Review: Warcraft

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Blu-ray. Universal.

Several questions came to me while watching Warcraft.

When a young filmmaker creates a low budget genre film, like Duncan Jones’ acclaimed Moon, does he – and it’s almost always he, let’s face it – dream of graduating to bloated, emotionally blank, FX-driven and obscenely expensive franchise films? Maybe they do. It was clearly the goal of the likes of James Cameron and Peter Jackson, but they could be exceptions. Or do they make these films hoping that the predicted box office success will free them to make more expensive, but just as personal versions of the films that they started out on, only to get trapped? I wonder what Duncan Jones actually thinks of Warcraft. Perhaps he is really happy to have made this film. Perhaps he thinks it’s his finest achievement. Perhaps, deep inside, he feels a little dirty for having made it. Who knows? He might never tell us, and would we believe him if he did?

When a director that you have respect for and expectations of makes a terrible, terrible film, does that make the viewing experience worse than if you were watching something awful by a notorious clod-hopper?

Who is the perceived audience for films like this? Based on an immersive computer game where the main appeal would seem to be entering anther world and living as another character – interacting on a personal and visceral level that even your average Playstation game doesn’t aim for – who on earth thought that Warcraft would appeal to audiences when you strip out all that interaction and replace it with a linear story that they have no control over – one made up of cherry-picked parts from other films, books and TV shows, that might be fine in an influenced game situation but are depressingly familiar when seen in another goddamn movie?

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And given that the only advantage that a film like this has over the game that it is based on is scope – the idea that audiences will watch this on an IMAX screen in 3D and be so overwhelmed by the spectacle that they forget any other requirement – why bother with a plot at all? After all, it’s based on a fighting game, right?. You could conceivably just fill the screen with wall-to-wall battles and be as successful – maybe more so if you cut the questionable performances, ludicrous sentimentality and half-baked plot lifted from a dozen other sources.

Do audiences really care any more if the CGI is the most impressive so far (which this isn’t, by the way)? It seems to me that there are endless films, straight-to-video quickies and SyFy movies that are effectively interchangeable with Warcraft, the only difference being that the effects are less polished (and even that is increasingly less of an issue). In the case of the TV shows, in fact, every other aspect is better anyway, and that’s why they work – are audiences watching Game of Thrones for the impressive dragons, or because it has detailed and expansive plot intrigues, fully developed characters and a shitload of nudity – all of which is missing here?

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Does overwhelming spectacle make for a good film? I’m tired of people telling me I’d like a film more “if I saw it on the big screen”. Firstly because I’ve seen and hated enough crappy blockbusters on the big screen (and, indeed, enough great blockbusters on a TV screen) to know that I’m not that shallow, and secondly, because a good film should work in any format (and let’s not forget that modern TV sets and surround sound systems are a world away from tiny, mono sets of the past). If you are effectively admitting that you enjoyed a film just because of the audio-visual overkill, then you are surely admitting that it’s actually a pretty bad film, no?

Genre film fans in particular like to complain about Hollywood having no new ideas – it’s all remakes, sequels, pointless adaptations and so on. And yet when a film like this opens – shamelessly derivative of Lord of the Rings and a bunch of other stuff I have no interest in, yet can still name the influences of in this movie, an adaptation of a game (which has been the most creatively dead form of film adaptation of them all – I mean, can you name any game to movie adaptations that are more than average?), shamelessly empty and setting itself up as a series immediately, they are the audience that turns out in huge numbers, excitedly posting every trailer, every still, every casting rumour while completely ignoring the smaller, often inventive indie genre films that have minimal theatrical releases or go straight to DVD. What’s that about?

Are we really still at the stage where we have to come up with an unconvincing plot fudge to explain why the male Orcs are all giant, muscle-bound monsters but the lead female Orc is slim, human-shaped, good looking and for a chunk of the film dressed in skimpy rags and chains, just in order to get a bit of eye-candy in the film for teenage boys to ogle at?

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How cynically horrible is a film so determined to become, and how disregarding of the need to actually tell a coherent story or entertain an audience, that it will spend the last fifteen minutes or so setting up the next episode rather than even bother with a satisfactory ending?

At what point does a film finally stop being a work of art on any level whatsoever, and simply become product? A piece of merchandising, produced simply to take money off people without providing anything of worth in return? When does a film become less valid an object than a loaf of bread, which at least provides sustenance?

Warcraft might not be that exact point – I fear we’ve probably past that stage a long time ago – but it’s where this thought first came into my mind… possibly because the film itself was so relentlessly, horribly and contemptuously awful that my mind continually wandered to different places, unable and unwilling as it was to engage with the pointless, empty, entirely shameful two hours of noise, fury, clichés and nothing of any value whatsoever unfolding on the screen.

DAVID FLINT

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