This post is the unedited copy of the review published in Mag the Weekly, on 18th of June 2016.
Man vs Invading Fantasy Creatures In a (dud) Fantasy World
By Mohammad Kamran Jawaid
In the first few minutes of the motion picture adaptation of the massively popular fantasy-strategy game Warcraft, we are briefly introduced to who may be the audience’s most relatable character: an Orc chieftain named Durotan (who has Toby Kebbel’s voice) – a brawny, pony-tailed ogre-looking warrior, with deep sad eyes and family values. His wife (voiced by Anna Galvin), is pregnant, and their world is ravaged and infertile. To his, and other Orc tribes, there is one way for the future – to invade another realm. And so, with this prologue, begins one of the most incomplete, half-explained movies you’ll see this summer.
Director Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code) often has a clear idea on what he’s up to. Here, the ideas are scattered, and the edits rarely gel together. We don’t feel for the characters – which includes our main Orc Durotan and Garona (an overly emotive Paula Patton in make-up), a slave Orc who may be our heroine. Our hero, Lothar (Travis Fimmel) – our human hero, that is – is a brave warrior commandant, but we hardly get to know him, or his on-the-surface relationship with his young son. For a long time during the movie, we take the word of our characters on what is happening, and why they are reacting to events. In film terms, that’s bad for the narrative – especially if we see it happening scene after scene.
The animation and the visual effects are top-notch though – this movie probably the best fully computer generated characters since James Cameron’s Avatar in 2009. Visual eye-candy can only take one so far into the journey when we end up as partially-drawn spectators. The villains in Warcraft are worn-out ideas – one voiced by Daniel Wu is a sorcerer Orc, the other his counterpart mage guardian, (Ben Forster with full-on Jesus Christ hair-and-make-up). Their places, or their actions, are simply there for convenience.
Now, as far as blockbusters go, there are a lot of things that one must endure – or include – for the sake of storytelling convenience. The hero’s journey, the obstacles, the resolve, the conflict, the grand turn of events, the villain’s far greater plan of dominance, every one’s own view of the world, change, sacrifice – these concepts are taught and explained in far greater detail by film theorists and in film school classes, and they are there for one simple reason: they work. Just how well, depends on the material.
The screenplay by Jones and Charles Leavitt hardly looks like a draft one would film. Considering the time Warcraft was in production, I would argue that one could have, hypothetically, get time to rewrite a few scenes. Then again, having been through this process myself, I know motion picture production is hardly the way it seems on the surface. Warcraft is an expensive endeavor – a single CGI frame of the movie would have taken hours (if not days) to render. Release dates are announced in advance, and the allure of a global market, deadlines and race from competing movies is enough to start a bald-patch on any director’s head.
Making big movies is hard work, and one has but one of two options: either get the story, or the production right. When the mark misses (like in the latter Harry Potter movies, or The Hobbit), the number of trifle gaps on the narrative side end up turning into massive gaping holes.
One of the biggest mistakes Jones does is back the wrong character. As the narrative spans three of four individuals, we never see any one of them reach their full potential (I am not counting Dominic Cooper’s King here). When, by the climax, we see a lack of conclusion – or emotional fulfillment – from either of them, we feel cheated.
Warcraft could have been The Lord of the Rings – the sets, the matte-painted background, the preluded idea of a fantastic fantasy inter-species world rich in myth and adventure, all lead one to believe what the movie could have been; what it is, is weaker than The Golden Compass – a well-known children’s fantasy book, with anti-Christian themes, and animated characters, which had won an Oscar despite its half-accessed story. Warcraft, however, will not win an Oscar – even though it deserves at least an Oscar nod this year. It will win at the worldwide box-office though, and maybe a sequel will follow (the Moses-like journey of a baby Orc in a river, very late in the movie foretells this, *sigh*).