Before Lord of the Rings, director Peter Jackson didn't start out trying to qualify his efforts based on another film. He set out with ambition, patience, and about $300 million in order to tell the version of the story he wanted told. It's hard to imagine that anyone expected Lord of the Rings to turn into the hugely successful franchise we know it as today. Yet it would be fair to say that fantasy films, be they adaptations or originals, do pull inspiration from Lord of the Rings. However, director Duncan Jones wanting Warcraft to be like Lord of the Rings could be a disservice to the audience.
At its peak, the Warcraft game franchise had over 12 million paid subscribers. Blizzard Entertainment's first version of the game, Warcraft: Orcs & Humans, was released for PC in 1994 and was touted as a real-time strategy game with a multiplayer component. Over the years, the game evolved into the more well-known World of Warcraft MMORPG that has garnered millions of users. Set in a rich world filled with a variety of characters (playable classes), Warcraft has just as much potential as the characters from the pages of a trilogy of books (having now sold over 150 million copies) that was originally published in 1954. But can a game with 22 years of history even come close to books that have been around for 62 years?
In a press conference held by Legendary Pictures for the film, CBR reports that director Duncan Jones (Source Code, Moon) was well aware of the inevitable Lord of the Rings comparisons. He said:
”Lord of the Rings really set the bar as for what a fantasy film should be. And like I said, I think fantasy has a much smaller set of films that are really the things you aspire to make when you make a fantasy film. We wanted to find a way to do it differently and give [the fans] a bit of a rival [to Lord of the Rings]. We just wanted to create a spectacle and give it an energy that was different but hopefully achieved the same level of success.”
The hardest part of any adaptation is finding the balance between pleasing the existing fan-base while also ensuring the content is accessible to newcomers. The film is making a grand attempt at world building, with neither side being one dimensional. Where Lord of the Rings tells the story of good vs evil, Warcraft sticks to its RPG roots and allows the viewer to choose which side they're on. There's more than just orcs fighting humans for the sake of it, as Jones explained:
“What we were trying to do was make a film that works for the fans on one level and where we would bring them into a world that felt like home to them, but then also on another level, it just felt like this grand new fantasy for people who knew nothing about Warcraft. The ideal situation is where people who know the game and love the game and who go to the movie can bring people who know nothing about it and communicate to them through the movie.”
As far as ambitions go, setting out to rival Lord of the Rings is a massive undertaking. Early reviews of Warcraft are disappointing, citing that despite Jones' best efforts, this film might just turn out to be something that is strictly for the gamers.
Warcraft hits US theaters on June 10th, 2016.