Pleasantly Surprised by Warcraft

An unusual thing happened this weekend: I went out, without my children. I took my husband to a movie. When I was child-free, there was a word for this kind of shocking activity. I think it was ‘a date’.
As a pre-father’s day gift, the movie that we went to see was ‘Warcraft’, based on the hugely popular ‘World of Warcraft’ MMO.

Things you need to know: I do not play the game, but my husband does. We are both fans of Tolkien, and so picking this as our date was perhaps not so enormous a gift of love as it would be if hubby decided to take me to see the latest screening of an RSC production (if you’re reading, love; yes, you may consider that a hint!). But you also need to know that after other game-to-movie escapades like It-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named-(But-Which-Involves-Dungeons-and-Dragons) , we both had reason to be sceptical. And we’ve all been through that experience of seeing something that we love be – well, ruined, in adaptation. The Battle of the Five Armies was the last example of this for me (a movie which I did not expect to actually be all battle).

I was pleasantly surprised by Warcraft. And I thought I would share with you why.

Firstly, I was impressed by the deft way in which the director double-bluffed his audience from the get-go; having led me to believe that his establishing shots would serve to establish sympathy for the human protagonists, we were instead taken straight to the keynote Orc characters – a chieftain and his pregnant mate. This unexpected opening was genuinely tender, and hugely successful – especially, I think, for someone like me – a young mother with little exposure to the game beyond what she has glimpsed over hubby’s shoulder.

There also seemed to be genuine respect for the source-game. I’ve seen my husband’s various characters flying around the Warcraft world, a landscape of Middle-Earth qualities – and many of the shots of the settings looked like loving evocations of places that players have adored for years. And so, while it was a little lost on me, I get the feeling that these shots would really speak to the game’s dedicated fans.

The visual quality of the film was certainly stunning; much like watching a Miyazaki, even if there were plot holes from time to time, the dedication to evoking the world was pretty riveting.

But there was also plenty of story to this film, and characters that you genuinely came to care about – human and Orc. Sure, there were a certain number of ‘sudden but inevitable betrayals’ (if Joss Whedon is remembered for nothing else, it should be that phrase!), but there were also some bold moves that I was not expecting. I won’t say too much more, but I will say that some scenes hit my husband and I, as parents, especially hard.

There were characters here that you could grasp and relate to; scholarly mages, powerful warriors, mothers, sisters, those outcast for their differences. They might have been wearing funny clothes and living in a fictitious land, but they were still us – even the orcs. 

My husband tells me that there were elements of the story that were changed between the very first game that the film is based one, and what we saw on Saturday. He felt that these were, overall, positive changes. It also seemed to both of us that the highly judicious editing left a couple of necessary scenes on the cutting room floor. Even so, there was enough story to carry through. 
Having been left somewhat disillusioned by The Hobbit‘s fall into a mediaeval 300, I was genuinely delighted to be watching a film that used battle narrative to further a story, rather than leaving the audience feeling bludgeoned. 

My only real disappointment with the film came from a line of dialogue which left me, as a Christian, rather exasperated; following the self-sacrificial death of a main character, something like the following was declared: ‘He gave his life in sacrifice for all of us, now we must deserve it’. Of course, Warcraft has not set out to give fictitious form to biblical truths, but I felt so frustrated to see an idea so powerful to Christians – the sacrifice of a great King for his people – given a guilt-spin; because, of course, the whole point of the cross is that we don’t deserve it, and can’t earn it. But this, as I said, is a personal quibble, and one which is not fair to level at this film.

Perhaps the most striking thing about the whole film for me  was a kind of tenderness; the sense that the director was handling something that he personally loved; an awareness that he was dealing with something that millions of other people also loved, and wanting to honour that affection. In this sense, the film was suffused with care and attention. And, even to a Warcraft novice like myself, it was notable, creating a sense not that I was an intruder to a secret club, but rather that I was being openly and respectfully invited to experience another world.

In short: I came away from the theatre having enjoyed two hours of story-telling which I didn’t feel was a slave to its stunning CGI, and with the feeling of having shared in a story that I know is so important to people across the globe. Now, at least, I feel like understand that passion a little more. And, if a second, or even third, Warcraft film was made, I wouldn’t need much convincing to go and see them. 

Our verdict? A successful date!

This post also appears on my sister site, http://www.thayerthoughts.wordpress.com .

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Lady of Winchester says:

    Never played he game. Personally, I tend to be very, very picky about most Medieval movies. Though I might be in the typical demographic as a Medievaist, I have not and still stubbornly refuse to watch Game of Thrones (30 seconds of a trailer the other day was enough to confirm my reasons- full frontal nudity and a guy being gorily stabbed through the neck, by a hugely popular character). I just don’t want a sex and slash fest- and please people, stop insulting my intelligence and yours by insisting that’s all the past was about.

    I too thought Battle of the Five Armies was just sort of that- a two hour long pretty much continious battle scene. There were some good bits, but perhaps its got a bit much. I did sort of like the first two movies, but I think I see where you are coming from. Character development was not-great.

    I might actually consider this movie on the basis of what you’ve said. Don’t you just hate the cliche of Bikini clad warrior women though? I know its supposed to be a blend of ‘strong and sexy’, but in real life, that would be no protection at all in battle, and c’mon, who would look that glamourous on a war footing. Just a totally unrealistic and unattainable depiction of women.

    Like

    1. annathayer says:

      Thanks for your comment! I totally agree with you on the portrayal of women in this ‘sword and sorcery’ branch of the genre – and there was an improbably clad female character or two in Warcraft. I guess I’m used to rolling my eyes and carrying on… But there was enough character to encourage me to continue despite that frustration. I also haven’t touched Game of Thrones – I prefer the genre to have more heart and story and development than simply be a sex and gore fest.

      I agree with you too that Five Armies could have been so much more than it was – there was so much story left to focus on. I don’t understand (well, I do, but I hate it!) why we all have to stomach the lowest common denominator. Surely the studios knew they’d make money even without the grossly cgi dependent battle scenes, and could have left a little Tolkien? But I digress…

      Warcraft suffered from many of the genre tropes – but I enjoyed it more than Five Armies. If you see it, I’d love to know what you think – especially from a mediaevilist perspective!

      Like

      1. Lady of Winchester says:

        Yes, I guess I don’t always suspend my disbelief as readily as some. I so need to read Tolkien some time soon- or listen to the audiobook. The trouble with other content is that so many film-makers and storytellers now seem to think there has to be lots of sex and violence, that its the only thing which will keep people interested. Sad really, because it does not have to be that way at all.

        Liked by 1 person

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