By Brian Truitt | Gannett News Service
When orcs meet humans for the first time, axes and swords are gonna fly.
Director Duncan Jones brings the fantasy realm of Azeroth to the big screen with “Warcraft,” in theaters June 10. It’s based on the hit video-game franchise “World of Warcraft.”
More than 10 million subscribers around the globe play the online role-playing game, but Jones has the responsibility of introducing the human leader Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel), the great orc warrior Durotan (Toby Kebbell) and a large cast of elves, wizards, knights and other characters to nongamers.
Jones figures that Peter Jackson and his crew felt that same pressure when kicking off their “Lord of the Rings” trilogy with 2001’s “The Fellowship of the Ring,” and the “Warcraft” director feels Azeroth is just as vast as Middle-earth.
“They weren’t sure back then that there was a huge audience for films made on Tolkien books,” Jones says. “They obviously proved that there was, but they had a similar job of having to slowly bring an audience into a universe where they may not have all read the books before.”
He’s also well aware of what he calls “a strained history” of adapting games as movies and their iffy track record. What’s different now, though, is “a generation of filmmakers who grew up playing games as opposed to being handed them and told to make a film,” Jones adds. “That does make a big difference.”
The beauty of the game series for him is that so much story has been developed over the past 20-plus years, but for “Warcraft,” Jones used the first real-time strategy game from 1994, “Warcraft: Orcs & Humans,” as inspiration.
That made the most sense for him as a filmmaker since the plot line — with the Horde of invading orcs arriving to the world of humans via a portal from Draenor — appealed to the fans and the uninitiated. “We want to bring them into it as organically and naturally as possible so they, too, can understand what the stakes are and what these cultures are about and what separates them,” Jones says.
When he became involved with “Warcraft” three years ago, the director pitched it as a war movie where there’s not one side with heroes and one with villains — instead it’s about two groups faced with a confrontation that neither can avoid.
“There are still good guys and bad guys, but they are divided,” Jones explains. “No culture is uniquely good or bad, but there is certainly good and bad on any particular side. The complexities of who’s good and who’s evil are part of the fun of watching a movie like this.”
With a huge amount of characters — the cast also includes Ben Foster, Paula Patton, Dominic Cooper and Clancy Brown — Jones says there’s a tricky responsibility in making sure they stick to the expectations of the fanbase and make sure that everything works together.
This is an origin story for many of them, Jones adds, and one of his favorite supporting players is Orgrim Doomhammer, an orc played by Rob Kazinsky. “Warcraft” shows the early, not-so-polished version of him “back when he and Durotan were the Butch and Sundance of the orc world.”
Jones promises plenty of fantasy action in “Warcraft,” yet like with his two previous efforts, 2009’s “Moon” and 2011’s “Source Code,” he’s also interested in the character side of things justifying and balancing all those axes and swords.
“I wanted to make sure that the fraternity amongst the characters who are close as brothers and there for each other — that sense of loyalty and what binds some characters and drives others apart — was really clear and also made sense and felt right from a human level,” Jones says. “Whether they’re orcs or humans, you can understand the motivations for why people do the things they do.”