Given the immense popularity of the massive multiplayer online role playing game “Warcraft,” it always seemed inevitable that a movie would be adapted from it eventually. Since the first game was released back in 1994, there have been a multitude of sequels and expansions that have gone towards creating a rich and detailed world full of characters, and while I’ve not personally played them, there have been plenty of people who have raved about how amazing the series is. The question became who should be the one to attempt the difficult task of bringing this material to the big screen. It would have to be someone with a grand imagination and somebody who wouldn’t balk at all the technical challenges involved. In that respect, Duncan Jones (the man behind “Source Code” and “Moon”) seemed like the perfect choice. With such talent directing the film and co-writing the screenplay, what could possibly go wrong?
As the film opens, we meet the orc horde from the dying world of Draenor. Their powerful leader, Gul’dan (Daniel Wu), has created a portal to the human realm of Azeroth so that they might invade and conquer it. Their attack immediately catches the attention of Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel), the leader of the human forces, and while inspecting one of the sites, he discovers a runaway mage named Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer). When these two consult with King Llane Wrynn (Dominic Cooper), the latter is able to convince him to seek guidance from a guardian known as Medivh (Ben Foster). The humans begin to plan how best to defend against this new threat, but things are soon complicated when an orc chieftain, Durotan (Toby Kebbell), attempts to call a truce after he realizes that Gul’dan’s power would bring the same ruin to Azeroth as it had to their home.
“Warcraft” is the kind of film that, I’m sad to say, almost immediately started to remind me of M. Night Shyamalan’s disastrous “The Last Airbender.” With a film like this, all you can really do is sit back and slowly nod your head in acceptance of the fact that, at one time or another, all of it made perfect sense in the minds of the writers. You can try to question the character motivations throughout, including a dark magic causing some of them to do crazy things or Durotan figuring out rather late in the game that the orc leader is not such a great guy, but really, you’ll more than likely only end up confusing yourself more.
The main problem behind all of this, however, appears to be that there’s not nearly enough plotting here to sustain the inexplicable two-hour runtime. The story itself is rather basic: orcs are invading the human realm and the humans have to stop them, but for some reason this short story is stretched out to the point where there are more lulls than actual plot points. Because of this, by the time you reach the halfway point, you feel as though the film should be coming to an end, but you’re merely an hour into what quickly becomes a mess of subpar CGI, a half-baked storyline, and paper-thin characters.
The last of these is actually one of the main reasons this film is never able to truly come to life. Along with the unexplainable character motivations mentioned earlier, we are given practically no backstory for any of these characters, leaving them as flat as they appear on the screen. By the end of the film, you’re not likely to remember a single character’s name, not only because they have rather unusual names, but because we’re never given a reason to care about any of them, human or orc. A little character development would have gone a long way for a film like this, but because the writers didn’t take the time to flesh them out, we’re left with nothing to get attached to, character-wise or story-wise.
All of this makes it seem nearly impossible that the talented Duncan Jones had anything to do with it. The man who had once dazzled us with the smartly-written, contained science-fiction film “Moon” and the intriguing “Source Code” did indeed seem like a fine choice to try to bring the sprawling world of “Warcraft” to the big screen, but it appears to have been a little too much for him and his co-writer, Charles Leavitt (“K-PAX,” “Blood Diamond”), to handle. No doubt they thought they might get the chance to expand upon their work in a sequel or two down the line, but with the film being a massive domestic flop (though rather popular overseas), it’s unclear if they’ll ever get that chance.
“Warcraft” may be a film that’s more accessible to the fans than it is to general audiences who have never played the games, but even so, with its numerous issues, it’s unlikely that even the hardcore gamers would find any satisfaction in this misguided attempt at adapting the material. There should have been plenty of excitement here for fans and non-fans alike, characters to root for as they go about trying to save their realm, and a story to grab the audience’s attention as they journey through this epic world. Alas, what we’re given fails on all of these counts and more, leaving us with a film that is only destined to be remembered for what it could have been.
“Warcraft” comes to Blu-ray in a 2.40:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of outstanding quality. The image is sharp and clear throughout the entire two-hour duration, and while the CGI is not as good as it should be, it’s at least displayed well thanks to the excellent transfer. The Dolby Atmos audio is fantastic, giving you all of the dialogue, sound effects, and the thunderous score in pristine quality. Overall, the film has been given great treatment, ensuring a fine experience in both departments.
Deleted/Extended Scenes (14 Minutes): A collection of additional material that only goes to show how the film could have been even more stretched out.
Gag Reel (3 Minutes): A so-so collection of outtakes.
The World of Warcraft on Film: A series of featurettes that goes behind the scenes of the film, exploring areas such as its origin, VFX, costumes, and stunts.
The Fandom of Warcraft (7 Minutes): A featurette that focuses on the game’s fans.
Warcraft: Bonds of Brotherhood Motion Comic (54 Minutes): A comic set in the world of Warcraft.
Warcraft: The Madame Tussauds Experience (8 Minutes): A look at how wax figures of characters from the film were created for Madame Tussauds’ museum.
ILM: Behind the Magic of Warcraft (3 Minutes): A visual effects reel that gives you a look at the special effects.
With its stretched narrative, thinly-written characters, and sub-par CGI, “Warcraft” is an adaptation that’s not likely to please long-standing fans of the games or those merely looking for an entertaining fantasy adventure. It’s a terrible shame too because there was such grand potential here to build an impressive cinematic world around the material, one that could have generated a wonderful series of epic films. We can only hope that one day someone else will try again, and in doing so, deliver an adaptation that checks off all of the boxes that Jones’ attempt clearly missed.