With 20 years of world-building and lore behind it, the Warcraft movie has no shortage of story to draw on. In creating a film adaptation from the franchise, the focus is on going back to the beginning.
That’s the case both in terms of the timeline of the movie’s story – it retells the tale of the original Warcraft game, subtitled Orcs & Humans – and its themes, according to the movie’s director, Duncan Jones. Warcraft (the film) is all about the idea of loyalty in particular. That’s a concept that’s key to the kind of game World of Warcraft is and why it’s so appealing, he said.
“Before WoW was a twinkle in anyone’s eye, there used to be a game called Ultima Online … I used to run a guild on that,” Jones said during a press conference on the film at BlizzCon 2015. “And it kind of started to, you know, level out, as far as the experience, and that was just around the time WoW came out. And we basically mass emigrated everyone from that, everyone from Ultima Online to World of Warcraft. And I had friends, guys in my guild at the time, playing from Texas, and from Scotland, and from Germany, all over the world. We felt like a family. You really had that sense of loyalty.
“…Going into the movie, the sense of loyalty and what loyalty is, and who you care about and who you look after, that’s at the heart of the movie. I think that’s because that’s at the heart of the game, and I think that translated across to the film.”
The presser followed the release of Warcraft‘s official trailer, which gives a much better sense of the movie’s story than anything yet released. Of course, players familiar with franchise lore already know the tale, about how orcs and humans first come into contact, and conflict, with one another. But more than just that simple conflict, there’s a hearty helping of the elements from the franchise’s story, like the fact that orcs came to the human world of Azeroth from another dimension.
Much of the panel focused on the kind of story Warcraft means to portray, which Jones said gives equal time, and empathy, to both the humans and the orcs. The panelists discussed the universal themes that will anchor the tale and make it accessible to people beyond just World of Warcraft superfans.
“More than the action, I think what was so incredible about this movie is the depth of human emotion we all had to portray,” said Paula Patton (Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, 2 Guns), who plays the half-orc, half-human character Garona. “It is entertainment, and you will be blown away, but it really mirrors the world we live in right now. The idea of good versus evil is not necessarily this, that you have two people from two different worlds, who equally want good for their family or the people of their country, or their universe or what have you, and are willing to do whatever it takes to make that happen. Neither one of them you can judge. And then there’s also people who mismanage power, and what happens when we become corrupted by that?”
The press conference was thin on much new information about the movie – it felt more like the numerous mainstage BlizzCon panels Jones and Blizzard’s senior vice president of story and franchise development, Chris Metzen, that have been meant to allay fans’ fears about how true the film adaptation is to the source material. Most interesting, though, were some of the insights cast members gave about the experience of working on Warcraft. The movie includes a huge amount of motion capture for the computer-rendered orc characters, which meant the actors playing non-human characters – Patton, Ben Foster, Tobey Kebbell, Clancy Brown and Daniel Wu, all present on the panel – had to work largely with what Jones was carrying around in his head, and hope the visuals came together later.
Kebbell, who plays Durotan, the leader of an orc clan and one of the movie’s two major protagonists, likened the experience to theater. He’s an experienced motion capture actor, having played the ape Koba in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.
“The cameras in motion capture, they watch you so intimately, it’s like showing a magic trick,” Kebbell said. “You show a magic trick to adults, they like it and nobody really cares, but when you show a kid, they’re like, ‘But your hand’s behind your back!’ The cameras see every detail, and as soon as you fall out of the character, what they call ‘selling out,’ you’ve lost it – you’ve lost everything. And it’s such a beautiful role to get, to play around and to do with motion capture because it needs the skin of Durotan, it needs every tooth, every hair, every bit of him to be seen on screen.”
Motion capture in film removes costumes, replacing them with gray suits, and often uses simplified versions of props. Kebbell said that motion capture work requires the guidance of a strong director, because the actors can’t see what they’re portraying: they only have the vision of the director to go off of.
“What it looks like is taken care of, so you actually get to rid yourself a lot of the crappy part of acting, which is the vanity of it. You don’t have to worry, how does my hair look – you’re in gray pajamas,” he said. “Actually, it’s like, ‘Can you see my penis?’ “
Metzen said the film includes some changes from the original lore created by Blizzard, partially due to the requirements of adapting the story to a new medium, and partially due to the crudity of storytelling in the original game, which was released in 1994. The plot of that game, Metzen explained, was told in a page of text that appeared between its missions, and was only more fully fleshed out in a later novelization, but he said he wishes this was how the story was told originally.
“We made some tactical calls to kind of simplify some themes or ideas and really just make it work as a film,” he said. “There’s nothing, literally, to base it on. The game was crude, and old, although I love it … I always kind of call (the film), it’s the ultimate version of Warcraft 1, I mean that like Ultimate Spider-Man. It’s all the greatest hits, it’s all the beats it needs, it’s all the right characters and the right kind of chemistry, but it’s streamlined. It’s cleaner. It’s better, sharper.
“This is totally bullshit – not bullshit like it’s not true, but bullshit because it’s cowardly, but we made some really weird decisions with the lore over time, things I wish I could take back. Very proud of WoW, but in a way, retelling this story again in Duncan’s deft hands was an opportunity for redemption, conceptual redemption. So it’s totally the Warcraft 1 I think everyone remembers, just better, I think, smarter. It’s a much better version of the tale, and we’re super proud of it.”
Warcraft is set to hit theaters in March 2016.