"From Hasbro the Company That Brought You Transformers," the screen screamed.

My eyes suitably assaulted, the goal is to make me excited.

After over ten years, why am I still forced to re-watch 9/11?


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