Warcraft: The Beginning review

As a World of Warcraft role playing server veteran, I was brutally aware that Warcraft was bound to fall victim to the curse of the video game adaptation, and audiences may not have had any idea at what an ambitious man Duncan Jones is taking on the exceptionally complex Warcraft lore. With an audience captivated by Game of Thrones and LOTR, Warcraft ultimately suffered from lack of gravitas and intrigue. Its stunning CG fantasy landscape is brighter in tone and colouring than these fantasy stalwarts which I suspect Jones thought would make it easier to embrace for the masses but I suspect this was its cinematic undoing.

warcraft the beginning 2016 blu rayIt’s a charming but clumsy revisiting of the battle between man and monster represented by the Alliance and Horde, the two factions within the game who must ultimately work together to save Azeroth from the influence of evil Gul’dan (Daniel Wu) and fel magic. The evil "fel" magic in the film is represented by a fluorescent green mist that flows into whomever it controls and turning them green so we know they’re now bad, this is just one example of how the film falters by using over obvious plot devices in trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator.

Humans and Orcs are not natural bedfellows in the Warcraft universe and this struggle informs the film's often confused and convoluted narrative. The Orcs' somewhat mumbling speech adds to this confusion, muddling clearly important dialogue vital to the narrative. That said it's hard to ignore all the dynamic and appealing wizards, dwarves and huge canines that bring drama and awe to the proceedings. Vikings star Travis Fimmel injects some welcome humour with his strong sense of comedy, and gives the film an engaging and charismatic leading character, while Toby Kebbell does a stand-up job with his motion-capture performance as Durotan; but many other performances, such as those of the magicians and mages, seem pompous and laboured.

Warcraft is beautiful film and on watching the Blu-ray I am intimately aware how much CGI has progressed. Te scene showing Durotan sitting on top of the mountain, overlooking the Orc camp and plotting his alliance with the humans, shows remarkable detail in his skin, hair and clothing. The epic and visionary scale of the film is caught in battle sequences – especially the scene where Lothar flies in to save the day on a Griffin commanding the Stormwind blue skies and razing the battlefield. The Blu-ray's Dolby Atmos soundtrack is finely tuned and uses the top layer to compliment the more grounded and immersive action.

Warcraft is undeniably a technical achievement; the visual effects look and feel seamless, perfectly interlacing with the environment and human counterparts. I found Warcraft creative and enjoyable, like many core fans, but understand the critical discourse surrounding it. There is a palatable sense that any spontaneous emotional value has been lost by trying to realise such a vast and complicated fantasy realm leaving the new audiences impassive and indifferent. With an ending set up perfectly to continue the filmic franchise, I’m far too busy fighting fel magic in the game’s new expansion World of Warcraft Legion to consider its forthcoming critical reception.

EXTRAS: Deleted and Extended Scenes (13:55); the featurette The World of Warcraft on Film (33:50); the featurette The Fandom of Warcraft (6:36); the featurette Warcraft: The Madame Tussauds Experience (7:30); the featurette ILM: Behind the Magic of Warcraft (3:00); Warcraft teaser – 2013 (2:33); the featurette Warcraft: Bonds of Brotherhood Motion Comic (53:45); and a Gag Reel (3:25). The special features I especially enjoyed were those on the fandom of Warcraft including a look at Blizzard's and Warcraft's die-hard fans (such as myself) and ILM: Behind the Magic of Warcraft, which showed the modelling and compositing of the CGI elements, showing several scenes in stages of completion. Limited physical versions of Warcraft will come with a series of digital content, the first piece of which is World of Warcraft. All expansions up to Warlords of Draenor are also included, along with 30 days of game time for new players. Additionally, the mage hero Medivh is included for Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, along with Gul'dan hero for Heroes of the Storm.

Lucy Orr is a Screenjabber contributor

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