Warcraft and PIXARcraft

Finding Nemo and Warcraft honestly could have both hit theaters ten years ago. Why so long the wait? Considering all the chatter a few weeks ago that Angry Birds was the runaway mobile game of 2010 with a movie that didn't arrive until 2016, it nonetheless now seems fast-tracked compared to these two.

Let's put this in perspective: the original Warcraft realtime strategy game came out in 1994 and even the huge MMORPG spinoff, World of Warcraft, was in its peak years about ten to fifteen years after that. Finding Nemo was a hit for PIXAR in 2003. So it really is not a stretch to imagine that these two films would have performed extremely well had they arrived in cinemas on back-to-back weekends not right now, but exactly ten years ago in 2006.

However, since they didn't, and instead they show up with a warm glow of nostalgia, it is interesting to see the critical reaction to both. And, of course, it tells us a lot about how we look at films with regard to the source material. Setting aside the value judgment of how good either film might be, there has seemed to be a lot of attacking Warcraft merely for the ambition of porting this global game franchise to theatrical release.

The New Republic's film review had this to say: "You know those guides they sell at GameSpot to help guide you through the labyrinthine, almost infinite worlds of the games? I needed one of those at my side throughout (the movie)Warcraft." To be certain, this movie races along at a considerable clip, stuffing a trilogy's worth of storyline into two hours, but I'm not sure it deserves to be called "impenetrable".

That is the growing divide in cinema. One feels it more and more in the Marvel universe, among other franchises, where the Western narrative tradition of a protagonist is quickly being outstripped by legions of superheroes dragged into the revolutionary current of a huge conflict. Then add in any number of elements--magic, technology, AI, wormholes, time travel, dimensional rifts, mutants, to name a few--and the uptick and uptake might seem exhausting to some viewers, including that reviewer of the New Republic.

But that is not the only reaction to expect. There is also the possibility and opportunity for a paradigm shift in cinematic tradition. The ability to absorb information faster and to follow more threads, a casual consequence of gaming and digital experience, is forcing its way on movies not unlike an Orc Horde bursting through a portal into the Eastern Kingdoms.

Some of the narrative complexity of a film like Warcraft is built on many existing conventions that first grew popular from literature. Warcraft owes an inordinate debt to J.R.R. Tolkien, and even a device like a portal was employed by Lewis Carroll in Through the Looking-Glass in 1871. It's not so much that these things are new, but rather the depth of layers in contemporary films that creates a generational divide.

However, it is also this expected pacing and light-year tempo of game development that makes the delay in Warcraft vs. Finding Dory seem like 'dog-years' in comparison. The original Nemo has the shimmer of a enduring Hollywood classic, as do many of the early PIXAR films. Therefore, it can feel to public sentiment like we're uncorking a vintage Bordeaux. A sequel that's been waiting since 2003? Ah, now that's a fine wine!

Remember that PIXAR had an enormous role in inventing its own prestige and reputation. To some degree, that reckoning period will remain for games-to-movies. Admittedly, this is a genre with a particularly spotty record in Hollywood, but there's no point in expecting that its influence has only been detrimental or distracting to cinema. The speed limit on our Hollywood 'freeway' just keeps going up and up. And in time, and along the way, it leads to some very interesting results.