“I play a lot of computer games myself,” director, Duncan Jones, smiles to FilmInk on the huge, eye-popping Vancouver set of Warcraft, his adaptation of the seminal video game, which has also crossed over into novels and comic books. “I had played Warcraft for a while myself. I thought that if I was going to jump into big studio projects, I wanted it to be something where I truly felt that I had something new to bring.” After the ingenious mid-level budget sci-fi fare of Moon and Source Code, Warcraft represents a major career bump for the British director, who is also famously the son of late music icon, David Bowie. With its copious CGI, motion capture technology, and ample action sequences, Warcraft sees Jones now playing in a far bigger sandbox that comes stacked with expensive, top-of-the-range toys.
In short, he’s now in the sandbox lorded over by guys like James Cameron, George Lucas, and most prominently, Peter Jackson, whose Lord Of The Rings films are an obvious influence on Warcraft. “I’m hoping that maybe he’ll get a chance to see this film when it’s done,” Jones says of the New Zealander. “I’d love to talk to him. I feel very privileged that I am having the opportunity of making a film of this scale. As far as understanding both the technology and the world-building side of it, there’s not a lot of directors that have that opportunity. So, if and when I get the chance to speak to any of the guys who have made films like this, I’d be incredibly interested to compare notes. These kind of films don’t get made often, and when they do, there’s a real responsibility to deliver something very special. That’s what we’re trying to do here. I feel like we’re on the right track.”
Warcraft is an epic adventure of world-colliding conflict based on Blizzard Entertainment’s hugely successful game series. The peaceful realm of Azeroth stands on the brink of war as its civilisation faces a fearsome race of invaders: orc warriors fleeing their dying home to colonise another. As a portal opens to connect the two worlds, one army faces destruction and the other faces extinction. From opposing sides, two heroes – the human, Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel), and the towering orc, Durotan (Toby Kebbell) – are set on a collision course that will decide the fate of their family, their people, and their home.
Much like a filmmaker tackling a long-running comic book, Jones found himself swamped by over twenty years of gaming lore, with the Warcraft brand stretching across many, many titles, and a labyrinthine mythology. And again, like most filmmakers tackling a long-running comic book, Jones has opted to begin at the beginning, with something akin to an origin tale. “There’s a library of stories,” Jones says. “There’s a big responsibility when you’re telling a story that works as a film to be truthful to the lore that they’ve established, but at the same time, we’re going quite far back in their lore and telling an origin story about when orcs first meet humans. It’s a simpler time from where the game is now back to the origin story of when the two races meet. But we work very much hand in hand with Blizzard Entertainment to make sure that we keep within the lines of the world that they’ve built. Chris Mentzen, who’s one of the guys from Blizzard, is here today…we’re trying to squeeze in a cameo for him,” Jones laughs.
As well as stepping into the big world of mega-budget filmmaking, Jones is also stepping into the less impressive cinematic world of video game adaptations, a landscape dotted with un-mourned corpses like Super Mario Bros, Street Fighter, Double Dragon, Doom, and Wing Commander. “Shitty,” Jones laughs when asked about the quality of past video game movies. “Most of them. But I believe that we are doing it right. We have an amazing opportunity and we’ve been working really closely with Blizzard in creating this. Whether it’s based on a video game or not, I’m making a war movie that’s telling the story from both sides of the conflict, with real empathy and really rich characters on both sides. It doesn’t matter what kind of film it is; I don’t see those kinds of films very often. Normally, the director invests in the hero, and it’s them against the world. In this one, we really are trying to split the audience’s loyalties between the two sides. I would love it if at the end of the movie, people come out of the film and some of them really wish that the Orcs were successful at what they’re trying to do, and some of them wish that the humans were successful, because that’s the way that the film has been constructed. Hopefully it’ll pay off that way.”
It’s also another major movie anchored by an Aussie, with Jones picking Travis Fimmel – the one-time underwear model and current star of the popular TV series, Vikings – to play the role of the noble warrior, Anduin Lothar. “He is a unique and wonderful man,” says Jones. “He’s a bucket of trouble but, I love him. He’s good fun. He’s a prankster as you would probably expect. We’re similar enough that we have a good sibling-like relationship that works out well on the set. The worst pranks, by the way, are not the ones that he’s done, but rather the ones that he’s tried to do. I wouldn’t want to get anyone in trouble by talking about them.”
Stemming from a game favoured by online multi-players, it’s no surprise that the web has been bubbling with opinions – both positive and negative – about Warcraft. “I’m trying not to read that stuff,” says Jones. “It’s always difficult. I do use the internet a lot, but I’m trying to take a little break from Twitter, which I used to be on constantly. There’s a lot of anticipation and excitement and trepidation about what a film will be. A lot of fans are just relieved that a film is finally getting made, because it’s been talked about for such a long time. I’m doing my best to come up with a film that is respectful to what the fans care about, and I’m surrounded by people who are players of the game. They keep me honest to the lore, but at the same time, the film stands up on its own right.”
As with most big budget studio movies these days, Warcraft is being eyed as a potential franchise starter. “There is a sense that we’re building something here, and that it is a foundation for more,” says Jones. “I’m trying to make a film which first of all stands up in its own right with audiences who are not familiar with the game, and after that, I want to create the foundations for a world where there are original and interesting ways to develop the story beyond just this film. Doing all that groundwork, I want to have a chance to see it pay off in other films if we get the chance. I’ve had a unique and an amazing experience on this film, and I’m really proud of what we’re doing. If I can nail this film in the way that I want to, and if the people who are responsible for it feel that I am doing the right thing, then I would love to take the story forward…at least one more step.”
Warcraft will be released in cinemas on June 16.