I’m not a serious gamer. Like a lot of you, I grew up with an Atari system, graduated to computer games, and now own a PS3. I’ve kept up with the major titles by sampling Arkham Asylum (and its sequel), the Uncharted series and Bioshock. Recently, I’ve been playing the LEGO versions of Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Pirates of the Caribbean with my boys, who are huge fans.
So no, you wouldn’t mistake me for a full-time gamer, though I’m familiar enough with the high-profile franchises to recognize Act of Valor for what it is -- Call of Duty: Modern Warfare - The Movie. And when looked at from that perspective, it just might be the most successful game-to-screen adaptation we’ve ever seen.
Valor, which Relativity opens in theaters on Feb. 24, is a muscular military thriller whose claim to fame is its commendable insistence on using actual Navy SEALs in place of actors. For assorted reasons, the gimmick works, primarily because the men and women on screen lend an automatic authenticity to the war-movie clichés we’d otherwise dismiss.
I’m not entirely sure how Act of Valor got its start. We’ll probably learn more about its journey through pre-production on the DVD once it’s released. But having seen the finished product, it’s hard not to imagine a studio executive with a decent amount of clout holding up a copy of Modern Warfare 2 and basically saying, “Make me a movie out of this.”
And why not? The award-winning Modern Warfare games are highly cinematic first-person shooters that pack almost everything an action franchise needs: distinctive characters, memorable set pieces, and high-stakes missions that put the fate of our nation in a player’s hands. The intricate, online, multi-player functions give the MW games a longer shelf life, though the developers also go out of their way to make the “Campaign” portion – or single-player storyline – of the game just as compelling. It’s why these games are so successful.
That’s where Valor mirrors COD: MW to a tee. With the exception of a few tweaks, Kurt Johnstad’s Valor script closely follows the MW plots, with a vengeful international terrorist plotting an attack on U.S. soil, which sends highly trained Navy SEALS on globe-trotting missions to extremely hostile territories to collect information and prevent possible devastation. As in the games, the elite soldiers of our armed forces risk life and limb to complete their mission. And as in the game, the Valor screenplay subscribes to the concept of escalation, with each mission growing gradually tougher before culminating in a succeed-or-die scenario that I’ll avoid explaining so as to prevent spoilers.
But it was a handful of visual tricks attempted by Valor directors Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh that cemented the comparison in my mind. Once or twice, the co-directors switched the audience’s perspective to first-person point-of-view, the camera placement of choice for COD: MW. They employ realistic movements of troop platoons through jungles, bodies of water, burning buildings and enemy-infested hovels. There’s even a race against the clock for the SEALs to reach a checkpoint for evacuation. Gamers play COD: MW because of the realism the games bring to each combat situation. Audiences likely will respond to Valor for the same reason.
The Bandito Brothers – the production house behind Valor – don’t claim any comparison between their movie and the Call of Duty series. And I can understand why they wouldn’t. Hollywood’s attempts at transitioning popular games to the movie screens have resulted in feeble features like Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Bloodrayne, or the 1994 disaster Street Fighter.
But if the gaming community figures out that Valor translates the finest points of the Modern Warfare games into a meaty, crowd-pleasing story – and throws its massive support behind Valor, as a result – Relativity could have a huge hit on its hands. Let us know what you think after watching the film this weekend.
More: Our Real-Life Navy SEAL Rates the Authenticity of 10 Navy SEAL Movies (Exclusive)