Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Warcraft- Orcs v Critics

WARNING: Some spoilers for 'Warcraft- The Beginning'
I finally got around to seeing the Warcraft movie today. I wasn't exactly agog to see it initially, and the critical reception had not been kind, but a couple of things changed my mind. Firstly, it has a very unusual split between the critical and audience ratings- Rotten Tomatoes gives it a meagre 29% 'fresh' from critics, but a very solid 81% from audiences. That tends to pique my curiosity a bit.

Secondly, and more persuasively, were the tone of some of the negative reviews I read. Reviews criticising bizarre things, like the ones complaining that the costumes of the human characters were 'ridiculous'. Depending on their age, I'd invite anyone levelling that accusation to take a look at what they were wearing in the 1970s. For that matter, take a look at Tudor fashions, or the bizarre bustles and crinolenes Victorian ladies were saddled with. Not to mention 18th century France's fashion for exposed nipples. As it was, I ended up a bit disappointed at how conservative they were. (No, I wasn't hoping for the nipples. Ok, maybe a little.)

I always get very suspicious when movies get 'witty' comments made about them by critics. Things like 'Warcraft- full of Orcs or just Orcful?' (geddit?) or the immortal, evergreen 'Game over!' from some guy who somehow thinks no-one else could possibly come up with that one. It smacks of a writer who's already come up with his clever put-downs and will be damned if he doesn't use them.

So, if anything, I went into Warcraft rooting for it a bit. I played the old Warcrafts back in the day, though I spent my share of time grumbling about the shameless rips from WFB, and spent more time than I should on WoW. (I got a character up to 'Commander' rank using the original honour system, which if you remember it will tell you everything you need to know there). I'm no lore expert in the universe, though, so some things probably flew over my head.

So what did I think? Well, as is often the case I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle. It's not the train-wreck those critics would have you believe it is, but something seems to have gone a bit squiffy in the editing room. I'm no film expert- I read AICN, followed Roger Ebert in his later days and have a lot of time for Mark Kermode but that's about it. I'm certainly not one of those people who'll bore you for hours about how Hitchcock is superior to Shyamalan, or what Cameron does right that Bay botches, but I know the basics. Often in Warcraft, particularly in scenes where the human characters are talking about something, there's evidence of heavy cuts. One moment in particular sees two characters bend down to pick up a crate together while talking, then immediately cuts to them sitting down a little way away with no apparent break in the flow. That sort of thing is far less evident when the Orcs are around, probably because the CGI work in them was expensive and no-one likes leaving money on the cutting room floor. From the point of view of the film-maker's craft, there's certainly stuff going on here that's not right, and it can leave you scratching your head a bit. Medivh, in particular, pops around by portals so much that it starts to look like he never walks anywhere, and one scene has him sitting on a horse, only to announce he's going back to Karazhan, which is obviously going to be another portal job. Quite what the horse is doing there we never find out.

We also don't get much of an idea of the politics that are seemingly stopping everyone else- the Elves, Dwarves, the Kirin-Tor mages and a bunch of other guys who aren't really introduced- from getting involved. There's just one loud, shouty meeting where everyone reacts to imminent extra-planar invasion by deciding to go to lunch. It all feels a bit odd, as do the rules for portal magic in general, which seems to be able to send anyone anywhere except when it can't. Then there's the duel in the Orc camp which exposes Gul'Dan as a coward and cheat and then seems to achieve practically nothing.

You might be getting the impression that not much in the movie is any good, but that wouldn't be true. The world, particularly the Orcs, looks amazing. Famous locations like Ironforge, Dalaran and Stormwind are faithfully represented (even if lore experts point out Stormwind shouldn't exist yet and Dalaran shouldn't be flying). We get to see a Sheeping, there's a Murlock hiding in a river, we get brief glimpses of the last Draenei and the pre-WoW High Elves. The actors acquit themselves pretty well and there's fun for fans of Preacher with Dominic Cooper and Ruth Negga as the king and queen. (Not to kick a hornet's nest, but Stormwind's mixed-race population seems a little odd for the world it's in, and fine actress as she is, it's a bit of a stretch to have Ruth Negga as the sister of a Lothar played by Travis Fimmel.) Even little details, like the way the Griffons fly (and Khadgar's panicked scream as his mount comes in to land at Stormwind's low-ceilinged flight point) are well observed.

In the final analysis then, not a terrible movie. If you're a WoW fan, basically a must-watch if only for informed ranting. If you're not, one that's an interesting curiosity but safe to skip. For me, it comes nowhere near the guilty pleasure that is the DOA movie, but it's probably at least as good as most of the Resident Evil or Mortal Kombat efforts. A director's cut will be interesting to see, and if the team are allowed to make the sequels they wanted to make, I'll be there. But we'd damn well better get a Dredd sequel if that happens.

Damn straight, creep.

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