Warcraft. The name brings to mind things being crafted for wars. Then it brings to mind a video game based on spending weeks of your life on end thanklessly grinding out resources to start crafting war things. Then it brings to mind the South Park kids becoming fat, basement-dwelling bastards bent on the destruction of some other fat, basement-dwelling jerk over pretendy fun-time games. Then it brings to mind humankind’s inevitable future as the blobbish compu-slaves of Wall-E, incapable of basic physical activity as we slowly trade away our active presence in the world around us for the constant distraction of technology and… wait a minute, what was I talking about?
Ah, yes, Warcraft, World of. The sprawling MMORPG from a company called Blizzard Entertainment that puts players around the world into a shared fantasy realm of orcs, dragons, elves, wizards, and “knight elf mohawks,” if Mr. T is to be believed. Also, Robin Williams was an avid fan of the game, so my light mockery aside, it absolutely has respectable fans as well as the easily-mockable ones (who are not exclusive to Warcraft, of course, given how concerned they are with ethics in games journalism and all). If you haven’t heard, there’s also a movie based on this property coming in 2016, and they are just now starting to tease us with images and footage.
This has been a long time in coming, since I actually visited the set of the production in Vancouver way back in early 2014. Let me tell you, it’s a huge production.
Exclusive Video: Duncan Jones & Richard Taylor on the World of ‘Warcraft’
The cast of this film is full of familiar faces – Travis Fimmel (Vikings), Dominic Cooper (Captain America and Preacher), Paula Patton (Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol), Rob Kazinsky (Pacific Rim), and Toby Kebbell (Fantastic Four) to name a few – but there’s no telling how those faces will be digitally altered on screen, because director Duncan Jones and company are taking their time with this. A game this wide-ranging will take a lot to distill into one film, and the main conflict between the Alliance and the Horde will not be a standard tale of good and evil. “Both sides,” said Jones. “That ís what the film is trying to do is balance it, tell the story from both sides.” Why, you ask? Well, if you can play as both sides, why shouldn’t they both have equal representation?
“Rather than ‘Oh, it’s the good guys versus the bad guys. I hope the good guys get all the bad guys,'” producer Stuart Fenegan explained, “We really want to make sure that an audience, whether they know what the hell the Alliance and the Horde are, when they leave go, ‘Yeah. He was a good guy. And that guy was a good guy too.’ That understanding of a perspective from both sides – that’s what I think the Blizzard guys were going for. There’s an opportunity to make sure that both sides of every conflict always think they’re right.”
“I started off as a human warrior, because every game I’m always a human warrior,” he explained of his own history with playing the game. “But then I went Orc just because I love Orcs.”
Jones isn’t the only one working on this film who was an avid gamer. The ringer is Rob Kazinsky, who was a nationally ranked player. Here’s how he explains it: “In the top 10 it’s very hard to kind of define how you do the rankings, obviously in the World Top 100 Guild. And there’s a system called World of Logs, we post logs for everything we do. For every raid that we would do, it records your DPS, healing, and all those kind of numbers, boss kills, this, that and the other. And of my particular caste, I stayed in the top 10 DPS of my class for three years straight, and on pretty much every single boss that you could do it on. So, I would consider myself… I was pretty good at this game. I was into it.”
That much is obvious, and if any of that means anything to you, it should also impress you – although he also admits that he sucks at PVP, lest you think he was bragging. His enthusiasm for the game, and thus the project, is infectious, and he got the part through pure persistence. One slow day on the set of Pacific Rim, he started playing, which caught the eye of Legendary’s Jillian Share.
“She’s like ‘Are you fucking kidding me?’ And I was like ‘What do you mean?’ ‘Don’t, don’t, don’t, Rob.’ I’m like ‘What?’ She said ‘don’t. You know what you are doing.’ I said ‘I have no idea. What are you talking about?’ She’s like ‘you know we’re making WarCraft.’ I was like ‘Fuck!’ Two years of just harassing her, and harassing her, and harassing her. This was in Sam Raimi land, like way, way back before they had anyone attached. And it was nowhere. I just kept on bugging her – ‘Can I read a draft? Can I read anything? Can I be involved? Can I do this? I’ll be the tea boy.’ And I genuinely would’ve been the guy who carries Paula Patton’s purse in this. I would have literally done anything just to be a part in this because, at this point and time, I think I’ve got 470 odd days played on this game. And that’s over a year and half of my actual life playing this game.”
By now, you should realize that Kazinsky’s got the eye of the true fan approaching this project, and he has every trepidation that they’ll have when considering a film adaptation. “When they first sent me the script, I was worried,” he admitted. “I was scared. What if it sucks, man? Let’s be honest. There’s never been a computer game movie that hasn’t sucked. So, what if it sucks? What if they fuck up Warcraft? I’ll be so upset. And then I read it. And I read it from two sides. I read it right, so you’ve got to make a movie that appeals to a broader audience and not just those gamers, which are dwindling.”
“This isn’t a movie about the game,” he stressed. “This is a movie in its own right based on the stories of first Warcraft game. We are not trying to make a direct tradeoff from the game to the movie. This is a film with a story that’s appealing to more than just people like me. It’s so perfectly political of how they kind of do it. As a gamer, I was more than happy. As a fan of the game, there are a few changes and stuff like that. But I can understand and appreciate why they’ve made those changes to make a better film.”
“And then as a film viewer, you go, well, it’s just good. It’s good. We’ve made a hell of a movie. I promise you we have. It’s exciting. It’s interesting. But to get to the most exciting parts, that’s three, four films in. We’re trying to create a universe here. There’s so many stories that we can tell here. And all we need to do is get this one right. And if people give us the chance the same way they did with The Lord of the Rings – imagine Lord of the Rings going ten movies, and they’re all getting better and better. Not like tired sequels where it becomes a point of just rehashing something just to make a buck. This is about the stories which are already there, and they just get better. It is incredibly exciting and marvelous.”
“I feel like we’re birthing something really enormous,” he enthused. “All I know is I know how much this game has meant to me, and the opportunity to take it out into the world and for it to mean more to other people, that’s why we do this.” After a moment, he added, “And the money.”
As I said, infectious. All of us visiting the set that day thought he should also be in charge of the marketing.
“I would’ve done this film for a packet of crisps,” Kazinsky noted, lest we took that ‘money’ line too seriously. “This is one of those dream jobs. Isn’t it funny how life turns out? All those years that I’ve spent playing this game, and I’m playing Orgrim Doom-Fucking-Hammer. Are you kidding me?”
Now there’s another interesting point – this is a game where everyone gets to make their own characters, so which ones show up in the film? Let’s talk characters – and we might as well start with Monsignor Doom-Fucking-Hammer.
“To understand Orgrim, you need to understand the Frostwolves,” Kazinsky said. “The Orcs become a very warlike race. The Frostwolves are much more old-fashioned. They are very shamanistic in the way they behave, spiritual and honest. And they live up in the mountains a long way away. Their clan is dying.”
“They are essentially the representation of all that is good about the Orcs – honor, trust, friendship, family. They represent everything that is good that the Orcs have lost. And the difference between the Frostwolves and any other Orc clan is usually the strongest is always the leader, no matter how dumb they might be. But with us, wisdom is strength – not saying that Durotan isn’t a double hard bastard, because he is – but he is the wisest leader, the one that everybody respects. And he and I, we’ve been best friends since were tiny little Orc babies. I’ve been his right hand man – his dumb, stupid, bald-headed, really tough right hand man – from the beginning.”
“Duncan and I sat down early on, and we kind of described what we wanted from this relationship,” Kazinsky noted. “And we drew up Butch and Sundance. And that’s exactly what we have gone for, me and Toby.”
How did Toby describe his character? “Durotan is the Chieftain of the Frostwolf Clan. Is that general enough?” he joked.
Anna Galvin, who plays Draka, helped to clarify. “He’s the Chieftain, and I’m his wife. But there’s some lovely things that color our relationship. Even though he does walk a step ahead of me, we’re very much peers. There’s a great deal of respect and love between us, and that’s shown in the movie that I actually can hold sway over him a little bit. He will listen to me. His word isn’t the law, at least behind closed doors for us.”
“It’s nice to play an Orc that isn’t just a pure beasty, evil warrior,” Kebbell noted. “You know that we have conflict on all sides. You know what I mean? That have the good and evil…”
“And a code of honor,” Galvin added. “The Orcs that have taken Fel are more bestial and hell-bent on strife and war, whereas the Orcs that haven’t, and the Frostwolf Clan hasn’t – it comes from the top down. Our chieftain has refused it, where we’re still governed by a code of honor. And our behavior is tempered by the wisdom of our leaders and the old shamanic law of the world that we come from, which is Draenor. We’re leaving there because it’s in strife. It’s withering and dying. And we have no choice. So, I think we’ve come from a happy place of peace, I suppose, unless there was something to fight for – there would have to be a reason for fighting – and we’ve got to find somewhere else.”