Everybody’s super excited about the Warcraft movie, based on the strengths of a trailer or two, and the latest television spot has bumped everyone up to a fever pitch again. Admittedly, the tragic passing of the director’s father has something to do with the surge in interest as well, but Warcraft was a hot commodity well before then. And for fans of the series, that’s fine! It’ll be very exciting, and the movie really channels the design aesthetic and appeal of the games, especially Warcraft 3. That’s the problem, though, the one that limits their appeal to the gaming audience. It’s the problem with all video game movies: They’re based on video games.
Warcraft Is Still A Video Game Movie
Don’t get me wrong, people. Warcraft seems like it’s doing everything right, as far as video game movies go. It’s based on an acclaimed, beloved and extremely popular series with a built-in fan base. It has a real director: Duncan Jones is great, and the best thing Warcraft has going for it. Blizzard is actively involved, making sure the movie stays true to its roots. This ain’t going to be Super Mario Bros. It’s probably going to be one of the most faithful video game adaptations out there.
That’s the trouble, though. Warcraft is ultimately hobbled by, well, Warcraft. The movie has to channel the series. And, while it can and does tell its own story, it’s bound by the incredible amount of Warcraft lore that’s out there. Just as significantly, the movie is held back by the Warcraft aesthetic. The Warcraft movie looks like a video game movie. I think it’s the colors: The preponderance of blue among the humans, of red among the orcs. The characters legitimately do feel like they’re popping out of a Blizzard FMV, perhaps from Warcraft 7 many years from now. Because of the IP’s roots as a game, the movie looks like a video game. It doesn’t feel alive; instead, it has the same candy-like sheen of most Blizzard products today.
I don’t think a video game movie can be an epic, at least not yet. Warcraft will assuredly be tolerable enough, as far as fantasy movies go. But the series doesn’t have the stakes of something like Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter or even the Marvel movies, which have their own very distinctive aesthetic, but one that’s entirely conveyed through the movies.
Hell, look at the forthcoming Angry Birds movie and think about all the reasons why that probably isn’t going to work. That’s the extreme version: The games don’t have characters, the gameplay doesn’t make sense for a movie, the setting is dumb and the whole idea is ridiculous. Warcraft is obviously worlds away from Angry Birds. After all, the series does have characters and a distinct setting. The gameplay still doesn’t really transfer: The stakes as expressed in the trailer don’t feel real to me, as someone who doesn’t much care for the Warcraft lore and thinks it’s overly convoluted.
The Warcraft movie may well end up being a big success. And if you love the games, fine, get excited for it. It has a very solid director and tons of resources behind it; the movie will probably be pretty decent. But if you’re a casual Warcraft fan or just a movie buff, I don’t think Warcraft can scratch your itches or earn a place in the fantasy canon. Because it’s based on a video game and that just doesn’t do it for everyone.