Our Warcraft trailer analysis

The first official trailer for the Warcraft movie screened Friday at Blizzcon, bringing two minutes' worth of footage as opposed to the smattering of broken images we saw earlier in the week. And yet, having had a few hours to think it over, I find that my impressions from my initial analysis remain the same. Much of the trailer shows that pairing CGI characters with real ones remains an iffy prospect, but after repeated viewings, I find that my inner Warcraft nerd is still thumping my inner cynic into silence.

I can't help but admire how thoroughly director Duncan Jones seems to embrace the Warcraft universe. This is a man who appears to know how many millions of people of different backgrounds have interacted with the Warcraft universe in some way over the last two decades, and it seemingly emboldens him to put any cares on the backburner. The trailer indicates that he doesn't care how many of you haven't played the strategy games, the MMORPG, the collectible card game, or Hearthstone — there are plenty of us who have.

The Westfall harvest golem spotted in the original trailer hinted at that devotion to the players, but the full-length trailer shows it extending right down to the design of the robes of Dalaran mages and what looks to be the narrow path leading into the Burning Steppes. The shot of Dalaran flying in the sky as it did at the height of World of Warcraft's subscriber numbers in the Wrath of the Lich King expansion shows a further desire to appeal to those millions. The trailer even throws in Paula Patton as the half-orc Garona without even caring to gives hints as to why she looks so much more human—indeed, not CGI at all—than the other orc woman in the trailer. We're expected to know who this is, and many of us do.


All this is to say that this is Warcraft, right down to massive shoulderpads with skulls perched on Hulk-sized orcs and a jaggedy cathedral that clings so close to the original aesthetic that it looks like it could have been pulled from a Warcraft III map. Blizzard itself has created numerous, fantastic CGI trailers over the year that usually grasp at some degree of "realism," but Jones' movie isn't afraid to embrace the franchise's thousands of little absurdities and contradictions. Without them, it wouldn't exactly have been Warcraft or, more importantly, what we consider Warcraft now. Close, perhaps, but no lok'tar.

Legendary Pictures and Blizzard probably did themselves a disservice by releasing the Warcraft trailer on the same day we saw the widely acclaimed Blizzard-made trailer for World of Warcraft: Legion. Focusing almost entirely on the human king Varian Wrynn, it invites comparisons to the look of the real-life humans in the Warcraft trailer. The latter, in many eyes, comes up short by comparison. There's a strong current of opinion out there claiming the feature film would have thus been better if it had been entirely CGI instead of split with real humans, but I don't agree. It's an admirable goal, but considering the cost involved and the usual troubles with making humans look good in CGI, we probably would have ended up with something like Beowulf at best.

The worst offences of the Warcraft trailer show up in the moments when we see humans and orcs onscreen together, and for the moment I'm hoping that much of what we see in the trailer represents an advanced rough draft. The trailer itself shows that Legendary can avoid sloppy work when it tries. I mean, look at this shot of Orgrim Doomhammer.


He's beautiful. He looks real. I feel as though I could flick a dime off those biceps.

I also see another hint of that tendency in a close-up of Durotan. It's certainly not Smaug in The Hobbit, but it's better than some of the orcs Jackson himself cooked up in the trilogy.


It's the other stuff that's jarring, such as Shrek-y looking baby Thrall, or the way that Durotan looks like he's some sort of Force projection in the shot with the canyon meeting. Yes, that looks properly crappy, as do some of the Stormwind crowd shots I pointed out in my first analysis.

They've got almost a year for this, though, and the relatively still shots of some of the orcs give me hope that they can fix it.


As for the humans? The film needs 'em, even if I can't help thinking that I just saw Ragnar Lothbrok say something pithy to Æthelstan when I see actor Travis Fimmel smile. That's what draws in the folks who aren't as invested in the Warcraft universe, and I believe Beowulf proved that voice acting from famous actors isn't enough to pull in crowds alone.

I'm more worried that the story will be kind of hokey in action, even if the Warcraft tales are all good by video game standards. I must confess that seeing little Thrall being placed in a floating basket in the river made me cringe a bit. It's too heavy-handed of a reference to Moses, and it looks almost like an orcish production of 1956's The Ten Commandments.

I worry that this will carry over into other things, especially since the story seemed geared toward drawing us toward parallels with the orcs' plight and illegal immigration in the United States and the refugee crisis in Europe.

But of course I'm going to see it anyway, just like I'm going to play the next World of Warcraft expansion. This is Warcraft, and I don't think anyone should go in expecting The Pianist. Big, dumb action and a silly plot mixed with some CGI worked well enough for The Avengers, and I see no reason why what we've seen in Legendary's trailer won't deliver at least half of that.

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