In a turn of events that will likely surprise no one, it seems that the Warcraft movie hasn’t exactly set the world alight. Tef didn’t exactly give it a glowing write up, and it seems much of the critical world is in agreement with him and Tuffcub, judging by Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes anyway.
It just seems that no-one’s really been able to get video game movies right yet, which is hardly a huge surprise. Making good movies is difficult enough without the added pressure of satisfying an existing fan base and their high expectations.
That’s not to say that there’s no hope for movies based on games though. It took decades of comic movie adaptations, many of which were truly terrible, before we got to the current surge of movies. Even now they’re often not all great – I’m looking at you Fantastic Four – but Marvel seems to have become adept at creating generally well received films.
One of the reasons that’s often cited by those analysing Marvel’s success is that fact they’ve brought their creation in house. When you compare the titles produced by Marvel Studios to those created by Fox or Sony, it’s clear that Marvel have done a much better job than the other two. The X-Men franchise has certainly improved since First Class, but the aforementioned Fantastic Four reboot shows that Fox can still misfire quite badly.
However, that does nothing to explain how poorly recent DC titles seems to have done. DC and Warner Bros seem to have taken the same approach as Marvel, with DC being able to take the reins of their own films. Despite this, they haven’t really been able to produce a film that’s had the same commercial or critical success as Marvel’s films.
It therefore seems unlikely that simply allowing a publisher to take complete control of a film based on one of their properties is the solution. The actual reason that Marvel have had success is that they hired competent people to create their films, and took the time to build out a vision of their cinematic universe and commit to that version.
That’s the key point to take from comic movies. While making genuinely good films is difficult, it’s certainly not impossible. You have to invest time, money, and the effort to create a cohesive vision of the game’s world that works on the silver screen.
Too many adaptations of games seem, frankly, like lazy attempts to make a quick buck. It actually seems to be the exact same problem that games based on movies have, just flipped the other way round. Both are so often accused of being cheap, rushed cash-ins, and both seem to be content produced with minimal effort at times.
It’s a shame that the Warcraft movie has fallen flat though, as it bucks that trend. Duncan Jones is certainly a more than competent director, and it’s clear that Legendary and Blizzard have put some real time and effort into the film; it’s certainly been in development for long enough.
However, the real problem seems to be that, for the most part, the writing in games isn’t exactly stellar; partly because it doesn’t need to be. While a game’s narrative is, of course, important, it’s interspersed with gameplay as well. The story tends to be broken up throughout the game, which can help when things go off the rails or fail to hit home. You also have far more time for the story to play out, allowing games that actually manage to succeed in the narrative department time to breathe.
This simply isn’t possible to replicate within a film. You don’t have the ability to take a break away from the story and you don’t have ten hours in which to tell that story – it turns out that 40 minutes were cut from the theatrical release, which could help the film’s rushed and confused opening half hour significantly. Compressing a story rarely results in improving it, and there’s a fear of changing it too drastically, for to avoid an inevitable backlash from fans of the source material.
Ultimately it’s possible for videogame films to transcend these issues though, it’s just a case of getting the right cast and crew, along with a studio that actually understands what makes the game work and is willing to give the film the resources it needs. Even then, Warcraft shows that sometimes this still isn’t going to be quite enough. It’s the same as any film that’s adapting source material really, you’ve just got to understand and translate what made the original tick.