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Warcraft: an enjoyable gaming adaptation
Comparison to literary fantasies unfair
I have read a number of reviews by disappointed viewers who compare Warcraft: the beginning (Legendary Pictures, 2016) unfavorably with Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones.
I wish to argue that these comparisons are unfair, because Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones films are both based on major book series which are becoming classics.
These books provide hours of complex plot material and very complete mythologies. Moreover, they have a loyal readership who debate whether the films actually do justice to the books!
Warcraft: in the beginning is derived from altogether different source material – the world of gaming. This is a fluid base, framed by the formal product of the game and extended in many directions and sub-directions by individual players.
As Warcraft is a computer game developed by Blizzard Entertainment, this creates the potential for great graphics and special effects, but a loose basis for plot and character. In fact, if you are a player, you create and operate your own character!
Comparison ought to be made to other game adaptations
Warcraft: in the beginning should be compared to other game-to-film adaptions. Appropriate comparisons therefore include: Dungeons and Dragons (2000), the Resident Evil series (2002, 2004, 2007, 2010 & 2012), Doom (2005) and Final Fantasy (1994 anime & 2001 computer generated photo-realism).
When compared to its own genre, I believe Warcraft: the beginning has better characterization and special effects than Dungeons & Dragons, a more attention grabbing plot-line than Final Fantasy: the spirits within, and recreates the sense of game-play as effectively as Doom and Resident Evil. This makes it a contender for one of the top positions in the gaming adaption genre.
Strengths of Warcraft: the beginning
- Rich computer generated landscape and other background graphics.
- The Griffins – a legendary creature with the head and wings of an eagle and body of a lion. They feature occasionally in fantasy stories, and I have never seen them portrayed in film, let alone used so effectively as mounts for the good guys.
- The orcs – traditionally the bad guys in many tales, the orcs are a role playing option in some games. Some of the orcs were repulsive, but others were capable of securing the audience’s sympathy. They were well animated and their motivation was convincing.
- Fast paced story-line – the narrative focus was well held despite the point of view shifting between two main civilizations and factions within those opposing forces.
- A hint of romance between the half-orc female and Lothar. Lothar is a widower and a warrior. His appeal for the half orc woman remains understated and may be explored in the future. The romance stalls as Garona appears to have killed the human king and rejoined the orcs.
- Strategic placement of gaming items and gaming conventions. Swords and staffs which are coveted in-game items play an important part in the plot as they are wielded by main characters.
- Single combat which is an important gaming mechanism is also perceived as an underpinning orc cultural element.
- The sabre-tooth wolves. The huge wolf-like creatures the orcs rode were magnificent. They were what the dire-wolves in GOT were meant to be like.
- The post-logo Easter-egg. If you sat in the cinema past the point where “WARCRAFT” came up on the screen at the end, you saw the basket holding the orc chieftain’s baby float down the stream and be discovered by a human. The voice-over says a hero is needed and the baby suddenly looks fierce. Even if there is no sequel this works, as the game is always there and it needs a hero --- you!
Other Gaming adaptations: their strengths and weaknesses
Dungeons & Dragons (2000)
Dungeons & Dragons, directed by Courtney Solomon is based on the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game. This popular game usually comes in a box, containing player’s manuals, map helps and a variety of novelty multi-sided dice. A Dungeon Master who is knowledgeable about the game mechanics is required and players all create their own character from charts full of statistics. Options include:
- Race including non-humans such as elves, orcs and dwarves
- Order (or profession) including priest, magic user, barbarian/warrior/knight and thief.
Most reviewers agree Dungeons & Dragons, although eagerly anticipated by gamers and fans of the genre, was poorly made. It was relatively low budget, featured multiple story lines (as gaming features various characters) and the plot unfolded jerkily. Although it had potential, it did not hold the viewer’s attention effectively.
Final Fantasy (1994 & 2001)
Final Fantasy was a popular computer game. It offered some choice of character and role, but predominantly followed a strong gaming narrative. It had what was commonly called 3D graphics, and went through many releases, including the iconic Final Fantasy V.
In 1994 an anime film version Final Fantasy: legend of the crystals was released. It was good quality animation and suitable for viewing children and adults. It was released in Japanese and English and enjoyed popularity in a niche market.
In 2001 Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was created. This film is famous for being the first photo-realistic full length feature animation. It follows the adventures of scientists Aki Ross and Doctor Sid as they pursue a number of mysterious alien forms known as phantoms. The effects are very good but the film seems too long as the plot meanders and fails to completely hold the attention.
Doom is a 2005 film directed by Andrzej Bartkowiak and loosely based on the ground-breaking shareware computer game series created by id Software.
The film follows a group of marines on a rescue mission to a research facility on Mars. After communications cease, the marines find themselves battling monsters plaguing the facility. Tragically they discover that personnel they try to save, become infected mutate into the very monsters they are fighting.
There is a satisfying “aha” moment when one realizes that Dwayne Johnson (the Rock)’s character is set to become the “boss” of the first gaming episode. All vintage gamers remember that boss, who shot out a constant stream of damage towards the player, and the special trick to defeating him!
The Resident Evil film series, commencing with Resident Evil in 2002, is based on the Capcom video games.
The films contain strong horror and violence, with some mystery which has to be unraveled. In the first film, the computer called “Red Queen” appears to malfunction and murder a secret underground laboratory complex.
It is revealed, however that the “Umbrella Corporation” is a pharmaceutical company that creates bioweapons. One of these weapons was a virus which transforms all living creatures it infected into mindless, ravening zombies.
The film follows “Alice”, an original agent portrayed by Milla Jovovich. "Alice" is pleasing to the eye and proficient in combat arts, making these movies popular viewing.
The films received some negative reviews, as is to be expected of something containing violence and aimed at a cult market. However, they all did very well at the box office and continue to be popular on DVD.
Graphics and effects
Dungeons and Dragons
Board, dice and maps
Photography, poor effects
Computer, 3D, first person shooter, Dungeon style
strong, mystery style
Photography, good effects
Computer, early 3D, first person shooter, dungeon style
average, mystery style
Photography, fair effects
Computer, Role Playing, 3D graphics, map style, different editions
1994 - average, story telling style; 2001 - long winded, internalised narrative
1994 - anime; 2001 - computer generated Graphics, good effects
1994: 2; 2001: 2.5
Computer, (originally strategy in 1994) now map style, 3D, Multi-player Online Role Playing (MMORPG)
Average, fast paced, story telling style
Combination photography and computer generated, good graphics and effects