When it comes to adapting something, there can be a myriad of issues that arise. For instance, there is the challenge of how much of the source material one may choose to preserve versus how much one may change. Another, more specific issue is that of the audience for the adaptation. Though an artist might craft a narrative that springs from their own hearts and minds, the audience is a key part to the whole experience. They will either accept an artist’s story and embrace it, or let it fall by the wayside in search of something else. In particular, an adaptation may find its challenge in terms of aiming for fans of the original or a wide audience unfamiliar with it. Adapt a work for as wide an audience as possible, and one risks losing all that makes the work special or unique. Adapt solely for the fans, and one risks making it difficult for average viewers to enjoy. Filmmaker Duncan Jones found this challenge arise when he chose to adapt Warcraft, a popular video game franchise best known these days for the massively multiplayer online role playing game World of Warcraft, to the big screen. He has chosen the latter path and, though the result is solid rather than stellar, it is an adaptation that at least respects its source material.
The world of Draenor is dying. Desperate to survive, the orcs band together into a massive horde and turn to the mage Gul’dan and a dark magic known as the fel to survive. Using a spell powered by death, he creates a portal to the world of Azeroth and sends forth a warband to gather enough sacrifices so that the whole horde can pass through. Among those in the warband is Durotan, a clan leader who fears the dangers of the fel and merely wants a world in which his people could survive. Meanwhile, the kingdom of Stormwind finds its people being attacked by the orcs. Sir Anduin Lothar, the kingdom’s military commander, is called in to investigate the attacks. He finds himself an ally in the form of Khadgar, a former mage who had abandoned his duties to become the next Guardian. Khadgar has found that the fel could pose a grave danger to Azeroth and potentially destroy it. Now, agents on both sides of the war between orcs and humans seek to bring the conflict to a peaceful end…though dark forces and misunderstandings may drive the wedge even further.
The film itself is good, though not great. There are some interesting ideas at play with the film, such as how it does not portray one side of the conflict as good or the other as evil. Rather, both sides contain heroes that seek to reach some sort of peace and villains who would prosper from the chaos and suffering. It creates a more layered and engaging narrative rather than just a simple good versus evil conflict. However, the writing is also bogged down somewhat with a lot of exposition. Whether in explaining elements of the proceedings or setting up things for future films, this focus on world building is done in a way that detracts some from opportunities to connect with the characters. Perhaps if it had a longer run time, the film could have found a good balance between exposition and character moments. The acting is also solid but does not quite capture that emotional spark, though the performances involved for the orcs achieve that a bit better than the humans. However, there is one definite plus with this film: its love and respect for its video game source material.
When it comes to which audience to craft a story for, it is clear that Duncan Jones made the choice to create a Warcraft film for the fans. Now, what I mean by this is the sheer passion that is evident in capturing the world of Warcraft and putting it on the big screen. It embraces the more stylized nature of the architecture and outfits from the games. It captures the same nature of magic, with its combination of gestures, runes, and incantations. Even the more fantastical races, from orcs to dwarves to high elves, all look like their video game counterparts. More than that, it shows in how the film respects its source material by maintaining the complex approach to the multiple characters caught in this war, instead of simplifying it into a more basic and more generic “humans are good, orcs are bad” attitude that it could have been. Plenty of movies based upon video games that have been handled in a way that tries to widen their net for everyone, but ultimately end up pleasing no one. Warcraft, on the other hand, shows a respect for its source material and tries to capture the world and feel that has helped to make the franchise so beloved in its fans’ hearts. That places the film on a higher pedestal than many other video game movies, which take the name and strip out all that makes their source material stand out.
Though the film is not a complete knock-out and could have perhaps benefited from a longer run time, Warcraft stands out as one of the better video game movies made. Its solid writing and performances coincide with a respect for the source material and willingness to embrace that which has allowed the franchise to become so popular.