WHEN Worlds col­lide

Can War­craft: The Be­gin­ning break the videogame movie curse? Jor­dan Far­ley takes an ex­press Gryphon to Aze­roth to in­ves­ti­gate

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Warcraft the beginning -

At the heart of ev­ery fan­tasy story is a bat­tle be­tween good and evil, but in the world of

War­craft noth­ing is ever that sim­ple. The decade- in- the­mak­ing adap­ta­tion of Bliz­zard’s phe­nom­e­nally pop­u­lar videogame se­ries pits hulk­ing Orcs against an al­liance of hu­mans, Dwarves and high Elves. So far, so Tolkien. But un­like the foul min­ions of Mor­dor, War­craft’s tooth­some ter­rors are ev­ery bit as no­ble as the mor­tal men they’re des­tined to bat­tle.

“It was im­por­tant for Dun­can [ Jones] – and all of us – that it wasn’t a fan­tasy movie about good and evil, be­cause that just doesn’t ring true with War­craft,” pro­ducer Stu­art Fene­gan tells SFX on the film’s Toronto set. “There’s good and evil on both sides, and I think that’s much more true of the real world.”

Wit­ness­ing the war from both per­spec­tives has been in­te­gral to the se­ries since its in­cep­tion in 1994 with War­craft: Orcs And Hu­mans, the story of which forms the ba­sis of

War­craft: The Be­gin­ning. But this wasn’t al­ways the case. When War­craft was first an­nounced in 2006 Sam Raimi was set to di­rect a script from Thor: The Dark World scribe Robert Ro­dat which, ac­cord­ing to pro­ducer Charles Roven, told a “one- sided” nar­ra­tive from the hu­man per­spec­tive. Af­ter years in de­vel­op­ment hell, Raimi de­parted to di­rect Oz: The Great And

Pow­er­ful, leav­ing the door open for Moon di­rec­tor Dun­can Jones to step in.

“Af­ter Moon, we knew we weren’t quite at the place where that shot was go­ing to be avail­able to us, and Mr Raimi was still at­tached,” Fene­gan re­calls. “But you keep mak­ing those ex­ploratory phone calls and keep bang­ing on the door. It’s re­ally for­tu­nate when there’s that com­bi­na­tion of a project that every­body re­ally be­lieves in, and an op­por­tu­nity for peo­ple that are re­ally pas­sion­ate about the orig­i­nal ma­te­rial to come in and make some­thing spe­cial with it.”

Pas­sion for War­craft is not in short sup­ply as far as Dun­can Jones is con­cerned. The Source

Code di­rec­tor is an avid gamer and has been im­mersed in the se­ries since the mid-’ 90s. “Dun­can and I were both hugely into the orig­i­nal RTS games,” Fene­gan says with a smile. “We both did the same thing of lug­ging our com­put­ers around to other peo­ple’s houses in the back of our cars, in or­der to play them on a closed net­work – that’s com­mit­ment to mul­ti­player gam­ing! And then when World Of

War­craft came out in 2005 we both started play­ing it to­gether, right un­til Burn­ing Cru­sade came out. I stopped at that point be­cause my wife threat­ened to di­vorce me.” Such tales are not un­com­mon on the set of

War­craft: The Be­gin­ning. Orc ac­tor Rob Kazin­sky is a huge fan of the se­ries, hav­ing racked up well over a thou­sand hours in World

Of War­craft, while vis­ual ef­fects su­per­vi­sor Bill Westen­hofer got the job af­ter an­swer­ing the ques­tion “What do you know about War­craft?” with “I have a level 90 mage. I have a level 90

war­rior. I have a level 90 hunter…” And with devel­op­ers Bliz­zard in­volved at ev­ery stage of the pro­duc­tion one thing’s for cer­tain – War­craft: The Be­gin­ning will be the most faith­ful videogame adap­ta­tion to date.

“We’ve all worked re­ally hard to in­clude as much of that flavour and tone of the world that play­ers are fa­mil­iar with,” says Fene­gan. “But also mak­ing sure that it’s dis­tinct in its own right. I think there’s a fine bal­ance be­cause, within the game, physics goes out of the win­dow; you’ve got swords that are seven feet long and three feet wide, and that would be very hard to pull off. But Dun­can and Gavin Boc­quet, our pro­duc­tion de­signer, have done a great job of de­liv­er­ing that fa­mil­iar­ity for the core fans with­out it ever feel­ing car­toony.”

Dur­ing SFX’s tour around the film’s colos­sal Toronto set, which fea­tures tow­er­ing li­braries, 18ft golems and a state of the art per­for­mance cap­ture stu­dio with a bank of com­put­ers that re­sem­bles Nasa mis­sion con­trol, we’re taken to the in­ner sanc­tum of Stormwind Keep – the hu­man strong­hold where King Llane ( Do­minic Cooper) is dis­cussing a course of ac­tion with his cham­pion An­duin Lothar ( Travis Fim­mel) and pow­er­ful mage Me­divh ( Ben Fos­ter). At one end lies a long ta­ble where Llane and com­pany ar­gue over troop move­ments, while at the other there’s a small ar­moury, where lion- em­bla­zoned ar­mour and or­nate weaponry ( all cre­ated by Weta) lie in ceil­ing- high piles.

mak­ing it real

“Our brief was to turn their rather playful world that’s a bit whim­si­cal, a bit Dis­ney­land, into some­thing that has a bit of in­tegrity to it,” Boc­quet ex­plains. “We treated it as real but used the game as an in­flu­ence. Even though this set doesn’t ex­ist in the game, when [ War­craft cre­ator] Chris Met­zen came in he felt im­me­di­ately that it was like a Stormwind cas­tle en­vi­ron­ment. So he says he’s go­ing to have a war room in the game!”

Un­sur­pris­ingly given its ti­tle, War­craft: The Be­gin­ning goes back to square one and tells the story of the first meet­ing be­tween Orcs and

We’ ve worked hard to in­clude the flavour and tone that play­ers are fa­mil­iar with

hu­mans. With Draenor, the orc world, dy­ing Frost­wolf Clan chief­tan Durotan ( Toby Kebbell) and his sec­ond in com­mand Or­grim Doomham­mer ( Rob Kazin­sky) throw in with Orc war­lock Gul’dan ( Daniel Wu) in a last- ditch ef­fort to save their peo­ple by open­ing a por­tal to an­other world. The catch? That world – Aze­roth – is al­ready in­hab­ited by hu­mans. Fur­ther com­pli­cat­ing mat­ters is Garona ( Paula Pat­ton), a half- hu­man Orc who falls for Lothar. But with sound ide­o­log­i­cal rea­sons on both sides, is war be­ing pre­cip­i­tated by rot­ten ap­ples in their ranks?

“The big­gest thing that we’ve done is cre­ate a film that’s go­ing to have you en­gaged by be­ing re­ally in­vested in both sides of the story,” says Roven. “You’ve got the Orcs, and they’re a war­ring species – so they’re an ir­re­sistible force, right? And you’ve got Aze­roth, and they’re kind of the im­mov­able ob­ject. But what we haven’t seen be­fore is the fact you’re ac­tu­ally go­ing to be very in­vested in both. The other thing that’s re­ally go­ing to be amaz­ing to watch is how real th­ese mo­tion- cap­ture char­ac­ters are. It’s easy enough to watch and be com­pelled by a hu­man ac­tor play­ing a hu­man role. But to have that same abil­ity to be in­vested in a com­pletely cre­ated, vir­tual char­ac­ter, it’s re­ally a thrilling ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Those en­tirely CG Orcs are set to be the most tech­ni­cally ac­com­plished per­for­mance cap­ture crea­tures yet, and rightly so be­cause if the big green men don’t work, nei­ther does the film. “It was im­por­tant to all of us that the Orc char­ac­ters re­ally de­liv­ered,” Fene­gan says. “Au­di­ences are so ed­u­cated now, the only way to do that was dig­i­tally. We didn’t want to shoot it the way that Avatar shot, where every­thing was grey- stage and peo­ple in mo- cap suits. It was im­por­tant for Dun­can to shoot as much of the film in- cam­era as pos­si­ble. So we have this in­ter­est­ing hy­brid which has never been done be­fore of beau­ti­ful, huge live- ac­tion sets with fully cos­tumed hu­man char­ac­ters, in­ter­act­ing with large num­bers of mo- cap char­ac­ters.”

Ga m e Ov e r

With videogame adap­ta­tions typ­i­cally rang­ing from whiffy to eye- wa­ter­ingly pun­gent, what makes War­craft dif­fer­ent? “I think it’s too easy to lump an en­tire genre – like videogames – and say you can’t make a good film out of a videogame,” Roven as­serts. “I just re­ject that idea. I think it’s dif­fi­cult to make a good film. Pe­riod. I can’t speak about other videogames be­cause mak­ing a film out of Grand Theft Auto or As­sas­sin’s Creed is a dif­fer­ent ex­er­cise than mak­ing a film out of War­craft. So you have to look at what the specifics of the un­der­ly­ing po­ten­tial nar­ra­tive struc­ture is on th­ese things. We re­ally feel like this par­tic­u­lar story is go­ing to be suc­cess­ful.”

“It’s not about adapt­ing a videogame,” Fene­gan adds, “it’s about try­ing to make a great movie with a great script from a world that you’re pas­sion­ate about. It sounds like a pun, but the world in War­craft is as much a char­ac­ter as any of the char­ac­ters within that huge 20- year canon of sto­ries and char­ac­ters. It’s a world that’s fa­mil­iar to ev­ery player.”

De­spite those 20 years of sto­ries, and the clear re­spect the filmmakers have for the se­ries, cru­cially Jones was aware he could never be rev­er­en­tial to the detri­ment of a cin­e­matic ex­pe­ri­ence. “The most im­por­tant thing for us is the fact we’ve got this team of filmmakers who don’t know any­thing about the game bal­anced out by peo­ple who know it in­ti­mately and have spent years of their life play­ing it,” Fene­gan ex­plains. “It’s a ques­tion of mak­ing sure that story comes first and you’re not slav­ishly fol­low­ing things, but you’re keep­ing true to the spirit of the game.”

Won­der if Dun­can Jones wished he could dress up too?

Love in the time of War­craft: An­duin Lothar ( Travis Fim­mel) and Garona ( Paula Pat­ton).

Is ev­ery­one a hip­ster in this movie?!

Nor­mally our money would go on the big green guy…

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