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PAX East: ‘World of Warcraft’ Movie Panel Recap and Impressions

To help promote the upcoming World of Warcraft movie, director Duncan Jones (Moon) and star Robert Kazinsky (Pacific Rim) appeared in a panel at PAX East on Saturday. They discussed the film’s goals, and explained the reasons for making it the way they did. They also previewed a new, exclusive trailer for the movie, which hits theaters June 10 . The panel also included a lengthy Q&A with fans.

As fans who have been following the RTS and MMO series know, Blizzard has been attempting to make a Warcraft movie for a decade.The Warcraft license could not be used for anything less than a proper film according to Blizzard’s vision. For example, notorious game adaptation director Uwe Boll’s failed pitch almost ten years ago was shot down with prejudice.

Duncan Jones revealed that the project was very close to being directed by Sam Raimi before he left due to script disagreements and a commitment to Oz the Great and Powerful. While Jones was a personal fan of Raimi’s script, he noted that it was not true to the Warcraft universe. The orcs were made into outright villains, while the real strength of the universe in Jones’ opinion is that Blizzard does not create clearly defined good and evil, black and white stories, but rather a disagreement of viewpoints and shades of gray. That is the movie he is hoping to make.

The focus on making the orcs sympathetic characters was also the driving point behind the film’s special effects. Robert Kazinsky, who plays the orc Orgrim Doomhammer in the film, (and has logged hundreds of hours in WoW as an Orc Death Knight) mentioned how he personally wanted to see cutting-edge visuals. Moviegoers who love the practical make-up and costuming of the Uruk-Hai from The Lord of the Rings films will be disappointed since Kazinsky mentioned specifically that they were not what he wanted out of the experience.

Duncan Jones had another explanation for the effects:  the goal of the movie is to make the orcs as emotive and human as possible. The audience needs to see every single part of their facial expression, and that requires full CG. Going back again to LOTR, he compared the process to Gollum’s creation in those movies. It is also worth noting that the legendary effects studio working on the film, Industrial Light and Magic, is staffed full of World of Warcraft players, which definitely helped open some doors for the production.

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If there are any concerns that the CG is cheap or in any way a shortcut, they should be ignored. Putting together these characters was clearly a ton of work for the actors and special effects artists. Actors had to go through a month of essentially “orc boot camp” in order to learn how to motion capture for the massive creatures. Robert Kazinsky had to work hunched over and learn to move with “weight” in order to stay believable (and wear very revealing pants that gave a very revealing view to every person on set).

In addition to the orcs, the creators are going to great lengths to make every detail true to the Warcraft universe. Game of Thrones linguists were brought in to create new languages for the film. There is complex choreography when the character Medivh casts magic, as insisted by actor Ben Foster who wanted to “really know” how to cast magic. While many of the creatures were made digitally, Duncan Jones insisted that the sets were largely physically built, to keep the movie grounded in some reality. He did not want what he called “a cartoon.”

The special effects in the trailers have had a mixed reaction from fans so far, but for the movie they were trying to make, it was the only real way to create full action scenes and an entire race of (hopefully) lovable and complex orc people, not monsters. Jones comes off as a director who is putting character first, and it is reassuring to see solid explanations for why he made the movie the way he did.

Early in the panel, moderator Michelle Morrow was trying to play up the raw spectacle of one sequence of jumping through a Dark Portal. But Duncan Jones insisted that it was done to reveal some things about the characters, not just to impress gamers with an unseen part of the Warcraft universe.

Later a fan asked just how well the film will fit the lore and immediately both Duncan Jones and Robert Kazinsky admitted that the hardcore fans will find inconsistencies, but that every deviation was done to make the best possible movie.

The real hardcore fans of Warcraft are most likely sold on this movie already, plot holes or no. But for those on the fence, the panel offered some reassuring points that the movie was being made with intelligent aims and for the best reasons. Legendary Pictures and Blizzard have clearly invested huge chunks of time and Duncan Jones has invested years of his career into this project. We will have to wait until the film releases in June to find out if it all is going to work.


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