The video game movie franchise reboot Hitman: Agent 47 opens in theaters this summer, but arguably it's 2016 that has real potential to be a game-changer for cinematic adaptations of gaming properties. That year, Ubisoft Motion Pictures will begin its run with the Assassin's Creed feature film headlined by Michael Fassbender, as well as Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard, and directed by Justin Kurzel - the trio behind the buzzed-about Macbeth movie adaptation that will begin playing in theaters later in 2015.
Before then, however, Legendary Pictures, Universal Pictures, and Blizzard Entertainment will have unveiled Warcraft: a big-budget cinematic take on the popular fantasy adventure game franchise of the same name. The project was co-written and directed by Duncan Jones, whose previous output includes the acclaimed indie sci-fi drama/thriller Moon and the well-received sci-fi mystery/thriller Source Code.
Warcraft, as Jones has described it, is aiming to serve up a proper meal of blockbuster spectacle and brains - very much recalling something like 2014's Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, with regard to how it aspires to tell a fantasy world-based war story from the perspectives of both sides in the conflict: the humans and the orcs, in this case. Industrial Light and Magic is making the CGI orcs (portrayed via motion-capture by actors) all the more emotionally-expressiv and convincing for similar reasons, using the digital technology available today.
As Jones put it, when interviewed by Wired:
“We’ve gone beyond the point where these are just creatures in movies. We now have the technology and the ability to make new characters entirely.”
Case in point: below, we have the first images from Warcraft, showing Robert Kazinsky (Pacific Rim, True Blood) as Orgrim the Orc, the "right hand" to Durotan (Toby Kebbell) - the orc leader of The Horde - as well as "a brave warrior destined to wield the Doomhammer: a weapon of orc legend," as the character's official description puts it. ILM combined concept art with photos and scans of Kazinsky's face, so that Orgrim would bear a greater likeness to the actor in his own features.
Motion-capture CGI characters like Orgrim - with his photo-realistic body hair and natural skin wrinkles - and fellow ILM creation Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) - seen most recently in Avengers of Ultron - are quite impressive, on their own terms. Admittedly, the digitally-rendered creature effects on display above don't necessarily have quite the same visceral qualities as practical techniques might (consider the orcs from Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy), but at the same time it wouldn't be so easy to see Kazinsky in Orgrim if the character has been brought to life by other means (to mention nothing of his massive physical build).
So, for Jones' purposes in Warcraft (read: to really bring out the orcs' humanity), the CGI appears to have been the wiser choice. Similarly, this seems to be a nice reflection of Jones' hopes for his film - namely, that it will be a game-based movie with real artistic value and not just another brainless game inspired tentpole. It's for related reasons that the talent and effort being poured into Warcraft (like the talent involved on Assassin's Creed) has us believing it could result in a movie that's something special.
Rounding out the Warcraft cast are such names as Travis Fimmel (Vikings), Paula Patton (Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol), Dominic Cooper (Agent Carter), Ruth Negga (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), Ben Foster (Lone Survivor), and Clancy Brown (The Flash).
Warcraft opens in U.S. theaters on June 10th, 2016.