Much war, little craft

Warcraft-Movie-Banner-01

It is important to start this review of the movie Warcraft by stating: 1) I do not play video games; and 2) I like fully self-contained movies.

I went into seeing Warcraft with incredibly low expectations (perhaps unfair) and walked out having those expectations largely met and perhaps slightly exceeded.

Based on the video game series of the same name, Warcraft tells the story of Orcs determined to take over a new world because their own has died, possibly due to a malevolent force harnessed by their leader. The residents of the new world—populations of elves, mages, dwarves and humans—however, aren’t willing to lose their world…or at least the humans aren’t, and so fight back with the help of The Guardian, a wizard of immense power who lives in a tower and who is dealing with his own problems.

And while most of the movie is the playing out of this conflict, there is also an underlying mystery of what this malevolent force is, which leads to an Orc chieftain questioning the morality of the proposed genocides, and a couple of father-son/mentor-student relationships to suss out.

You may notice that in this description, I have offered no character names but rather simply archetypes. That’s because none of the characters is particularly memorable, nor is much of the movie. Perhaps if I had a greater familiarity with the game, much of this film would fall into place for me, but without that, the movie is mostly just a series of tropes with dialogue so wooden, the average porn filmmaker would be aghast.

Perhaps this is racist (specie-ist?), but I struggled to tell one Orc character from another, in part, because none of them had any personality much beyond “Hulk smash”. Thus, when an Orc would rampage into a scene, I had no emotional cues and so simply sat as a witness to events rather than being a participant. And even where I could recognize specific Orcs—the aforementioned chieftain and leader—the characters tended to be so two-dimensional (despite shelling out $20 for IMAX 3-D) that again, I was left cold.

Manly men

Three men and a movie reviewer (also a men)

The human characters weren’t a lot better. All the men look like my friend Danny, with whom I saw the movie, and women were almost non-existent. I do, however, have to give the filmmakers credit on two fronts here. First, although most of the humans were Caucasian, there were several of other ethnicities. And none of the female characters (I repeat NONE) were damsels by any measure. Each of the women, whether Orc, human or somewhere in between, were women of conviction and empowerment.

As to the plot, my biggest beef was that the writers seemed to simply drop in a device whenever they needed it to move the story forward, without any contextualization. I’d like to give you some concrete examples, but any of the major ones would, ironically, be spoilers. Suffice it to say, you are advised to check your credulity when you pick up your 3-D glasses.

Everything that occurs in this story was much better covered in Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Harry Potter and Stargate…and The Ten Commandments.

But, in a strange way, that may end up being Warcraft’s saving grace as it frees the audience from having to participate in the story. Instead, you can just sit back and let the movie dance on your retinas, which is about as deep as it will go.

And this is possibly the one way in which Warcraft actually exceeded my expectations: it was visually captivating. The animation was incredibly good, with the Orc characters seemingly as real as the human actors. The fur of the giant wolves looked soft and the body movements of the griffins entirely plausible. Stylistically, I would put this movie in the realm of Avatar rather than Lord of the Rings.

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But back to the second point I raised at the start: self-contained movies.

Everything about Warcraft seemed to be designed to set up the myriad sequels that will be made, a trend in Hollywood blockbusters (and block-blowouts) that pisses me off. If nothing else, it shows complete disdain for the audience as it says “We really don’t care if you like the movie.”

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have an issue with sequels and spin-offs in general. But when I go to a movie, I want to see an entire story play out, rather than have to wait for the next installment or rely on having seen the previous installment to understand the story (looking at you, Avengers).

This is one of the reasons why I am possibly the only person on the planet (this one, at least) who found The Empire Strikes Back to be lacking. It was a placeholder or bridge to The Return of the Jedi, nothing more.

Will I be back for Warcraftier: Where’s Your Messiah Now?

Not unless someone else is paying me to watch it…and for some reason, my online mahjongg isn’t working…and it’s raining or something.

 

See also:

Movie review: Warcraft by Danny F. Santos

Creative trash talkin’

Canadians by and large are not particularly well known for their trash talking, even in sports. We’re more a smile to your face and mutter under our breath kinda people.

But I am no ordinary Canadian, and when it comes to my beloved Toronto Marlies, I won’t just defend my team, I’m happy to pick the fight. And it particularly nice when I can take a shot at my fellow Canadians.

John

Sometimes they kinda write themselves

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With Star Wars night coming up, how could I resist drawing parallels between Hoth and Winterpeg?

The Throw – Austin Film Festival (part two)

Terry Rossio, Pirates franchise

In Part One of this post, we talked about Terry Rossio‘s comments at the Austin Film Festival regarding the different kinds of cuts in films: storyline cuts and storyteller cuts. But how do you establish these cuts?

With the throw, which Rossio divides into two categories (a fixation, it seems): the strong throw and the soft throw.

[Added note: Rossio provided a film clip to demonstrate each of these throws but I was only able to record so many in my notebook…hopefully, you’ll be able to figure them out for yourself.]

Strong throws can be very obvious and are used for a variety of reasons. He offered the example of the movie Slumdog Millionaire, where a strong throw is used to set up a flashback. Alternatively, a throw can be used to convey story information so that the audience can discern the link between two scenes. Rossio quotes someone from Pixar who once suggested: “Give the audience 2+2 and they will love you forever.” Throws can also be used to move us through a montage, where each snippet is linked in some way.

Rossio described the discovery throw, where one scene is the answer to the question raised in the previous scene. As an example, he offered the scene in Aladdin where Jafar and Iago complain they will need a new victim to attain the lamp, “a diamond in the rough”, at which point, we move to Aladdin running across a roof with guards yelling “Stop thief!”

And he described the comic throw—also known as the Gilligan cut—where a character repeatedly comments on something (e.g., refusing to wear a dress), only to see the character immediately in that situation (e.g., Gilligan in a dress).

And finally, Rossio suggested strong throws can be used to set up reversals in a story, where we see characters moving a story in one direction, only to see the exact opposite in the next scene.

Soft throws, Rossio suggests, are much more common in film and are by nature more varied and artistic, providing a greater range of effects.

Such throws can provide a promise of things to come for an audience, such as in Raiders of the Lost Ark when Indy remind his partner what a cautious fellow he is, only to then grab a gun from his desk and head into the fray. Alternatively, such throws can also imply that the next events will be really boring in this scene and that something is more interesting elsewhere. The example he gave was from The Empire Strikes Back, when Luke is leaving Hoth for Dagoba, a long boring journey, and so he tells R2D2 “I’d like to leave it on manual control for a while.” A signal that we’ll kill time here, so let’s go watch Han and Leia run the blockade.

Such throws can also be used to cut off a scene before key information is revealed, creating a sense of mystery and a promise of an answer to come. Rossio warns, however, that this type of throw can feel very manipulative to an audience. The example he gives is again from The Empire Strikes Back, when Luke is in a hurry to leave Dagoba to rescue Han and Leia but Yoda and Obi-Wan’s apparition try to hold him back. As Luke leaves, Obi-wan says “That boy is our last hope.” only to have Yoda correct him, “No, there is another.” Is that Leia in Cloud City?

Rossio describes these throws as connective tissue in a film or screenplay, unifying disparate elements and speaking to the audience in a subliminal, symbolic or subtextual manner.

There is the intentional misdirect throw, to keep the audience from figuring out what’s going on too quickly, and the throw to set up a passage of time, often so characters can have sex, Rossio quips. The train entering the tunnel.

Soft throws can also help set up a change in the state or tone of the movie or to introduce a new character. Rossio gives the example of the movie Key Largo, when the suspicious guests of a Florida fishing resort reveal themselves to be mobsters who take the other guests hostage. A second later, we meet the mysterious boss (Edward G. Robinson) upstairs. The mood of the story has changed, for the worse for Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.

These cuts can also be used as an internal cut within a single scene to cue the passage of time in a scene that would take too long to play out and would bore the audience. The cigarette that is lit and rested in a clean ashtray, only to be followed seconds later by another cigarette being placed in a full ashtray—ah, the 70s.

As Rossio explains, whether strong or soft, the throw allows the audience to fill in the gaps within a movie. He offered a quote that suggested “Filmmaking is giving the audience the experience of completing the image.” And he added the idea that no scene should be complete except for the last one. There should always be something that prompts the audience to move willingly from this spot to the next one.

He then offered a self-deprecating moment by presenting a quote that suggested a very popular use of throws is to give a movie a sense of consistency or connectivity when in fact the story makes little or no logical sense at all. The quote was referencing a movie that Rossio wrote and acknowledge had a plot that was all over the place.

In the Q&A session afterward, someone asked Rossio if throws were something for which you should aim in the first draft of a screenplay and his answer was basically no, that it was something you added in later drafts. His thinking was that in a first draft, you don’t really know if your scenes are in the right places and if things will need to move around for the sake of the best story.

You only look to incorporate a throw once the story is pretty much set, he says, adding that not every scene abutment requires a throw and you should never simply add one for the sake of adding one, if it will look arbitrary or out of place. The throw, he says, should smooth the transition between scenes, not highlight them by standing out.

 

(Image is property of owner and is used here without permission for a sense of continuity.)