It’s 2016, and we can finally go see Warcraft in theaters. Movies have always been an avenue through which stories from other mediums find new life. Novels, plays, comic books, and even other movies eventually wind up being retold on the silver screen time and time again. During the 80s, some video games began to push themselves forward by adding a story element to the experience. As this continued into the 90s, it was only a matter of time before Hollywood became interested. In 1993, movie goers were given a little film called Super Mario Bros. Here’s a link to the trailer. Go on, get a refresher. I’ll wait.
“It’sa Me, The Hero – Mario!”
There you are. Pretty absurd, huh! I got a feelin’ we’re not in Brooklyn no more. To be fair, this movie also came out during an era of 90s action films that knew no bounds. For better or worse, action filmmakers were flying off the handle left and right. Many (including myself) recall the experience of seeing Super Mario Bros. in theaters with a warm and fuzzy nostalgic glaze. But, if we’re being honest, the whole thing feels mismatched and jury-rigged.
Super Mario Bros. was a movie for someone who didn’t game regularly. The content was sanitized and made more accessible at the expense of those who were looking for a perfect adaptation of the video game. By the end of it, there is so little about this that says “Super Mario Bros.” Video game movies continue to make money because of their subject, but their quality is often questionable – leaving the core fanbase with a sour taste on their tongue. With that, a stigma has grown for video game movies as a whole. Other near misses have followed Super Mario Bros. (I’m looking at you, Mortal Kombat), but Hollywood is nowhere near done trying. I can just imagine some hotshot director sitting in their study, maniacally exclaiming to themselves, “it has to be possible! Video games are so popular! Everyone loves them, and everyone loves movies! Together, they should be unstoppable… right?!” On paper, it does seem like the next logical step. What’s the deal with video game movies not living up to their own hype?
For the Alliance… and also the Horde
For starters, it could be said that filmmakers have been focusing too hard on making the content of a video game safe-for-movies. Wouldn’t a video game movie be more fluid if it felt more like the source material? Seeing Warcraft shone a strong light on why this no-brainer might be a good start. As an experience, the Warcraft movie feels like 2 hours and 30 minutes of fan service. It’s pretty obvious that the creators of this film were not only considering the interests of existing Warcraft fans, but are also fans of the series themselves. It’s often believed that if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. So, instead of making a movie which appeals to the non-gamer population who might see the film, it would seem that Blizzard and Legendary Pictures chose to target their existing fanbase. Square peg, square hole. Given that this fanbase consists of at least 5 million people – the current population of World of Warcraft – this wasn’t exactly a dangerous bet. Still, the idea remains that they chose to focus on the fans and less on the general movie goer.
This is proven at various high profile moments of the film – direct references to game mechanics of World of Warcraft, characters and locales which are integral to the lore of the series, and 95% accurate recreations of in-game armor and weaponry. Human males don’t have Popeye-esque forearms in the film, so I had to deduct 5%. There are even a few sweeping landscape shots which look exactly like an angle you’d see during battle while playing Warcraft the game. One aspect was particularly notable: how accurately Goldshire’s Inn was recreated. In WoW, Alliance players who are just starting out on their journey into Azeroth will come across this area. It looks exactly as it does in-game, right down to that pathway which leads to the chef in the back.
Building these relationships between the movie and the game world truly adds value to the movie as a whole. Viewers who never played the games will not experience these connections, and may have very different opinions about the film as a whole because of this. Such opinions may be expressed on major entertainment news outlets, and could potentially help or hurt box office numbers. Again, this is a calculated risk in the scope of Warcraft, but a risk nevertheless.
Are the creators of video game movies making a mistake by assuming their audience’s established love for a series? Or, is it better for everyone that this focus sets the standard for what could be a new generation of more successful video game movies? Let me know down below!