The Warcraft Movie: Could it Save the Genre?
When the Warcraft movie was announced, you could hear fans whisper the same words all around the world: Please, please, please don’t suck.
The expectations and reservations gamers feel hearing about a new movie based on a video game franchise they enjoy mixes into a strange, noxious brew. There’s the optimism that comes out of enthusiastic appreciation that gamers are known for, and there’s the cynicism because we’ve all been hurt many, many times before. Fellow gamers, it’s time to acknowledge that we’ve been haunted by the movies. Acceptance is the first step towards change. It’s hard not to feel hopeless. “Bad” seems to be in video game adaptation DNA. It’s been there from the start.
The first live-action video game adaptation featured Super Mario against Koopa Troopas that look like Schwarzenegger sucking on a warhead, and maybe we should have taken that movie as the portent it’s turned out to be. The Wikipedia page listing movies based on video games reads like an obituary. The highest rated among them is Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, and despite being, comparatively speaking, a masterpiece with its 44% Rotten Tomatoes score, the movie’s $52 million loss led to the closure of the studio that produced it. The movie had such a huge budget because every frame was made out of photorealistic CGI, and it just goes to show that graphics can’t save a bad movie. It’s disheartening to realize that the best movie in the video game genre was actually so bad it returned to destroy its creators like a very realistic CGI Frankenstein. A distraught gamer is forced to ask harsh questions: Is our favorite medium naturally or inherently among the least suitable for adaptation? Has the string of bad video movies just been a string of bad luck? Is there any hope for a good video game movie?
There are a few reasons to be excited about Warcraft (or Warcraft: The Beginning), the aptly named upcoming movie set in Azeroth and based on Blizzard’s Warcraft franchise. Going just by the trailer, the movie looks good—or at least good enough to break video game movies bad rap, and perhaps alleviate the stigma against movies like it. The film follows the leaders of two warring factions, one an invading force of green orcs from another world, the other a kingdom of human beings. This is shaping up to be a somewhat classic story of good vs evil, but even these stories are easy to mess up. What gives fans hope is the creative team behind the film, which is maybe the strongest team we’ve ever seen helm a video game adaptation.
This is Duncan Jones‘s first step into fantasy, having previously directed two successful science fiction films, 2009’s Moon and 2011’s Source Code. Moon, in particular, was well-received, garnering eighteen awards and just as many nominations, and both films float very high on Rotten Tomatoes. Unlike many directors who have perhaps taken on video game adaptations simply to cash a check, Jones is a massive fan of video games, and he sees this as his opportunity to reset the genre’s reputation. When speaking of the recent surge of popularity and quality in comic book films, Jones says that “there is no reason why video game-based movies shouldn’t be able to do the same thing.” Hopefully, knowing such a well-established director is at the helm of this film will alleviate some anxiety. If it does, you’re in good company: Jones is hopeful about the movie too. He said he’s shown it to people he trusts to be honest and they’ve all enjoyed it.
Duncan Jones co-wrote the screenplay with Charles Leavitt, screenwriter of critically praised films Blood Diamond and The Express. Leavitt also penned the new Ron Howard film In the Heart of the Sea, which has received generally positive reviews so far. There’s an anxiety about this kind of film that the adaptation won’t stay close to its source material. That anxiety ￼may be misplaced because Blizzard’s Chris Metzen, who has played perhaps the largest part in establishing Azeroth’s lore, served as a story consultant. This is among the first feature film adaptations of a game that has worked with someone so vital to the franchise in establishing the story.
The direction and writing aren’t the only reasons to be excited about Warcraft. Travis Fimmel, star of Vikings, leads the cast of Daniel Wu, Paula Patton, Clancy Brown, Ben Foster and Robert Kazinsky. Ramin Djawadi, the composer of the Game of Thrones‘ incredibly catchy main theme and series music as well as Iron Man and the popular TV series Prison Break, will compose the score for the Warcraft movie.
The Warcraft movie will undeniably require heavy CGI, and though some feel that the effects look a bit off in the trailer, there’s a tendency for early trailers to look far less polished than the final product. The effects will be done by the two biggest production companies around: WETA Workshop (a particularly perfect fit for the Warcraft movie since the Workshop, founded by Peter Jackson, did the special effects for the Lord of the Rings franchise) and Industrial Light and Magic, the special effects powerhouse responsible for Star Wars, Jurassic Park, and many other effect-heavy films. The world is in good hands.
Another reason that some fans are excited is what’s missing. Notably missing from any association with this video game movie is Uwe Boll, film director extraordinaire. Many fans believe him to be responsible for a lion’s share of the failures that gave the video game movie genre its reputation. Allegedly, Blizzard made sure that Uwe Boll was nowhere near this production. Back in 2008, after getting in touch with Blizzard about making a Warcraft movie, Boll received this response: “We will not sell the movie rights, not to you…especially not to you. Because it’s such a big online game success, maybe a bad movie would destroy that ongoing income, what the company has with it.” Maybe that’s not much of a close call, but it still feels too close for comfort, and Uwe Boll on Warcraft didn’t even come close to happening.
￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼It seems that everyone working on this movie has approached their work thoughtfully and purposefully—this might be the first time in history that can be said about a video game movie. Hopefully, it won’t be the last. Universal has called Warcraft a “problem” movie based on the mixed response to its ComicCon panel, and the studio is afraid the audience just isn’t there to support something so nerdy. The final step towards change is spreading the word about the change. Warcraft could be the movie to change the tide. It’s landing just in time to do so: after Warcraft is released next year we’ll see adaptations of Uncharted and Assassin’s Creed and there will surely be others.
If we want more good video game movies like what Warcraft has the potential to be, we’ll have to reward it. See the movie by yourself, with your friends, guild or otherwise. When the Warcraft movie breaks through the portal into theaters on June 16, 2016, I hope I’ll see you there.