I didn’t think Warcraft would be an excellent movie.  I hadn’t banked on it rivaling Lord of the Rings, but had hoped it might land somewhere near The Hobbit trilogy in terms of on watchability, like a low-calibur Marvel movie (think Ant-Man) – the first unironically decent video game movie.  Boy, was I wrong.  Warcraft currently sits at a 21% on Rotten Tomatoes and 31 on Metacritic.  Sure, not all reviews are in yet, and the film’s score might come up – but considering it was at a 43% when I first wrote this article, it doesn’t seem to be trending the right way.  Indie Haven’s own, Matt Mckeown had the following to say about his viewing of the movie:

The CGI is excessive and not great, the practical effects are plastic and so fake looking, the plot is kind of basic, hard to engage with and the acting is just so wooden. Plus the Orc vocal bass is so high the dialogue is hard to follow.

The movie is still playing while I wrote this…..that’s how invested I am.”

MM Opinion

The history of video game movies isn’t bad, it’s an atrocity.  People have been trying to figure out the formula for converting games to movies for more than a quarter century and every single attempt has been a disappointing, complete failure.  

Warcraft wasn’t made to be a movie.  It’s narrative doesn’t translate well to the big screen, it’s story is as unwieldy and awkward as any other video games – especially the fantasy epics.  The reason I thought Warcraft might be different is that it was simply too big to fail.  It had serious money behind it, a serious director who was a fan of the game.  It wasn’t squeezing money out of somewhat niche properties like Max Payne or Alone in the Dark. Blizzard was trying to make this movie the right way.  Previously attached directors had been scratched, productions had been sent into limbo all so that the right vision of the pop culture phenomena could come be made.  And there was such bravado behind this production.  Blizzard was releasing promo images and showing footage to fans early, as if it was confidently telling the Blizzard faithful “Don’t worry, we got this.” If the machine behind Warcraft couldn’t produce something that limped to decent enough reviews, is it safe to say video games are something that just won’t even translate to the big screen?

It’s quite clear that nothing will stop Hollywood from trying to make video games work as movies.  Sony still has the Naughty Dog franchises Uncharted and The Last of Us kicking around in development hell, and we’ll see Michael Fassbender try not to look ridiculous while starring in an Assassin’s Creed movie that looks like it’s focusing on the parts of the games (the Abstergo nonsense) that fans care so little about, Ubisoft has almost completely ripped them from the games. But I have a feeling that even The Last of Us, penned by the game’s director, Neil Druckmann, and directed by whatever the hottest name in the indie film scene (let’s say Dan Trachtenberg of 10 Cloverfield Lane) couldn’t deliver what fans want.

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The biggest problem with video games is that they mean different things to different people.  We experience them in different ways and determining what is important can be tricky.  Furthermore, video games are close to film in terms of a visual medium so it’s difficult for directors to play with the aesthetic and find something that more coherently works with the story they’re telling.

Narratives in video games are consequential in different ways than in most mediums.  Comic books are a good example as well.  Does anyone really read Spider-Man because of the conflict?  Is there ever any doubt that Spider-Man will win or, even if he dies in a heroic effort, that he won’t return in later issues?  The most important elements in comics are the characters.  People don’t read Batman to find out what plan the Joker has hatched – it’s likely poorly stitched together and somewhat nonsensical, they read Batman because Bruce Wayne is an incredible character and watching him interact with the Joker is a excellent deconstruction of that character.  In video games mechanics are the most important element.  Great narratives help inform the mechanics and can be essential to the gameplay, but it doesn’t matter how good your story is – no one will play your game if the mechanics are terrible.

Even in a game like Uncharted or Telltale’s The Walking Dead, games where mechanics are often dismissed because of strong their characters and story, mechanics are key.  Telltale’s choose-your-own-dialogue works well in convincing audiences that they have input in the story, making you feel possessive of the characters and invest in the plot.  Uncharted’s set pieces and crumbling jungle-gym level design convinces players that they have something at stake with Drake’s success.  The gameplay forces players to invest in the narrative – however good or bad you think it is.

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The paper-thin plots or uneven structure leads writers, producers, and directors to trim corners and reconfigure a game’s narrative to find something that might feel like the game fans have become attached to, but become something more palatable for a movie (we don’t want a Last of Us where Joel crouches down every ten minutes and digs around his backpack, right?).  The problem is that each fan is attached to something different.  Maybe your connection to Warcraft is the second game and you wanted the film to exclusively focus on the conflict between the Alliance and Horde.  Maybe the game was all about the social constructs and the relationships you formed to your guild.  As these movies try to find something for every fan to latch onto, it loses a sense of identity.  How can the movie capture the inside jokes you shared with your friends?  The sense of community that made you log into the game day after day?  

I do think a video game movie is possible, but I think it would have to be a game that has a simple plot and a visual style that agrees with the director.  With their unique style and aesthetics, indie games might have the inside track there.  I could throw out specific examples, but I’m sure you can come up with your own.  In the end, I don’t think it’s a big loss that video games have struggled in becoming feature films.  I wish there was an easier way for me to share the joys of Ori and the Blind Forest with my friends and family who don’t play video games, but it doesn’t devalue how much the experience meant to me.  The failures of making video game movies underscores the value of video games.  It proves how nuances the medium is and why video games are special.

About The Author

The Glorious Predecessor

As I write this, I am listening to Striking Matches and eating a blueberry muffin. The music is good, the muffin is even better. I dance when I drink and have been known to occasionally free-style rap, none of which benefits society.

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