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