As history has shown us, big-budget movie adaptations of video-game properties is a tricky experiment. If you really want to get into hyperbole, you could even make the case that the road to Cinematic Hell is littered with the corpses of failed game-turned-movie attempts; I don’t think you’d get much argument from most fans, and lots of those folks could probably spout at least a half-dozen examples off the tops of their heads.
So it’s with a natural sense of caution, then, that we turn our sights to ‘Warcraft,’ the latest gaming experience to get the big-screen presentation. First released all the way back in 1994 (few things make me feel older than saying “all the way back in 1994,” for the record) as “Warcraft: Orcs & Humans,” the game was a PC and Mac platformer designed as a real-time strategy game; in later iterations, the game morphed into a MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role playing game) and a CCG (collectible card game). All acronyms aside, the franchise has a massive following of dedicated fans, and it has previously expanded into other media realms, including novels, comic books, and collectible figures.
Really, it was simply a matter of time before a film adaptation happened; before you say something like “I’m surprised it’s taken this long,” know that the move has been in development for close to a decade! First announced in 2006, the film has gone through several rewrites and directorial changes (at one point, Sam Raimi was attached to helm the film). Long-time Warcraft writer Chris Metzen was even quoted at one point in saying that the movie was gunning for a violent approach and a more adult-themed rating, infamously stating “it’s WarCraft, not PillowFightCraft.”
Throughout the entire process, though, something happened with ‘Warcraft’ that not many other films can claim: Blizzard Entertainment, the company that owned and created the original Warcraft games, maintained creative control of the film, a rare move in an industry where most “game companies” sell off the rights to their properties in exchange for the promise of big-screen glory and fame being brought by a “more knowledgeable” movie-production company. The result? A film that is obviously still a video game adaptation, but one that feels like it’s working hard to immerse its viewers in the world it has created instead of shoveling it down their throats with copious exposition and extended battle sequences.
The plot, in its most basic sense, follows the general story of the first-ever Warcraft game: the race of orcs, warriors by nature, live on a dying world and need to find a new home; their magic-obsessed leader, Gul’dan (Daniel Wu) opens a mystical portal into another world – that of Azeroth, the relatively-peaceful home of the humans, dwarves, elves, and more – and sends a band of warriors led by Durotan (voice of Toby Kebbell) through to scout the location and prepare for the rest of the horde’s arrival. The residents of Azeroth, obviously, aren’t thrilled with this development; the king and queen of the human realm (Dominic Cooper and Ruth Negga, respectively) dispatch their knights led by Lothar (Travis Fimmel) to assess the threat. Some small skirmishes between the two sides occur, and when mistreated half-breed orc Garona (Paula Patton) is captured by the humans, she works with them to help create a strategy to defeat the invaders. However, all is not well in the orc camp: Durotan sees that dark magic has corrupted Gul’dan, and he believes a rebellion is necessary. This attempted coup comes to a head at the same time that the humans coordinate their major offensive on the orcs, and the final scenes are – well, let’s just say that it ain’t PillowFightCraft.
Yes, orcs and elves and dwarves have all been used in many fantasy-realm films before. Unless you’re willing to travel back through the annals of time and decipher who truly used these tropes “first,” then there’s really no point in complaining that ‘WarCraft’ is rehashing. Just as you wouldn’t accuse DC or any other comic book company of “rehashing” superheroes just because Marvel may have “done it first,” so too should folks simply realize that this is a fantasy movie that is going to use elements of fantasy that you may have seen before. Blizzard has clearly worked hard to make the world of Azeroth expansive and inviting, both in their games and here on screen, and I feel as if – for the most part – they have succeeded. The liberal use of CGI in the film is a necessary evil of effectively telling a story like this; it’s serviceable enough, although it likely won’t win any visual accomplishments come awards season. Director Duncan Jones, whose previous films ‘Moon’ and ‘Source Code’ I highly enjoyed, should be proud of what he put on-screen here; he also persevered through personal tragedy during filming, as his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer shortly after filming began and late in production cancer claimed the life of his father, the great David Bowie.
The film clocks in at a little over two hours in length, and some folks might feel that it runs a bit long. I thought it was just fine, but again, I thought the film overall was above-average – it doesn’t break any molds or change my life by watching, mind you, but it was fun and entertaining, something that not all movies can claim. As I was leaving our press screening of the film, I heard another critic say something along the lines of “well, that felt like a two-hour video game.” Although I don’t believe that this person intended it that way, Blizzard and company should probably take that statement as a compliment. Oh, and to that person who said the above quote, what I have to say is simply DUH IT’S A VIDEO GAME MOVIE. I am super-eloquent.
Tony Schaab isn’t allowed at his local Humane Society anymore, because all he would do while there is try to put visors over the dog’s eyes and paint “K-9” in peanut butter on their sides. A lover of most things sci-fi and horror, Tony is an author by day and a DJ by night. Come hang out with Tony on Facebook and Twitter to hear him spew semi-funny nonsense and get your opportunity to finally put him in his place.