This article was originally published at Another-Castle.com
Orcs and Humans and More
Movies based on video games have a bad reputation that has been earned simply because there have been so many bad movies based on video games. While this is certainly true, I have still enjoyed many including the Tomb Raider films, the first Mortal Kombat and even Street Fighter thanks largely to the late, great Raul Julia.
There are many problems with adapting video games into movies. One is simply that the mediums are very different and require different narrative structures. Even comic book adaptions where the film makers have ready-made storyboards often don’t turn out well. The other problem (and this may not please some), is that stories in video games are often highly derivative and especially in the case of early games, are way down the list of priorities during development. In RPGs, where the narrative is far more important, the derivative nature is further hindered by the convoluted stories that can develop when game time will last a great many hours beyond the length of a feature film.
Before going into my thoughts on the movie, it is worth asking how far what I have just written is true of the Warcraft series? First of all we have a deep though certainly derivative fantasy lore. World of Warcraft has made this story far more complicated to the point that the developers and writers themselves have been confused and corrected by fans. Still, with all this in mind, it is still more than possible to tell a coherent film-length story in the universe.
It makes sense then that Warcraft start from the very beginning which came out ten years before World of Warcraft and tells a simple tale of ‘Orcs & Humans’. Warcraft had a lot of additional advantages. It has a talented young director, Duncan Jones, who is not only is a fan of the source material but has already proved himself with the excellent 2009 science-fiction film, Moon. Add to this a large budget, a capable cast and collaboration with Blizzard and Warcraft has everything it needs going for it.
If you aren’t familiar with the story, Orcs have invaded the land of Azeroth through a portal, surprising the human kingdom that is initially unprepared to meet the threat. The Orcs themselves are led by a warlock named Gul’dan and are invading because their homeland Draenor is dying. Gul’dan opens the portal through a diabolical sacrifice of souls. The Orcs aren’t all evil though which is made clear through the moral uncertainty of the Orc chieftain Durotan who leads his pregnant wife through the portal in the initial invasion. You are soon introduced to the military commander Lothar, the half-orc Garona and the young mage Khadgar. The latter four in particular are the most developed characters in the film.
What may be obvious from the above description is that there is a lot going on in the film and many characters to keep track of. Although I remember the characters and many names are familiar, I had to look up many to write this review which is a problem, especially for those watching it without a basic familiarity with the source material. A lot of names I was familiar with and even with experience with the series I found I had forgotten many characters or just couldn’t place where I’d heard the name. I can’t speak for people watching it without knowledge of the film but it seems to me that fans of the series will get a lot more out of the events than the general viewer.
Despite being set back before the Alliance and without introducing the many races of Azeroth, a lot happens very quickly in the film and there are constant scene jumps. The battle scenes can be quite confusing and I noticed a few times some poor fight choreography in the background. This is usually while major characters have implausible conversations in the heat of battle. There are also a series of exciting scenes that are disappointing and unnecessarily anticlimactic. Despite this, the film is generally moves at a good pace until what feels like a rushed ending.
What really impressed me was the visual design and costumes. The world is vivid with colour from the lush forests to the striking blue armour that the warriors of Stormwind wear. The Orcs look imposing and very real, even next to the much smaller humans. I was happy to see how well the visual design transitioned into a live action film. When the film was just a possibility I had thought it was better done animated but seeing the film changed my mind and I was impressed with the result. The soundtrack too was suitably epic, quite literally from the time the film begins.
At the films end, I was sure I had enjoyed it but I couldn’t say whether or not this would remain true on a second viewing. Reading through and hearing scattered opinions, I can fully understand why someone would or would not enjoy the film. Purists will certainly be annoyed with some of the changes made in making the film. I can’t say this of many films but the flaws are obvious but can be overlooked. I’m glad I saw it, would watch it again and hope there is a sequel. At the moment, I don’t know if I could say the same on a second viewing though but I’ll find out when it is released for home media next month.