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question of the day: Can even Sam Raimi make a World of Warcraft movie anything other than pointless?

Before I get flamed, let me be clear: I’m not dissing World of Warcraft when I say that I have no choice but to wonder what the hell the point of a World of Warcraft movie could possibly be (beyond the obvious mercenary one of cashing in on the name, of course).

We’re gonna find out if there’s any point, because Sam Raimi has been hired to direct such a film, according to Reuters. I adore Raimi’s work, but I’m flummoxed:

“Raimi has, in the course of his career, clearly demonstrated a genius for developing and adapting existing fictional universes for mainstream audiences while staying true to the spirit of the original content,” the companies [Blizzard Entertainment Inc., a unit of Activision Blizzard, and Legendary Pictures] said in a joint statement.

Well, yes. But those fictional universes Raimi had to work with were more than just places: they were people and stories, too. But what’s the “spirit” of WoW’s “original content”? A merger of The Lord of the Rings and Dungeons and Dragons to create a realm in which players can create their own fighting avatars is hardly a “spirit.” A fictional universe is nothing, from a storytelling perspective, without intriguing characters inhabiting it and moving through it and growing and changing in the middle of it and — perhaps more importantly — because of something unique about it.

How can Azeroth, onscreen, possibly look any different from the thousand other generic high-fantasy realms of orcs and trolls and elves and dwarves we’re already intimately familiar with, especially absent any preexisting characters we love (or love to hate), when the “spirit” of the game is to ape already familiar high-fantasy universes?

I’m not suggesting it’s impossible. A movie that’s about WoW as a game — about the addictive quality of it and the wish-fulfillment aspect on the part of the players, for instance — could potentially be interesting (as long as it’s more than the tedious “pasty out-of-shape nerdling gets sucked into game, learns the true meaning of life” nonsense we’ve seen too many times before). We don’t yet know what kind of shape the movie will take… but, knowing Hollywood like I do, I find it hard to imagine that anything too radical or mind-bending will happen here.

Can even Sam Raimi make a World of Warcraft movie anything other than pointless?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me.)


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  • Ben

    Hmmm, well to start with you are asking the wrong question. Sam Raimi isn’t making a film about “World of Warcraft”, he has been signed to make a film about “Warcraft”.

    Warcraft refers to a fantasy setting in which 4 games (Warcraft – Humans and Orcs, Warcraft II, Warcraft III, and World of Warcraft) plus their associated expansion sets have been set. Not to mention the (at least) 9 Novels and several comic book series.

    Each of which has had, to paraphrase; intriguing characters inhabiting them and moving through them and growing and changing in the middle of them and — perhaps more importantly — because of something unique about the setting.

    There are lots of pre-existing characters that millions already care about (and that’s just based on the fact that they feature as major story plot points in World of Warcraft – forget the other games which also have their own stories and unique characters).

    Sure, the Warcraft setting is a fantasy setting, but it has plenty of spirit. For example the story of the Orcs could be interesting – a race betrayed and lead away from its shamanistic roots by its own power hungry leaders, bound to demons and forced into war on a planet not their own. Initially victorious, but then when defeated and cut off from their homelands becoming listless and lost. Forced into concentration camps by Humans and treated like filth. Only to find their way back to their Shamanistic honourable roots (through the quest of an ex-slave Orc called Thrall), and help save the very Humans who have enslaved them from a demonic invasion… Only to go on to finally found their own nation based on their shamanic past, etc (and that is just a quick potted summary of some of the Warcraft backstory).

    All this said… I don’t have high hopes simply because fantasy movies don’t generally do so well (and I don’t want to be dissapointed)

    However, to say that the setting in which the Warcraft Games and novels are set is somehow without spirit is just not correct.

  • Ben

    btw if you do feel like getting up to speed with the history and characters that have shaped the world of Azeroth (where the Warcraft games are set) then Blizzard to provide a history on their website:

    Chapter 1
    Chapter 2
    Chapter 3
    Chapter 4
    Chapter 5

    Its just a brief summary, and its out of date but it gives an idea of the world and the characters that live within it(Chapter 5 finishes just before the storyline for the World of Warcraft Game starts – and there has been a lot of developments since then).

    disclaimer – no I don’t play World of Warcraft, but I have in the past and along with the other Warcraft games.

  • marshall myers

    I am a big warcraft fan, but I will try and be as objective as I can without sounding to much like a fan-boy.
    One of the reasons I am a fan of this world is because of the rich story, history and lore associated with it. You are absolutely right in that a good story has good characters. There ARE characters in Azeroth that are intriguing. This isn’t just a re-hash of LotR. Sure, LotR is a huge influence and you can’t contest that – but outside of there being elves, dwarves, gnomes (halflings) etc I really think that warcraft has blazed its own trail and story that is a fairly fresh take on the whole ‘fantasy’ genre. Orcs aren’t simple ‘bad’ guys. Human’s aren’t just ‘good’ guys. Which side you are on, and how you feel about them is a matter of perspective.
    The Warcraft strategey games and then World of Warcraft (which are the ‘curent’ events on Azeroth) have always been driven by characters. I loved doing quests in the game because they furthered the storyline of these characters, told you more about them, and often times tapped into the rich lore that’s in the game. I think the only way for me to show you what I mean here is to have you read the huge history of Thrall, current leader of the Orcs. http://www.wowwiki.com/Thrall Hopefully, you will get a better understanding of what I mean.

    The developers of the game have several people that are responsible for keeping the over-all storyline for warcraft intact. For the movie, I believe that they will either be coming up with a new storyline set in the universe of Azeroth or possibly giving a cinematic treatment to a story that is already known. Even in the material that’s already been established I feel like there is stuff there that even a person who’s never played the games can relate to.

    I am approaching this on a matter of faith because of two reasons: Blizzard entertainment has a legendary track record in the gaming world for putting polish on their games, and not releasing them until their done. Part of what also makes them a success is the storylines involved. My feeling is I hope this same attention to detail will rub off on the movie (I.E. they hopefully wouldn’t let a movie get made unless they felt it represented their franchise well.)
    Sam Raimi – He’ll find something in the rich background here that is worth telling on the big screen, that you won’t have to be a wow-geek to get.

  • http://www.newbspeak.com Newbs

    Yeah… I’m not a fan of Warcraft at all, so I can be objective here when I say MaryAnn you are way off. This is a universe rich with characters and stories. Books, games, comics… you name it.

    How can Azeroth, onscreen, possibly look any different from the thousand other generic high-fantasy realms of orcs and trolls and elves and dwarves we’re already intimately familiar with, especially absent any preexisting characters we love (or love to hate), when the “spirit” of the game is to ape already familiar high-fantasy universes?

    And, sorry to be so blunt, but this is a ridiculous question. You might as well ask how a new Comedy can be good, or a new Action film. Or a new Vampire book or movie or tv show. Just because something is derivative doesn’t mean it’s inherently droll or uninspired. And how can you imply that a franchise without characters you know and love will automatically be generic? That’s a completely bullshit assertion… there was a time before Gandalf and Elrond, before Luke and Han, before Morpheus and Neo; all these characters were created at one time and became beloved. That’s how fiction works.

    But it’s beside the point, actually, since this universe is already inhabited by characters who are loved by millions. Personally, I don’t care about Warcraft as a game franchise; RTS games give me palpitations (and MMOs take too much time), but I am excited about a potentially fun new Fantasy Film Series, and with Raimi behind the camera, you know at least it’ll have the chance to be really good.

  • Juan

    If south park could do it, I bet that Sam would do as well.

    Maybe he goes towards the pointless plot, all fun, all action, and forget the rest way. I doubt that they let him though

  • Wesley

    If you would have done your homework just a tad bit better, you would have known that there is no such thing as a “World of Warcraft” movie, in production right now. What Sam Raimi’s role is, in this project, is translating the Warcraft universe to the big screen, with all of its solid characters included. As far as I have been informed, we will be following a group of insignificant Alliance adventurers, caught up in the everlasting war between the Horde and the Alliance.

    If the universe, the one that’s so awfully awesome, is depicted correctly, the action is good and the story is solid, this will be a killer hit. One can make a movie in any kind of setting, about anything, and have it be interesting and appealing to a large crowd. This movie is no exception, and has the advantage of taking place in a well thought out world. If Sam Raimi can transfer the epic, grande feeling from the Warcraft universe to the cinema, this movie will be a must-see for every fan of the fantasy genre.

  • Wesley

    I would like to refer to machinima, movies made within the actual game. World of Warcraft was found to be a very suitable game for a lot of people to express their artistic ideas with. I shall give you a small example of a machinima short, made by Martin Falch, a well respected creator within the Machinima community. Just watch, and see that a movie could very well turn out to be great. The following short doesn’t even include any characters from the Warcraft lore, and yet this tiny clip is intriguing.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Gcs2u9SHmQ
    As the description says, there’s a deeper meaning to the little film, dig into the comments, if you cannot figure out, yourself.

  • JoshB

    As a onetime addict of WoW I can join the chorus here and say that you’re plain wrong, MaryAnn. The lore of the Warcraft series is immense.

    If there’s a problem with making a Warcraft movie it’s in sifting through which of dozens upon dozens of storylines and characters you want to follow. It would be nigh impossible to make a coherent two to three hour movie that would be at all faithful to the source material.

    You might follow the corruption of Prince Arthas and the fall of the Kingdom of Lordaeron. (3 minutes)

    But to do that properly, you would need to know the backstory of the corruption of the mage Kel’Thuzad. Which would lead you to the creation of the Lich King, Ner’zhul. That would naturally require knowing the history of the orcs. And to understand that, you gotta know about the Burning Legion, and their leader, Sargeras, who was once one of the Titans who forged order from chaos in the Primordial…

    It could take several movies to do justice to this one story arc.

    And you still wouldn’t have touched on the equally complicated stories of Medivh, Illidan, Deathwing, Thrall…

    They could easily make ten three hour movies out of this universe and have story to spare.

  • Brian

    This movie cannot hope to compare with the epic greatness that awaits us in Asteroids: The Movie. Or Monopoly: A Ridley Scott Film. Or ViewMaster: Holy Relic of the Kids From ‘Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.’ Or Jessica Alba IS Slinky. Or Roland Emmerich’s disaster epic Etch-a-Sketch: Wipeout.

  • Victor Plenty

    If Sam Raimi can transfer the epic, grande feeling from the Warcraft universe to the cinema, this movie will be a must-see for every fan of the fantasy genre.

    Grande? Surely by now the Warcraft universe qualifies as Venti.

  • Jaelynn

    Oh man. I totally promised my fan boy guildmates that if a Wow movie ever came out, we’d all dress like our toons and go see it together.

    This is why I should have rolled a mage.

  • Hypocee

    I’m not a WoW fan either, but yeah – Blizzard writes serious stories. The problem is going to be paring down the stories in Warcraft lore, not scaling up, and some of it’s pretty good. I remember when I jokingly asked a WoW friend why the evil Blood Elves could cast holy spells, and he actually had an answer that the writers had told through quests: that the Blood Elves had captured and imprisoned an angel long ago and essentially bled a supply of holiness out of it toward their own ends. It may not be Shakespeare, but it’s quite similar to a plot element in Hellblazer (the source for Constantine), and for me about as effective.

    Blizzard actually had a full-on Warcraft “adventure” game (cartoon/comic story paced by puzzles) that reached a late stage of development before big-budget adventures keeled over dead, dealing with racial issues after the Orcish invasion of Azeroth and quite reminiscent of Native American history.

    Oh, and roll on hypothetical Starcraft movie.

  • misterb

    I don’t envy Sam Raimi at all. From the comments above, it looks like his job will be harder than Peter Jackson’s. He’s got to deal with millions of fans with a very personal grasp of a huge story, and tens of millions of people who couldn’t care less and aren’t willing to invest hours learning arcane details of nerdery. If he can pull this off, he really would deserve an Oscar.

  • Fett101

    Jaelynn, does that mean the males playing female toons are going to cross-dress?

  • http://www.seattlecasbah.com jacob

    What’s funny about this posting is that I only played Warcraft for the cutscenes. When it came to Blizzard, gameplay was always secondary for me.

    Here’s to hoping that the movie turns out to be more LoTR and less Final Fantasy…

  • Gadjit

    Please, do some research so that people will continue to read your articles. Warcraft lore is an immense subject. I’ll be interested on what path Raimi and Blizzard choose to focus on. Warcraft lore at this point could probably fill an entire bookshelf if they decided to ever put it all in print, and Blizzard has done an exceptional job (with the exception of a spaceship crashing incident and some suspicious looking horned creatures that was a bit of a lapse) at keeping the many storylines alive through a decade of development.

  • Gadjit

    Also, if you want a couple of storylines to reference to, check out the stories of Arthas, Uther, Tyrande & Malfurion, Thrall, Alexandria, Sylvanas, Neltharion, Illidan and Sargeras. The story of Arthas alone is enough to make your stomach turn.

  • Chuck

    I hate to add my voice to the already overwhelming chorus, but as has already been said, Raimi’s problem won’t be beefing up the story but rather pairing it down. I won’t say that Warcraft’s story is great, frankly it is EFP (Extruded Fantasy Product) and suffers greatly from the flaws of the type (overwrought cliches and awful Noun-Verb naming conventions) but it does have breadth and depth. EFP has been made successfully into movies in the past (say Twilight for example) so there is some hope here.

    MaryAnn, you’ve made similar mostly inaccurate statements about games in the past. Your knowledge of the subject seems to come less from playing them yourself and more from watching the inexcusably terrible movies that have been made out of them. This is not an inherent fault of your own, instead it’s just a product of a difference in interests. You are a movie enthusiast and not a game enthusiast but I would ask that you understand that the majority of gamers feel that those said movies are perhaps the greatest travesties that have been perpetrated on the movie going public in ages, and do not reflect positively at all on their source material.

    I would say that rather than Raimi having lost his marbles or decided to just go for the paycheck, I think he simply as a more accurate understanding of the source. I hold out hope that Raimi can overcome the weaknesses of the source material and present us with the first good video game movie in over 25 years. (The last one was about Tic-Tac-Toe if I remember correctly.)

  • Drave

    MaryAnn, I knew you were in for a tongue-lashing when you posted that article, but I am on the fence on this issue. I love video games, and I would love to see a truly great video game movie made, but I think this is a terrible idea. I don’t think Sam Raimi knows how to make bad movies (unless they are intentionally bad), so I suspect that whatever he makes will be good, but it will definitely NOT be any story that Warcraft fans recognize. It will be a new story that takes place in the same setting as the game. Period. There will be plenty of in-jokes, but any Warcraft fans expecting to see a story they recognize are going to be disappointed, because that’s not how Hollywood operates.

    Now, if I were choosing video games to adapt into movies, I would at least pick video games that have the potential to create something unique. I would stop trying to adapt fighting games and first person shooters and tower defense games, and I would pick games that are a) already cinematic in nature, and b) tell stories that haven’t been told to death in film yet. Take my two favorite examples, both by the same creative team. Ico would truly be a wonder to behold; one child leading another through a lush fantasy world, told completely without dialog. Shadow of the Colossus would be interesting because it would be nice to see a hero’s journey where the moral rightness of the hero’s actions is not assured.

    For the most part, I think Hollywood should just stop trying to adapt video games to movies, and I say that as somehow who respects each medium equally. As graphics get better and better, any game that is sufficiently cinematic to succeed as a movie is probably movie-like enough to begin with.

  • Vryth

    What strikes me odd, is that no one has remarked that Chris Metzen is going to be involved with writing the script, first and foremost. Drave has stated that he thinks that the story will not be recognizeable for the fanbase of Warcraft. I am certain it will be, considering Chris Metzen’s role in the movie production. What everyone here must know, is that Blizzard hasn’t simply sold the rights of the brand “Warcraft” to Hollywood, they’re actually on top of the whole project. They stated that they will make sure that the name of their franchise isn’t going to be abused, and, knowing Blizzard, they are not going for a simple cash-in with this project, they would rather have it be a movie which stays true to the original lore and setting of the game.

    The good thing about this movie, story-wise, will be the breaking of long-time clichés. Whereas the contempts between the two major factions in this game/movie are based purely on political disagreement and grudges. There will be no simple good versus bad (humans versus orcs), as in most simplistic fantasy movies. You will come to see that the humans, of all races, are moreso the cause of the still on-going war in Azeroth, than the typical baddies, usually deemed as orcs. Story-wise, I’m convinced that this project will be just fine or perhaps, excelling.

    The only thing I’m worried about is Sam Raimi’s idea of Azeroth, and the whole Warcraft universe as a whole. Perhaps, to properly transfer this genious universe to the screen, Sam Raimi should do some digging in its lore, and play a few titles in the Warcraft franchise. I hope he gets this right, because, if so… this may prove to be the best videogame movie, ever. It has the potential to be this, it just needs the proper translation.

  • http://www.rs4items.com runescape gold

    My friends that play WoW and I will probably go. If only to mock it later. Im sure it will be sold out at least one night around here; seems everyone plays WoW now.
    runescape money

  • Mike Franklin

    I don’t even see the point of trying to make a movie… a purely one-dimensional thing, from an interactive, multi-dimensional game.

    I played every version of ‘Doom’ that I could get my hands on but… the movie sucked the brass off of door knobs.

    Rumor had it that there was going to be a movie of ‘Civilization’ as well but so far, it’s been nothing more than that… so far as I know.

  • Anne-Kari

    I think I’m with MAJ on this one. But then again, when they announced they were doing a pirate movie based on an Disney theme-park ride, I thought, “possibly the worst idea ever”, so who the hell knows.

  • http://www.newbspeak.com Newbs

    Drave (Fri Jul 24 09, 1:52AM):

    Ico would truly be a wonder to behold; one child leading another through a lush fantasy world, told completely without dialog. Shadow of the Colossus would be interesting because it would be nice to see a hero’s journey where the moral rightness of the hero’s actions is not assured.

    Not sure about this, Drave… each of these games is a masterpiece in its own right; it would likely be easy to transfer the story to the screen, but the emotional involvement of being the guy destroying those monsters, or leading the girl, would be lost — and that’s kinda the charm of those two particular games. I don’t know that you could successfully translate them without losing the facets that made them so amazing; namely it was YOU doing those things. Plus I don’t think there’s a movie studio on the planet that would be willing to leave the stories intact on either of them.

    At the very least the games would remain the superior experience… and with such niche titles there’s no way the movies would make any money. You’d have to spend 80-100m dollars to bring them to (believable) life, and I just don’t see Shia Lebouf in The Shadow of the Colossus breaking any records on its opening weekend. :)

    These are both good examples, though, of games that should be played by anyone who thinks games can’t be artistic and wonderful.

  • Michael

    What about Mickey Rourke in “Planescape: Torment?” :D

  • Jurgan

    Well said, Newbs. What I’ve said for a while is that SotC is a great example of video games as art because it’s a story that could not be told in any other medium (I haven’t played Ico- yet!). The game was a critique of our casual acceptance of violence in video games. As gamers, we are compelled to overcome challenges, but as humans, we question whether killing these creatures is right. We thus become culpable in acts of evil. It’s not the same to simply be watching it. In the past, I would have picked the Final Fantasy games as the most artistic games, but those really are fairly generic fantasy that could be told as novels or movies (though they’d be too long for movies, I suppose). SotC is something unique to video games, and by showing games can do things other media cannot, it makes a strong case for video games as art.

  • Hypocee

    Amen to that – it wouldn’t, can’t and won’t be the same thing if it’s not you destroying yourself in SotC. “Won’t” because they say they’re actually turning SotC into a “fantasy tentpole”. (You maniacs, damn you all etc.) I like Idle Thumbs’ take on it: http://www.idlethumbs.net/forums/showthread.php?t=6444 “Shadow! Collosus! My office, now!”

  • Drave

    Newbs and Jurgan:

    Point conceded. I still think both would make much better movies than most video games, but the movies would be saying different things than the games, which is also why I would be in favor of them. I think a truly great work of art should say something different in each medium it is rendered in.

    Ico as a game is interesting because it is an exercise in generating empathy with the absolute minimum of context. The game gives you none of the information video games have taught you to expect. Why are you in this place? Why is that girl in a cage? Where is the health bar? Where is the score? Where is the inventory? All you have is two people in this situation, and one of them is you. The emotional resonance is particularly striking because you build it yourself based on what you think is going on. Ico as a movie obviously would not work on this level, but it would work on a similar type of level; subverting expectations by leaving out some of the movie tropes we have come to expect. It would be interesting because there has never been (to my knowledge) a lush, epic, fantasy journey told without dialog. Even the trailer would have to be silent. It would never get made, but if it did, I would definitely watch it.

    SotC as a game is interesting because it is a deconstruction of video game tropes; what happens when you are given a set of goals to achieve, and instead of feeling pride and accomplishment, you begin to dread the achievement of each goal as you start to realize you are committing acts of evil. Obviously, the movie would not work on this level, but I think there is something to be explored at the movie equivalent of this level, which would be to cause us to pause and think about why we cheer on the protagonist, and whether we should still be rooting for him when he we don’t agree with what he is doing. Interestingly enough, I feel that Drag Me To Hell explored similar ground. So, once again, the movie would not work on the same level as the game, but it could still say something worth saying.