There are two types of people in the world: the alliance of gamers who have played World of Warcraft, and the horde of folks who don't know the Pit of Gorgrond from a hole in the ground.
The new "Warcraft" movie, based on the long-running series of fantasy games and the global phenomenon MMORPG, could delight or disappoint both audiences in different ways. So to find out how well the film serves players and non-players, we dispatched devoted WoWer Luke "For the Horde!" Westaway and Warcraft virgin Rich "Why are everyone's shoulders so big?!" Trenholm on a quest...to the movies.
Luke (former Warcraft player): Rational criticism died the moment I heard an orc scream, "Lok'tar ogar!" which, for the record, was about 60 seconds in. The fact is, if you're at all familiar with Blizzard's Warcraft world, you'll spend the duration of the film squeaking excitedly at every new thing -- Stormwind! Ironforge! Gryphons! I'm sure I recognise that tiny village that's being pillaged!
Rich (never played Warcraft): Throughout the film, I felt like I was missing out on something -- but not because of unfamiliarity with the game. Instead, it was because the film didn't fill in tantalising backstory. Take the disgraced young mage, Khadgar: I didn't need to know the detailed lore of the wizard hierarchy, but I wanted to know his backstory -- did he quit? Was he kicked out? How does he do magic?
Luke: Look -- a murloc!
Rich: I loved the orcs! The Horde may be hulking monster-men marauding across the countryside swinging axes the size of Volkswagens, but they each have distinct personas. The filmmakers clearly realised that audiences would only invest in these computer-generated behemoths if their bulging green flesh was also fleshed out with personalities and problems, and so their story is filled with conflict, different ideologies and diverging loyalties.
Sadly, the same care and attention wasn't put into the dynamics between the human characters. The royal family of "Warcraft" don't have any compelling intrigue or conflict between them, making the human actors oddly feel less real than the CGI orcs.
Luke: It's easy to imagine a Warcraft movie made 20 years ago about a teenaged boy getting sucked inside a video game where he must help the king wipe out a nefarious orc army, which would have wimped out on portraying both sides so even-handedly. I really feel director Duncan Jones (a longtime Warcrafter) deserves credit for jumping in with both feet here.
Luke: It's the shades of grey that exist on both sides that makes Blizzard's lore arguably unique among on-screen fictional worlds like Marvel's Cinematic Universe, the Star Wars galaxy or the deluge of young adult franchises. World of Warcraft players know that there's good and evil both within the human-led Alliance and the monstrous Horde.
It's that never-ending conflict between two morally balanced factions that makes the universe so compelling, and sets it slightly apart from Tolkien's Middle-earth -- the wellspring from which all fantasy draws.
Rich: For better or worse, the "Lord of the Rings" movies are the vision of sword 'n' sorcery fantasy most familiar to mainstream audiences, so the movie would have to work quite hard to distinguish itself.
Luke: The "Warcraft" film has been lambasted for biting off more than it can chew -- cramming in more characters, locations and storylines than it can deal with in two short hours. That's a fair criticism, but if you're a fan of the games, you'll find yourself wishing there was even more to see. No trolls? No tauren? When you've seen Elwynn Forest looking so luscious, you want Thunder Bluff, Nagrand, and a scene in which the human heroes haggle with piratical goblins in Booty Bay.
Rich: I have to say, I'd have been fully on board with pirate goblins. In the film we only get a glimpse of some bearded dwarves and elegant elves, so we don't learn what makes them different from other generic fantasy creatures -- which is a shame, because there's obviously such a deep spring of lore to draw on.
Luke: Even if you have played the video games, there's no guarantee you'll automatically understand everything that's going on here. This is deep, origin-grade Warcraft lore, the kind of exposition handed out by questgivers in World of Warcraft that you skip through to get your shiny new spaulders.
The difference between players and non-players is that the former camp will probably rush home and read everything about the characters on WoWWiki, while non-players will likely remain happily in the dark.
Rich: I might have to look up why they had guns.
Luke: "Warcraft" isn't perfect, but by the time it was over I was ready for a sequel, if only to see more of that fictional universe on the big screen.