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The peaceful realm of Azeroth stands on the brink of war as its civilization faces a fearsome race of invaders: orc warriors fleeing their dying home to colonize another. As a portal opens to connect the two worlds, one army faces destruction and the other faces extinction. From opposing sides, an unlikely group of heroes is set on a collision course that will decide the fate of their families, their people, and their home. (From Universal/Legendary’s official synopsis)

 Warcraft
I’ve never played World of Warcraft and don’t really know anything about the game’s storytelling conventions. My only knowledge springs from overhearing discussions between friends that do play, who rarely mention anything about themes or characters, and the flashy commercials for new versions/updates of the game, which hint at plot points in broad strokes. I’d like to say that I watched Duncan Jones’ movie adaptation with a completely open mind, but I assumed it would be a generic mish-mash of Tolkien fantasy and Dungeons & Dragons narrative devices. Apparently, I was correct, but I underestimated what ambitious filmmakers could do with the material, because, contrary to some of the movie’s worst reviews, watching it is more engaging than “watching someone else play a video game.”

It’s probably safe to assume that Duncan Jones’ participation was the biggest point of interest for movie fans that don’t play the games. I know that I was curious as to what this particularly smart and emotionally-driven filmmaker could bring to a video game adaptation, given the sad and storied history of video game adaptations. At first, Jones’ generally low-key and intimate style may not seem to fit the bombastic Warcraft universe, but his previous work succeeds by emotionally grounding common sci-fi tropes – Moon (2009) explores the existential crisis of cloning and Source Code (2011) wraps a love story into a twist on a time-travel story. This more sympathetic and grounded approach is the only way to ‘crack’ World of Warcraft for movie audiences. In addition, Source Code uses popular video game mechanics – specifically the fact that the main character has multiple lives for which to achieve a goal and ‘beat the level’ – as a basis for budding romance (Doug Liman’s Edge of Tomorrow did the same thing with a more prominent action tone). Jones movies don’t have an established and rigid style, either, which leaves him open to adapting the game’s imagery to film. As a director, Jones’ strikes a nice balance between admitting the visual influence of something like Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings or the Harry Potter series and his own ideas. The action is well-paced, makes logistical sense (despite the use of virtual cameras), and carries emotional and physical weight.

 Warcraft
The screenplay is credited to Jones and Charles Leavitt (a name that does not inspire confidence, given the quality of movies like K-PAX and Seventh Son) and is based on the video game stories credited to designer/artist/voice actor/author Chris Metzen. Ultimately, Jones and Leavitt are more hemmed-in by the video game universe than the more malleable tropes of Moon and Source Code. It’s less a matter of the script setting forth too many quests for the characters to complete between plot-points – in fact, the narrative avoids these types of serialized adventures – and more a matter of the game itself being built on, well, Tolkien and D&D devices. But that is the card they were dealt and they do interesting things with generic material. The bigger challenges are actually posed by the film’s relatively short run-time, which forces Jones and editor Paul Hirsch to cut every scene to the bone. This propels the plot too quickly and leaves some characters and subplots too underdeveloped. I understand that it isn’t an established franchise, but there’s at least 30 more minutes of story here. If theaters can sustain 2 and ¾ hour-long movies based on toys, surely a video game movie can merit something similar (Jones claims that this is his final cut, so he may be to blame in this instance).

 Warcraft

Video


Like most modern fantasy/sci-fi blockbusters, the world of Warcraft (if you will) has largely been created in the computer. Everything that was recorded on location – sets, flesh & blood actors, some locations – was shot using Arri Alexa digital HD cameras. That live-action footage was then put into the computer, mixed with the CG elements, and converted to 3D for theatrical screenings. So, by that metric, this 2D 2.40:1, 1080p transfer is more comparable to an animated movie than a complete live-action one. Jones and cinematographer Simon Duggan are mindful of the video game origins in their use of colour (it is much more attractive than Peter Jackson’s similar Hobbit movies) and blending of cartoonish and realistic elements. I admit that I thought the trailers (which probably included unfinished FX) looked pretty unattractive – like cut-scenes from the video game with actors in place of digital humans – but the final results are quite attractive, especially the moments where green/blue magical elements overlap with the most grounded medieval sets. That said, I am a little bit disappointed with this transfer. There’s not a lot of blocking, but there are snowy discolourations/noise during darker sequences. I assume that all of the extras and the Dolby Atmos soundtrack took up a smidge too much disc space. This is a nitpick and the overall results are pretty handsome – I just expected the top-end of what Blu-ray is capable of considering the design of this particular movie.

Audio


As I just mentioned, Warcraft is fitted with a robust Dolby Atmos track, though my review will refer to the slight less robust Dolby TrueHD 7.1 core audio. The fact that the film was mixed with Atmos, Auro 11.1, and DTS: X in mind gives you a good idea of what to expect – i.e. lots of dynamic range and swift, multi-channel movement. While the mix isn’t necessarily an overload, even the quieter moments are teaming with activity and ambience. The action scenes are expectedly loud and the fantasy sound effects are punchy, especially the magical lightning and orc screams. Ramin Djawadi’s rousing, drum and brass-heavy soundtrack is very reminiscent of his work on Game of Thrones, but not in a bad way. I like the idea of him establishing a more brutish musical standard for fantasy movies and TV. The music never overwhelms the action and even offers up a few memorable motifs.

 Warcraft

Extras


  • Eleven deleted/extended scenes (13:57, HD) – This unused footage is surprisingly fleshed-out in terms of special effects. Some of the animations appear completely finished. I’m not sure they would’ve saved the film from its pacing issues, but they do fill-out the orc characters quite a bit.
  • Gag reel (3:25, HD)
  • The World of Warcraft on Film:
    • Origin Story (4:54, HD) – A rundown of the game’s history and the film’s inception.
    • The World of Talent (5:35, HD) – A casting featurette.
    • The World of VFX (5:09, HD) – Concerning the visual effects design and animation, including a number of before & after comparisons. I was genuinely surprised by how much of the film was shot in camera.
    • Outfitting a World (6:16, HD) – On the costume and weapons design.
    • The World of MOCAP (6:50, HD) – The filmmakers and MOCAP actors discuss creating the orcs with motion capture technology.
    • The World of Stunts (5:06, HD) – A look at the practical side of the battle scenes, including training, choreography, and stunts.
  • The Fandom of Warcraft (6:36, HD) – An exploration of World of Warcraft player culture and communities, including footage from Blizzard’s annual convention (Blizzcon) where they premiered the movie teaser for fans.
  • Warcraft: Bonds of Brotherhood Motion Comic (53:47, HD) – A pretty extensive, five-part ‘motion comic’ (comic panels that include minor animation, vocal performances, sound effects, and music) that covers a different in-universe story.
  • Warcraft: Madame Tussauds Experience (7:32, HD – An elongated commercial for the Warcraft wax figure ‘experience’ by Madame Tussauds studios.
  • ILM: Behind the Magic of Warcraft (2:59, HD) – Special effects breakdowns.
  • 2013 Warcraft teaser


 Warcraft

Overall


Warcraft’s ambition is impressive enough to overcome the familiarity of its basic fantasy concepts and truncated sense of story. There is a lot of humanity and moral complexity weaved into its outlandish and unabashedly fantastical world and I’d happily watch another chapter in the series, even as a non-gamer. Better yet, I’d welcome a longer version of this movie – one that could flesh-out the characters and subplots. I got a little nit-picky in the video section, but this is really a strong looking disc and it sounds fantastic. The extras include many brief behind-the-scenes featurettes that feel sort of like one decent-sized documentary (it’s annoying that the longest featurette is an ad for a wax museum), a very long motion comic, and some deleted scenes that round out some of the film’s brevity problems.

 Warcraft

 Warcraft
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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