Big budgets and summer blockbusters are the popcorn and large coke of Hollywood and they cost millions. Every studio swings for the fences and expects massive numbers to hit with every summer film. Some do shockingly well, Guardians of the Galaxy, others do horrifically bad, the latest Fantastic Four. Now, before it has even been released to the public, the Warcraft film is dying quickly on the vine. It seemed like the perfect formula, a huge hit game with millions of players, a company that is incredibly successful, a smart director with great sci-fi credits, and millions of fantasy fans worldwide. So why is it that people see the movie dead before it even gets out of the gate?
Warcraft fans are a tough breed. I played almost every Blizzard game except Warcraft until the MMO came out. I devoted huge amounts of my time into World of Warcraft and I still play through every expansion, yet even I am not hardcore enough for many of the players. People take this game seriously and they should, it takes hours, days, and months to play. The fans absolutely should have a voice. However, these fans while fully passionate and willing to spend millions on a game do not represent the mass market. That was the first mistake by Legendary, thinking that the world was ready for Warcraft, when really only Warcraft fans are ready for Warcraft, and even they will have a huge opinion on the topic and tell Blizzard that they got something wrong, at least twice.
The second big problem is how fantasy films or television shows are portrayed to the masses. Let’s go back a few years and look at Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones. Both have huge fantasy elements, but both have a style that is grounded in a reality. The orcs have a large human element to them in LOTR. The elves are somehow relatable. It is how people see things somehow grounded in our reality. In Game of Thrones the white walkers look realistic because of their human form. We can mentally buy a sense of realism because they are human sized. Warcraft has always had larger than life monsters and characters. Their orcs all look like the Hulk, which is cool and awesome and we love them, but does everybody love them? Remember when Ang Lee tried to make a Hulk movie that had you sympathize and feel human? Ya, how well did that do?
It is all a question of proportion and Blizzard’s characters are better suited for a cartoon rather than to share the screen with real human actors. It is a game, it should be over the top and out of proportion. It is why so many game developers adopt a cartoonish approach sometimes, because games that try to look too real eventually look dated when new graphics come out that make everything done before obsolete. Trying to make the success of a cartoon based universe into a realistic film to sell to the masses is not an easy formula. The Warhammer universe suffers from the exact same problem which may be one of the reasons why Games Workshop does not do big Hollywood movies. All of the monsters and characters are just so over the top in a cartoon way. Had Legendary done the entire movie in CGI as per Pixar or Dreamworks would they have found a more forgiving critic circle?
The other main issue is the real size and scope of Warcraft. Take Lord of the Rings for an example, everything in those films is based on three novels, okay more if you include The Hobbit and Silmarillion. Everything goes back to a deep and incredibly complex source material that you can reference and adhere too. Warcraft, on the other hand, has five major games, loads of expansions, and plenty of novels and subgenre games to go with it. All of them are visual and interactive. Heck, we have seen the universe of Warcraft on our PC screens for decades now. The source material is just massive, so how are you fitting all of that into one two hour movie? You simply cannot do it. There is way too much. Loads of races, characters, demons, plot lines, story arcs, it is just endless. This material exists to capture the mind of the gamer. The gamer who will devote hours to this world gets a deep reward. The world is awesome and we all live and play in it. However, the Friday night summer movie goer, well those people are not as quick to spend hours in a deep world.
But wait, Games of Thrones is massive with tons of viewers, how come it has mass appeal? I would say that Game of Thrones has been given the right platform by HBO. It is a series that follows very real human emotions and events. Are their dragons and ice wraiths, sure, but they are undercurrents in a much more human story. That is what appeals to the masses. It is a similar phenomenon with The Walking Dead. Zombies are crazy fun and have loads of games, books, movies, and stories around them. In the end, the Walking Dead is a story about people, which is why it holds such popularity.
So if you are seeing all of these bad reviews and projected “soft” opening numbers, it is likely that the mass appeal of Warcraft does not exist in movie form. It’s also likely that critics just don’t “get it” or aren’t the kind of folks who want to see Warcraft on the screen. Like many game movies that came before, the film may do poorly and fade into pop culture obscurity. The funny thing is, if Blizzard announced a new hybrid Warcraft RTS with arena style game play and e-sports potential, they would make millions. Perhaps Warcraft, as much as Blizzard loves the world, is meant to stay in game form... just please, don’t stop making those cinematics.