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How to make the ‚Warcraft‘ movie better

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I have now seen the Warcraft movie. I really need to talk about how this could have been averted.

I knew it was going to be bad but I didn’t expect it to go so terribly. Let me identify the main problems. (Note: I’ve written about this in the past in german, this is my refined attempt.)

High Fantasy: I have always been bored by stories about The High King Thingy and his epic struggle against the Evil Wizard Evilesco in the Fields of Valor. You know that kind of Fantasy story. Warcraft (the Movie) is exactly this. To a degree of accidental self-parody. The amount of exposition is through the roof. Terry Pratchett called this type of speech the „As you know, your father, the king…“ speech. At one point, the Queen tells the protagonist that she is his Queen, to which the protagonist responds that she is his sister.

Pointless, constant location switching: Let me describe the first 30 minutes of the film: Orcs arrive on the planet and start pillaging. [Cut to Ironforge] „Protagonist, you need to go home.“ [Cut to Stormwind] „We looked at the thing. We need Medivh. Let’s go to Goldshire. [Cut to Goldshire] „Ok we need Medivh“ [Travel scene to Medivh’s home] „I am Medivh let me exposit in two sentences that Fel is bad magic. Let’s go to stormwind. [Cut to Stormwind] Ok we need to go to Elwynn now with Medivh [Cut to Elwynn] Action scene [back to Stormwind] Exposition about what Orcs are. The viewer has known what Orcs are from the first scene of the film.

Overexplaining the obvious, Underexplaining the important: Warcraft keeps explaining things that are not worth explaining because they are obvious (like that Orcs are fearsome, brave and strong fighters) and endlessly namedrops locations and characters where it could have just left them unnamed or in the background. But we can see all that. Everything that gets overly explained in the movie is basic fantasy trope stuff or obvious from looking at the scene.
On the other hand important plot details, like what a Mak’gora is, what the rules are or what you get for winning remain unexplained. Which is weird, because „this is a fight for the leadership of the horde“ and „you only get to use one type of weapon“ are central to the story. Orcs complain when Gul’dan uses his fists as well as magic. The Orcs just let the protagonist leave because he has killed their Army’s leader. But you wouldn’t know why that is from watching the movie because nobody even alluded to it.

I saw Dune about 16 years ago and found it a dull movie that I didn’t finish. But I still remember the rules of trial by combat: Fight to the death, winner takes all, even the water in the loser’s body. Because that movie explained it.

A worse friendship than Twilight: Nobody in Warcraft has any real relationships with anyone. The Queen is nice to Garona once. Medivh hugs the King. But no-one has any moments of bonding or forming a relationship. We are told that protagonist loves his son. At some point, Garona suddenly has the hots for protagonist. We never get to see why or how this happens. As far as I know, people in the movie are motivated to fight because it is their job. The phrase „Still a better love story than Twilight“ was invented to mock that the characters in that movie don’t actually share any interests or bonding experiences or even interesting talks. I would say this is completely true for every relationship in Warcraft. The only personal interaction, between Queen and Garona, is immediately dropped and they never talk again.

Standing and Talking: And then there is the Star Wars prequels problem. For what feels like the vast majority of the movie’s runtime, people standing somewhere talk to each other about what to do with the Orc situation. Sometimes they stand around a table. Sometimes they stand next to a mana pool. Sometimes they stand in a forest. You could make a stage play of Wacraft’s script. Almost all locations are meaningless and barely ever interacted with.

Every single one of these points I think could ruin a movie. Take any successful, major movie and apply a single of these weaknesses and it would fall apart. I have a solution for this entire situation though. In the sense that, if anyone listened to me and we were 6 years in the past, you could have done this instead.

How the Warcraft movie could have been good

Step one: Identify what people who like World of Warcraft enjoyed about their early experience and can generally agree on:

  • There is a wide, open world with places full of adventure.
  • Many foreign creatures and places. Existing fantasy stuff is mixed with original or unusual races and ideas.
  • The feeling of getting stronger, getting new things and abilities, the world opening up to you
  • Do you see that guy running over there? That’s a real person! LOOK HE’S DOING A THING! THAT’S NOT A COMPUTER CHARACTER!

Step two: Identify what general audiences have had enough of in the 2010s: Generic Lord of the Rings High Fantasy large scale battle scenes between humans and orcs.

Step three: Make a movie that isn’t about Warcraft 1, the most boring and basic story in the history of storytelling.

Well that was easy.  I thought, five years ago, that this was obvious and what was going to happen. For some reason it didn’t. So here’s my pitch for what the Warcraft movie could have been.

Alternate Warcraft movie

It is the time of Wrath of the Lich King. Large groups of musclebound, strong warriors and magicians board dark ships that are ready to sail into the north to fight the King of the Undead. They are going to war.

A Night Elf druidess and a Draenei shaman look on. They are clearly not armed for this and in talks about their own problems. They have been travelling together for a while and tease like friends when one does something unusual, like transforming into a large cat or talking to an elemental to convince him to help.

They get dragged into a more local problem: Someone has a reward for a smaller problem that requires some travel and finding of a thing. This task grows out of hand while they are underway. They have to go to Stranglethorn jungle, travel by ship to the eastern Kingdoms. They meet a Blood Elf Spellbreaker who is in no position to complain about their help. She is, in her own way, on the same mission. In the end, they confront the enemy they have been tracking in a a civilian horde settlement that would otherwise have been wiped out. Everyone gets to return home. Final scene: The protagonists are disappointed by the meager payment for the adventure they had.

The film focuses on the adventure aspect – finding new and strange places. Using interesting magic and fighting tricks that are interesting depictions of known game mechanics – the druid’s very fast shapeshifting, the shaman’s summoning of elemental spirits that cast magic for him. How does healing rain close a wound? Can you shower in it? Can a Druid spontaneously grow a tree to reach a higher place? How can you make „finding loot on a killed enemy“ reasonable? Maybe a snapping turtle that has a weapon stuck in its back? Maybe a Hydra has swallowed a magical ring that just needs some cleaning. What do you eat while out travelling?

The movie establishes that humans and elves and orcs exist, but doesn’t focus strongly on them. It shows that there are factions that do not get along perfectly well, but the protagonists don’t have many stakes in that. It is a small, personal problem. Something for an adventurer, but not a world-saving hero. Lives are at stake, but not fates of an entire people. There is light-heartedness and fighting, but it is personal and small, never a fight between armies.

This could have happened. It would have been clearly different from generic fantasy. It could have had its own, Warcrafty colour pallette and feel. It is too late now. But I like to imagine that it happened.

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Written by vetaro

26. August 2017 um 3:26 am

Veröffentlicht in Uncategorized

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