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World of Warcraft Column: A New Hope

By Reza Lackey on February 11, 2013

In 2006, Blizzard and Legendary Pictures announced that a live action film based on the Warcraft universe was in development and scheduled to be released in 2009. As 2009 approached with no news of production starting on the film, it seemed as though the project was slowly dying out. Then it was announced that Sam Raimi would be directing with a targeted 2011 release. Then at Comic-Con 2011, Chris Metzen reassured fans that the project was not dead but that it was still in the “treatment stages,” which typically means there is no shooting script and a lengthy road ahead before shooting will begin. In 2012, Raimi left the film to shoot a project he was committed to, Oz: The Great and Powerful. At this point there seemed to be little hope that a Warcraft film would ever be made. However, on the official forums Nethera informed us that the project had not yet been abandoned. Needless to say, we have been waiting. We have been waiting very, very patiently for some concrete news about the state of the Warcraft film.

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Well fellow nerds, the Hollywood Reporter broke some exciting news: Duncan Jones has signed on to direct the live action film based on a script by Charles Leavitt. Even more, it’s scheduled to start production this fall to be released in 2015.

What We Know

Sam Raimi was originally set to direct a script by Robert Rodat, famous for penning Saving Private Ryan. But after Raimi left the project, Legendary Pictures announced a new writer, Charles Leavitt. Last summer, Variety reported that Legendary Pictures really dug Leavitts take on the Warcraft universe and hired him to work a new script for the film. It is not known if Leavitt will iterate on the previous script or create something completely new. Leavitt previously wrote The Mighty, K-Pax, Blood Diamond and the upcoming The Seventh Son.

Duncan Jones, the director of Moon and the more recent Source Code, is now the person who will be responsible for bringing the script to life with what many reports are claiming to be over a $100 million production budget. While an unexpected choice, Jones has proven that he can successfully direct a film and its actors. It’s unfortunate that Sam Raimi was formally attached because going forward, every fan will wonder, “What would Sam Raimi’s version have been like?” Comparisons aside, this is a fantastic opportunity for Duncan and one heck of a stepping stone for his career.

Unfortunately, we know next to nothing about the script but there are a few story details that Chris Metzen mentioned way back at BlizzCon 2007 that may still be relevant. Originally the film was going to take place during the events of the very first Warcraft game, Orcs and Humans but this idea was abandoned as they felt it would too closely resemble The Lord of the Rings trilogy. So they decided to have the film take place roughly one year prior to the events of the original World of Warcraft and be told from the Alliance point of view. Metzen stated that the film would focus on the tension between the races of Azeroth and culminate in some sort of battle. After the brief presentation, they showed the audience a single piece of concept art for the film featuring Teldrassil.

It is important to remember however that these details are now over six years old and have undoubtedly been iterated upon since Leavitt came on board.

One other quick note about the story: Nick Carpenter, Vice President of Art & Cinematic Development at Blizzard has tweeted a few times about visiting Pixar’s campus and spending time with Mark Andrews, writer and director of Brave and one of the writers of John Carter. Could Pixar be offering some of their storytelling wisdom to this project? It’s possible the visits are just to peek under the hood of Pixar’s proprietary RenderMan software (mentioned in the following tweet) and showing off/comparing tech and animation workflows between the two companies. But it is possible there is more going on.

Mise-en-Scéne

Aside from the story, the biggest question is just what is this movie going to look like? From what I surmise there are two possibilities: Either a realistic, “dirty” approach similar to Peter Jackson's take on The Lord of the Rings or something closer to James Cameron’s effects heavy Avatar. I personally favor the later as it would offer the filmmakers a greater variety of environments, creatures and avoid the possibility of a “man-in-suit” distraction during the film. The Lord of the Rings benefited from many locations in the story having real world counterparts that could be filmed in. While this could be true for Warcraft to some extent, there are many places in the games that simply don’t exist in our world (except maybe that theme park thing that’s happening somewhere over there.)

Don’t get me wrong, I love creature effects and makeup but there are many limitations especially when lot’s of action is required. Then again, Jurassic Park pulled it off with a blend of creature and visual effects that hold up pretty darn well nearly twenty years later (ugh I’m getting old). I know it’s an odd comparison, but the point is to illustrate that it can work and has worked for quite some time. More recently, the end battle scene in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, demonstrates this blending on a larger scale more in line with what we might be seeing in the Warcraft film, but hopefully much better (when I was watching this scene in the theater, I clearly heard someone say “Those are freakin’ Tauren!”).

Taking a more CG heavy route, Avatar’s Na’vi creatures would make some great looking Night Elf’s with some minor tweaking (I say that as if this kind of work is easy) and require no on-set effects or makeup. I could talk about this for days, but hopefully my point is clear: There are many visual directions this film can take and I believe Avatar-quality animation over actors with heavy makeup and prosthetics is the key. After three new Hobbit films, audiences are going to be looking for a departure from the dark, gritty take on fantasy. If feature length, animated films for adults were profitable in America, I’d say don’t shoot a single frame of live action footage and animate the entire thing - but that’s just a fantasy (a final fantasy. bam!). Wouldn’t you watch a two-hour version of the Lich King cinematic?

Making a Film is like War

Hopefully with a fresh screenplay and a new ambitious director on board, the Warcraft film will finally begin rolling cameras this fall. There is no doubt a ton of work left to be done, but if the producers and talent behind the project have stuck with it all this time, then the chances are good they will continue to push forward.

Hopefully in the coming months we will get some more details especially with BlizzCon happening this year, there seems to be no better time to reveal some juicy tidbits. Perhaps there will be a panel with Jones, Leavitt and Metzen where they will discuss the project a little more openly. If we’re lucky maybe we will be teased with some more concept art or even some animatics - casting choices even!

We may have lost Hollywood and Wolfman with Raimi and Rodat off the project, but Duncan in the alert five is about to fly in supersonic. I’m excited to see him turn ‘n burn.

This weeks WoW throwback: Bow of Taut Sinew

Follow me @rezalackey


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