At the movies: ‘Warcraft’ |

At the movies: ‘Warcraft’

Lisa Miller
Special to Lake Tahoe Action
This image released by Universal Pictures shows characters Orc chieftain Durotan, voiced by Toby Kebbell, left, and Orgrim, voiced by Rob Kazinsky, in a scene from the film, "Warcraft," based on the Blizzard Entertainment video game.
Industrial Light & Magic / Universal Pictures via AP |


**1/2 (B-)

Directed By Duncan Jones

Starring Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper, Toby Kebbell, Ben Schnetzer, Daniel Wu, Anna Galvin

Universal, Rated PG-13, Action, Fantasy, 123 minutes

“Warcraft” represents yet another attempt to adapt a popular video game into a film franchise. This endeavor is directed by David Bowie’s son, Duncan Jones. A “World of Warcraft” player, Jones campaigned tirelessly to get the film a green light, then spent a year with Charles Leavitt and Chris Metzen, writing its screenplay.

In order to create a universe that includes numerous orcs, Jones required a large cast working in performance capture. Among the featured orcs is their evil leader, red-eyed sorcerer Gul’dan (Daniel Wu). To find his people a new home, Gul’dan opens a portal allowing passage from the orc’s dying homeworld to Azeroth, a verdant planet.

Azeroth’s medieval society is ruled by human King Llane (Dominic Cooper). He seeks help from both elfs and drawfs to defend it. They refuse Llane’s request, leaving humans on their own, but the King has his own sorcerer known as the Guardian (Ben Foster) — whose eyes glow blue when working magic. And, like any good king, Llane has a trusted knight and advisor, Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel). The king soon learns he can also count on the instincts and talents of young spell-caster Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer), and the inside knowledge possessed by a female half-human, half orc, Garona (Paula Patton, painted a paler shade of Shrekian green).

The orcs, huge figures twice the width and height of a man, carry Thor-like hammers and enormous swords. One of them, orc soldier Durotan (Toby Kebbell), notices that sorcerer Gul’dan’s magic drains the life from Azeroth’s nearby indigenous plants, thereby exposing the cause of their homeworld’s death. Durotan’s pregnant mate Draka (Anna Galvin), shares his concerns.

In an attempt to humanize the orcs, the film spends significant time detailing Durotan’s rebellious struggle, but the story rests most contentedly in the company of Lothar and Garona, who have similar temperaments and infuse their characters with a range of emotion from agony to love and hope. Lacking the storytelling prowess of its “Lord of the Rings” inspiration, the film achieves a measure of watchability using more than 2,000 visual effects and by finding both evil and good characters on each side of the equation.

Made for $160 million dollars, “Warcraft” is counting on the global market to turn a profit. The U.S. may ultimately snub the film, but China’s huge appetite reflects millions of Chinese “Warcraft” gamers primed by an advertising blitz from co-producer Legendary Entertainment (one arm of a Chinese real estate and entertainment conglomerate, Wanda Group).

Currently the U.S. film market leads the pack, grossing 11 billion dollars annually, but last year alone, China’s receipts doubled to reach nearly 8 billion dollars. CNN-Money reported “Warcraft” “raked in $45 million at the (Chinese) box office on its opening day, and is on track to generate $300 million (in that nation alone).”

China’s expanding market means more blockbusters can and will be profitable if tailored to please its demographics. It’s a new era, and the next decade will be interesting.

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