Wednesday, June 8, 2016

A Reel Opinion: Video Games & the Movies - A Match Made in Hell.

This weekend, a film which should be more anticipated than it really is arrives in theatres in the form of Duncan Jones’ WARCRAFT; which tells a story in a fantastical world full of sword-wielding knights battling axe-swinging orcs, along with wizards, winged beasts, and portholes to other dimensions. The fantasy genre has been popular in film for years; from Disney classics such as SNOW WHITE (1937), to EXCALIBUR (1981) and CONAN THE BARBARIAN (1982)…and hit a peak in the early 2000’s with Peter Jackson’s THE LORD OF THE RINGS and Warner Bros.’ HARRY POTTER franchise. There’s always room for a good swordplay flick in theatres and with audiences, but WARCRAFT doesn’t seem to be generating a lot of hype, and hasn’t been since the project was first announced in 2006. In most fan communities, the film is looked at with a sense of dread. Why is that? Probably because this fantasy is based on a video game, and video games adapted to film do not have a great history.

A great story can be found anywhere, and since the early days of filmmaking, the industry has not been shy in taking inspiration from different places. Thousands of films have been based on novels, and a thousand more seem to be coming based on comic books and graphic novels. Outside of those sources, many films have been based on journalistic stories and accounts, such as the Oscar-winning ARGO (2012), and ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN (1976). Disney made a fortune the size of a small country by basing their PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN franchise off their amusement park rides, and the TRANSFORMERS and GI JOE films were based on toys. Films based on other works can soar or sink, but the one genre that seems to fail time and again are the video game adaptations. Enter WARCRAFT.

WARCRAFT is based on the popular series of games of the same name, which has also branched out into novels. The franchise hit a peak from 2004-2010 with its massive multiplayer online game World of Warcraft. The game’s popularity has since waned a bit, but was big enough to the point where even the casual and non-gamer could recognize the name. When WARCRAFT the movie was announced, there was a collective groan from cinema fans, because video games and films have had a marriage from hell. Beginning in the 1980’s, films based on video games have been met with lackluster reviews and ire from fans, with many of the films making the lists of worst movies of all time. Although some films such as MORTAL KOMBAT, TOMB RAIDER, SILENT HILL, and RESIDENT EVIL have some favoritism among fans, they still struggled to make an impression with critics and general audiences…who are the true make-or-break audience. Like it or not, WARCRAFT has its origins in this long history of crappy video game movies, and there’s a justifiable feeling of here-we-go-again. Again.

Why can’t movies based on video games get it right? There are a lot reasons. Hardliner fans blame filmmakers who take too many liberties, while critics and non-gamers just say that the material is too silly to be taken seriously in the first place. Others have speculated that the genres are too different; film is passive (we sit back and take it in), while video games are an active form of entertainment (we make the action happen), and no filmmaker or studio has been able to find the balance between the two on the screen.

Where does that leave Duncan Jones and his film? He and his studio bosses have their work cut out for them, beginning with convincing the world that the material can be taken seriously. Otherwise WARCRAFT will just be another name in a long list of casualties. If WARCRAFT is not the film which turns the tide, there will always be more attempts to do so, and the situation is similar to the comic books-to-film adaptations in the 1990’s, which were horrible movies and were never taken seriously. The comic book ship was eventually righted, so maybe the video game can one day find its champion too.  


WARCRAFT arrives in theatres on June 10th. It stars Travis Fimmel, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper, Toby Kebell, Robert Kazinsky, Paula Patton, Daniel Wu, and Clancy Brown. It is directed by Duncan Jones (MOON, SOURCE CODE).

No comments:

Post a Comment

A few rules:
1. Personal attacks not tolerated.
2. Haters welcome, if you can justify it.
3. Swearing is goddamn OK.