Sunday, 10 July 2016

Film Review: Warcraft: The Beginning

Theatrical Poster (perculia, 2016)
  • Director: Duncan Jones 
  • Native Title: Warcraft: The Beginning
  • Primary Language: English
  • Format: Colour
  • Year of Release: 2016
  • Budget: $160,000,000
  • Film Length: 123 minutes
  • Production Company: Blizzard Entertainment, Legendary Pictures
  Based on the highly successful Warcraft franchise by Blizzard Entertainment and directed by Duncan Jones, Warcraft: The Beginning is a fantasy movie that recounts the invasion of the human kingdom of Stormwind by a faction calling itself the Orcish Horde. The orchish chieftain Durotan however has doubts over this invasion and sought to work with some humans to thwart the scheme of Gul'dan, fearing that the destruction of his homeworld would happen to Azeroth.

  Movies adapted from video games have always had a curse: Next to never approved by critics, often doing things to upset fans of the franchise they portray and often coming out as messy or unfocused as they try their best to compress a story of twenty hours into two. A common issue is that movies trade interactivity and action for story "most game adaptations – it is a smallish field with a poor reputation – attempt to cash in on popular properties by simply trading off the lure of interactivity for the delights of big action on a big screen. Jones’s much more intelligent and aesthetic approach to the problem is not entirely new |...| but it does make Warcraft visually interesting throughout." (Taylor, 2016) Duncan Jones understands his setting better than most directors do in projects like this, and focuses on Warcraft's comic aesthetic and grand narrative translate onto the silver screen better than most. But the attempt is not free of flaws.

The locations have been lovingly crafted for fans and lore-buffs alike. Such as a city gate design the sole purpose of which was to hide a game engine limitation from 2004. (
  While this was quite a high-quality production, the opening summary of this analysis highlights one of the most noticeable issues with the film: As a franchise over 20 years old, Warcraft is a massive sprawling setting and the film suffers from a lumbering amount of exposition. For an expert of Warcraft lore, this might not be too big an issue but for someone unfamiliar with the franchise they will likely feel bombarded by names, places and characters. some of which they may miss. This barrage of names and places can make things confusing to one not too well versed in the lore. "Thanks to a go-between lady orc (Paula Patton) who has dainty she-fangs instead of tusks and hangs out with the humans, there could be peace between the two races, but only if the most hostile orcs and their snarly trouble-making wizard can be made to see reason. That’s my best guess for what’s going on, anyway" (Smith, 2016) It can be confusing to tell what's going on as we bounce from location to location introducing names left-right-and-centre like "Gul'dan", "Anduin Lothar" "Goldshire", "Dalaran", "Kharazan" "The Guardian" etc. it can be a struggle to keep up, fortunately a number of characters stand out visually so if "Khadgar" slips your memory "sexy young wizard" will help as an identifier, for instance.

"Onwards to--! Wait which location is this again? Did we miss somewhere?" is a potential hazard watching Warcraft. (Vincent, 2016)
  What we are shown however, is consistently stunning. "The Azerothians, |...| strut around in silly but not-wholly unattractive medieval-faire garb, while the heavily CGI-enhanced Orcs |...| are bulked-up in a repulsively fascinating way. They stomp around on their heavy, beefy feet, looking perpetually a bit forlorn and perplexed, thanks to the specific dental characteristic they all share: underbite fangs." (Zacharek, 2016) The Warcraft franchise could be described as "Lord of the Rings meets The Princess Bride": You have a story of humans vs monsters, good verses evil, mixed in with more pop culture references than what is thought humanely possible. The movie doesn't give us endless references to Spamalot or Star Wars, it may be rather serious for a fair bit of its running time but it does retain that tongue in cheek vibe. Late in the film for instance there is a fight between two primary characters. When one plays unfairly, it is met with the rest of the fight being perforated with random orcs shouting "He cheated!", "He's a cheater!" much in the same way the old lady from The Princess Bride jeered at a passing princess Buttercup (chants and phrases were in fact provided by attendees of Blizzcon 2014). The tongue-in-cheek nature of Warcraft is there, but it shares screentime with a lot of serious imagery such as the rather ghastly effects of the series' form of evil magic energy known as "the Fel."

Infodumping aside, it certainly looks like we're in a world where the Men of the West fight the orcs of the East and dread pirate kings are inconceivably polite. (Chaud, 2016)
All things considered Warcraft: The Beginning is not a bad film. While it's not a summer mastercraft to draw the millions (although it did gain a strong popularity in China), as far as video game adaptations it is a vast improvement from bombs like Hitman (2007), Tomb Raider (2001) and Max Payne (2008), it learned a lot from the failings of other adaptations and is something of a diamond in the rough. Compared to other 2016 it's mediocre, compared to other video game adaptations however and it might just be a curse-breaker. It doesn't try to bog itself down with translating game play into story and focuses primarily on the narrative. As this is adapting a strategy game with a lot of lore behind it and not an RPG or shooter, Warcraft: The Beginning's success might be a fair mix of choosing the right setting and the right genre to translate onto other silver screen. It's not perfect but then again neither was 2002's Spider-Man. And look at the success of comic book adaptation at the time of this review.


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