Warcraft Filmmakers Explain How To Make A Great Video Game Movie

Warcraft (2016) movie trailer and poster

It's easy to overlook, in a summer set to be utterly saturated by superhero blockbusters that other genres are getting their shot at box-office glory as well. One of the most prominent is Duncan Jones' (Moon) hotly-anticipated fantasy epic Warcraft; the first feature film adaptation of the classic video game franchise from Blizzard. Originally a military-strategy simulator set in a fantasy kingdom of knights, wizards, monsters, orcs, elves and other assorted mythic fixtures, the series gained worldwide fame thanks to the ubiquitous MMORPG World of Warcraft. Now Jones, Legendary Pictures and Universal are betting that a big-budget feature film can not only conquer the multiplex, but also break the curse of the phrase "video game adaptation" being synonymous with "bad movie" and "box-office failure."

Sure, game adaptations count a few genuine hits (the Angelina Jolie-starring Tomb Raider films, the original Mortal Kombat) and proven moneymakers (the Resident Evil films) among their ranks, but few are willing to stand up and defend them as genre-defining classics. And most of the genre otherwise is overwhelmingly packed with infamous failures that were roasted by critics, ignored by audiences and reviled by gamers themselves: Street Fighter, Super Mario Bros, House of The Dead, Postal, Double Dragon, Dead or Alive, King of Fighters, Tekken... the list goes on, and it's not a pretty sight. No one knows this better than video gaming aficionados in the film industry itself, which includes many of the principals behind the long-gestating Warcraft movie.

Jones himself, in particular, pursued directing duties on the film after having followed the production himself originally out of pure fan interest and hearing that original director Sam Raimi had ultimately passed on the (by then) stalled project in order to direct Oz: The Great & Powerful for Disney. Jones is a true believer in Warcraft, that much is certain, but he and the film's producers appear keenly aware that they may still have an uphill battle ahead of them convincing mainstream audiences that a "video game movie" is actually worth watching this time, to say nothing of convincing the sort of devout gamers who worship the Warcraft mythos to trade the keyboard for an afternoon at the movies - a notoriously uncertain proposition (just ask anyone who had money invested in Hardcore Henry).

Warcraft Filmmakers Tell PAX East Crowds How To Make A Great Video Game Movie

As part of that battle, Jones and star Robert Kazinsky (Pacific Rim) - who provided the voice and motion-capture performance of Orgrim Doomhammer and is an avid gamer himself, at one point ranked as one of the world's top Warcraft players - made a special appearance at the massive PAX East gaming convention on Saturday April 23rd to present an exclusive trailer and talk directly (with backup from perennial gaming-con fixture Michele Morrow as moderator) to throngs of devoted Warcraft fans. Screen Rant was on hand as part of that very audience to hear what the director and star had to say about the long-developing blockbuster - both men confirming upfront that the sorry history of previous video game adaptations was very much on everyone's mind:

DUNCAN JONES: Blizzard has been working toward a movie for awhile, and it took a long time to realize that the best place to start is the start. So that’s what we did.

ROBERT KAZINSKY: Yeah, look video game movies, historically… suck [laughs] Yeah, they do, guys. Seriously, no one’s going to argue about Mario Bros. And it’s because, you know, games have evolved. Beforehand you would have – well, let’s take Mario Bros – you’d have Mario, and he’s going to save Peach. And you go, “how do you make a 90 minute movie out of this?,” and they make up some crappy storyline to go in there.

But while some game franchises may have become more narratively complex, it doesn't necessarily follow that they've become any easier to adapt to feature films. In fact, Kazinsky went on to opine that the sprawling nature of many modern games makes them equally problematic as fodder for Hollywood.

RK: You’ve got Assassin’s Creed, Mass Effect… you can’t take a hundred hours of storyline and put it into 90 minutes of film. So what Duncan and Legendary and all those guys did was, quite smartly, they’re not trying to. It was an opportunity to do an origin story for the universe, rather than do an origin story of Thrall. It’s the story of this crossover, this first “first contact” moment we keep talking about. It’s telling a great story about that.

Jones revealed that, upon looking into the production himself following the departure of Raimi, he'd asked to see the script and found it lacking in one key area: The writers had attempted to streamline the Warcraft mythology into a more conventional fantasy mold of good versus evil and, in doing so, had (in his view) lost sight of a core component of what makes the franchise so compelling in the first place.

DJ: What I think Blizzard does well, what Blizzard has always done well, is take things that you feel you know well, whether it’s Tolkien or Marvel comic books or the Star Wars Universe, and synthesize it into something new. And what they introduced with fantasy in particular, in my opinion, is the idea of heroes on all sides. To not necessarily see one side as good and one side as evil, but instead it’s two different sides, two different perspectives on a war that’s unavoidable.

Warcraft movie poster

The IP's overseers at Activision/Blizzard had apparently felt the same way about the studio's take on the story, which is set at the beginning of the Warcraft universe's main overarching storyline about a warlike race of Orcs who flee their dying homeworld of Draennor through The Dark Portal to establish a new homeland in the magical world of Azeroth - bringing them into a tense, morally-murky conflict with that world's native inhabitants, who are mainly (but not exclusively) humans. Jones' take, to split the film's focus between human and Orc factions meant to be viewed as equally sympathetic (and unsympathetic) by the audience, rhymed with what the producers were looking for and thrilled castmembers like Kazinsky:

RK: I started the game playing Alliance for a long time – I’ve still got Alliance characters. But when I got into hardcore raiding I went with The Horde [crowd cheers] But the beauty of it is when I would go to any these places in the world [of the film] I’d have this perspective of having been there in Alliance.

One thing is certain: Kazinsky is no Hollywood poseur pandering for cheap crowd appeal. He electrified the PAX East audience with stories of his awe at inhabiting places that had "meant so much" to him as a player and (later, during a Q&A session with the audience) brought the crowd to a standing ovation when asked to give them his best "FOR THE HORDE!" battle-cry. He also posted a behind-the-scenes video to his Twitter, offering a fan's-eye-view tour of the film's meticulous recreation of the Lion's Pride Inn:

More in Featured