Warcraft (2016) Review

One from the to watch pile…
Warcraft: The Beginning (2016)

 

The Australian Bluray cover to Warcraft.

Film: Unfortunately for video game to film adaptations, there have been several cinematic crimes committed over the years that have scarred the eyes of all who watched them: Super Mario Bros., Far Cry, Alone in the Dark, Doom, House of the Dead and Double Dragon. I do have to own up and claim that some of the ‘guilty pleasures’ in my regular spin list, even though they aren’t the greatest movies, are video game based: DOA and Pixels (sure not a ‘proper’ video game film, but there are enough 8 bit legends in that film for me to count it).

People seem to forget about the actual hits though: the first Tomb Raider was good enough to spawn a sequel, Resident Evil is a multi-sequeled series of various quality, but generally enjoyable, the Silent Hill films have ticked several boxes and I liked the Hitman films as well.

Warcraft (which has had the subtitle “The Beginning” attached to it here and there) is based on the massively multiplayer online game (MMOG) World of Warcraft, the sensation from entertainment company Blizzard who also gave us Starcraft, Overwatch, and Warcraft associated games like Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm, and none of that is to mention my favourite game from them, Diablo (and it’s sequels).

You have to give the filmmakers credit for attempting this film. Not only do they have millions of World of Warcraft fans to keep happy, but a big budget fantasy film in a post-Lord of the Rings/ The Hobbit genre would be a difficult sell to, well ‘normal’ people.
Perhaps in the hands of director Duncan Jones, who previously gave us Moon and Source Code, it could be successful. Jones co-wrote the screenplay with Charles Leavitt, who also wrote Seventh Son, another not entirely bad fantasy film, but different enough from the Hobbit films for it not to be associated, which brings us to the problem this film faced.

Ben Schnetzer as Khadgar

In a world where those aforementioned ‘normal’ folk have become fantasy fans (pfft: ‘muggles’) it’s difficult to sell the tropes of the fantasy genre without seeming to be merely emulating it, even though those of us who have played Dungeons and Dragons or Warhammer, or read associated fiction, have been familiar with ‘orcs’ and other fantasy beasts for our entire fandom, and we are accustomed to them being borrowed from Tolkien’s tomes and other traditional mythologies.

This film does however break the bonds of the traditional fantasy film, and tells a different tale than the ‘a band of brothers of different races overcome their prejudices to fight a common evil’, which is the plot line of SO many fantasy films. Warcraft instead tells the story of two sides of war: of the trials the humans have to endure when an invading force enters their realm, and also that of an army under control of a corrupted leader who don’t all necessarily agree with his motives.

Seeing a fantasy film… or any film that deals with war, fantasy or otherwise, that shows that even in the enemy’s camp there may be dissent is an interesting concept to me, as you perhaps stop and think about the deaths of the bad guys. Though not like in Austin Powers, where it is dealt with in a comedic manner.

I have not played World of Warcraft, but I am a Hearthstone player so I am aware of some of the races and images and even with my limited knowledge it was pretty cool to see some of the beasts and locations that appear in the game pop up here and there (I have to admit to be delighted by the image and sound of a Murloc popping up!)

Haters of CGI are definitely not going to like this film, as there is an astonishing amount of CGI characters and environments, and seeing as how they are keeping to that video game aesthetic, it does all look very artificial. This is no doubt to not alienate those who love the game as they are the people you don’t want to aggravate. I don’t think it’s detrimental to the film at all as the orcs, locations and beasts in general look great. Bare in mind that occasionally the film has little ‘real’ elements in it and it could be best described as an animated feature!

The acting is fine and the direction and fight choreography is exciting, and the production design is certainly on a grand scale. My favourite actor choice though is that of Ben Foster as Medivh. I’ve liked him since I saw him in the teen flick Get Over It and he is quite the intense human being when playing these sort of roles.

Toby Kebbell as Durotan

All in all I enjoyed this film for a couple of reasons. The first is the fact that it is a first, and doesn’t have the plot weight that continuing series’s of films have. This could be just because it’s the first, but I suspect that after the six Tolkien films (which I am still angry at for dumping Tom Bombadil and Goldberry in The Two Towers, but had no problems adding a whole pile of extra crap to three Hobbit films) it might just be a relief to see something free of the shackles of continuing plots. The second reason is it’s just damned fun: just fun with orcs and dwarves and elves and traitors and kings and magic and wizards and giant animals and all that good fantasy stuff.

In my research of this film, to the casual observer and not the obsessive fan, they have certainly been quite faithful to the game with some of the characters and kingdoms appearing, though some of the motives for decisions made may not be entirely fleshed out in the film, but I imagine it is hard to adapt such an open plotted, character driven game in a story driven environment. They managed to do this without that weight I mentioned feeling at all present, but this is due to the fact we are at the origin of the war between orcs and humans. That’s not to say that there perhaps aren’t unresolved plot lines, but we are at the beginning of these plots, rather than halfway through.

I mean it’s not gonna change your life, and the comparisons it receives both to Peter Jackson’s films, and to the Dungeons and Dragons movie from 2000 are certainly unfair for different reasons, but it certainly is a hoot.

Score: ***1/2

Warcraft bluray menu screen

Format: Warcraft was reviewed on the Australian, JB Hifi exclusive release (with extra extras which will be discussed in ‘Extras’) and runs for approximately 122 minutes. It is presented in an immaculate 2.40:1 image with an outstanding Dolby Atmos soundtrack. I must point out that the colours of this film have been amped up for what I guess would be to firstly give it its own identity in a world where the natural-looking Lord of the Rings series exists, and also to have a slightly artificial look to connect it to the video game.

There is also a 3D edition of this film available, as well as a UHD 4K one, for those who have those home cinema capabilities available to them.

Score: *****

Extras: The disc opens with a trailers for Jason Bourne, and one for the Harry Potter-land thing at Universal Studios before we get to the guts of the disc.

Disc one has a bunch of extras:

11 deleted and extended scenes which are interesting, but as one would expect, not necessary.

Gag reel: I love me a good gag reel, and this provided several smiles and a giggle, but no guffaws.

The World of Warcraft on Film is divided into 6 mini features, including Origin Story, The World of Talent, The World of VFX, Outfitting a World, The World of Mo-cap and The World of Stunts. These features explore all the aspects of making the film, as can be seen by the titles, are are each interesting in different ways, though I think they could have been merged together into one single interesting feature.

Travis Fimmel as  Anduin and Paula Patton as Garona

The Fandom of Warcraft is a cool look at the fans of Warcraft, though it may appear to be a little disturbing for non-fandom folk. From the gaming to the cosplay, the fans are pretty hardcore, and awesome! I totally get people who meet friends from gaming as I made really good friends both from Warhammer and Call of Duty, all of whom are still friends today.

Warcraft: Bonds of Brotherhood Motion Comic is one of those special features I’m not really a fan of. I’d rather buy a comic or see a proper animated feature rather than something half animated with a voiceover. That’s not to say it’s a bad story, but I just don’t like this sort of extra.

Warcraft: The Madam Tussauds Experience explores the beautiful waxwork characters Tussauds have created for the Warcraft display.

ILM: Behind the Magic of Warcraft shows the CGI breakdowns of some of the VFX in the film.

Warcraft Teaser is, as you would expect by the name, the sneak peak trailer for the movie.

The second disc is a JB Hifi exclusive in Australia and is a DVD with even MORE extras on it, including Welcome to Warcraft, which explains the origins of the Blizzard game, The Weaponised Magic of Warcraft looks at the physical performance of magic used in the film and The World Within Warcraft explored the locations within the film.

The consistent theme throughout all the extras seems to be the efforts taken to accurately represent the Warcraft game and lore accurately. I reckon that is a pretty cool aspect to take when basing a film on an existing product.

Also, the packaging contains a digital copy of the film, and some bonuses from Blizzard for the games World of Warcraft, Heroes of the Storm and Hearthstone.

Score: *****

WISIA: I don’t think it will be on high rotation, but I doubt if it will gather a year’s worth of dust.

 

 

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