World of Warcraft movie set to be a live-action $100 million blockbuster due in 2009

World of Warcraft for PCA few hours ago today at BlizzCon 2007 there was a Q&A event focusing on the upcoming live-action World of Warcraft movie!

World of Warcraft: The Movie will be distributed by Legendary Pictures with a release date in 2009 for the live-action spectacle, with a budget of $100 million dollars. But as is elegantly stated in this quote, “Putting movies together is hard, you don’t just slap things together and put them out there.”, it is quite the task they have ahead of them.

The guys behind the Q&A desk at the event were Jon Jashni (Chief Creative Officer of Legendary Pictures), Thomas Tull (Chairman & Chief Executive Officer of Legendary Pictures), Chris Metzen (Vice President of Creative Development at Blizzard) and Paul Sams (Chief Operating Officer at Blizzard).

Opening up the Q&A Paul Sams discussed how Blizzard has been trying to get Hollywood interested in their film ideas for almost five years. But in a time before the success of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter flims, they were consistently told that fantasy films “simply don’t work”. And once those films did become a huge success, they were told that the bar had not been set too high!

For quite a while they have been working with a guy named Jon Jashni as the eventual producer on the World of Warcraft movie. Finally, in 2005, at that year’s BlizzCon no less, he told them that he had finally settled on Legendary Pictures as the future home of Blizzard movies.

It was a match made in heaven, as Legendary actually drove down to Blizzard’s Irvine studios themselves with their entire management team intact (a four hour drive), when typically it’d be the other way around, with the Blizzard guys trekking up to the distributor’s offices. So right away Blizzard knew that Legendary Pictures were “The One”, so to speak.

If there is anything Blizzard is sure about, it’s avoiding all the aspects that make game movies so unsuccessful and disliked by gamers themselves, as Thomas Tull lamented, “I don’t want to make a video game movie. I want to make a great movie . . . One that is going to be one of our Top Fives. We are not looking to create another video game movie, we’re looking to create a great, big, epic movie that we all will remember. It just happens to be based on – inspired by – a universe which we all know and love, which is WarCraft.”

Blizzard explained that game movies are dangerous cause the fan-base and people who own the game doesn’t automatically mean great ticket sales. And even if every WoW fan bought tickets to see the flick in theaters, that’s still not enough. So not only does a game movie have to satisfy it’s rabid fans, but it also has to appeal to non-fans, people who’ve never heard of the name “Warcraft” before. In short, the movie has to stand on it’s own as a great movie, apart from it’s video game-based roots. It has to be something the entire world can enjoy.

Thankfully, Legendary is no stranger to satisfying both the original properties fan-bases and the movie world at large, as Legendary worked on both 300 and Batman Begins (who’s sequel is coming out in summer of 2008 btw!) But favoritism is upon the WoW film, and Legendary is putting all their resources into making it great, and that means no cheese!

Impact-wise, they want the movie to contain the “oomph” of films like 300 and Braveheart, it has to have real “heft” to it.

As should be obvious, The Lord of the Rings is their main inspiration, and they are looking for that same epic feel. Legendary themselves were drawn to the film specifically because of it’s mythology . . . The characters, races, depth in the mytho’s history and the involved backstory, it perfectly fits an epic LotR-style film. And of course, it’s got all the necessary “kick-ass battles” as well!

Chris Metzen discussed how the movie might play out. He pointed out that while it may seem cool to base a movie directly on, say Warcraft 1, in the end it makes more sense to do something new and not tread old ground. “If you’re doing Harry Potter – if it’s a series of books, something that’s serial – you pretty much take the first chapter and make movies based on how it plays out, in terms of the product it was based on. Wouldn’t it be cool to just focus on WarCraft I? Evil orcs, humans, Medivh and Khadgar as the sort of soul of the story, but ultimately the WarCraft I story is only that, and we’ve seen that story before.”

You have to remember that most people in the world know Warcraft not from it’s RTS days but from it’s MMORPG days. So the plotline to the movie must be relevant to WoW players. This means that they probably should not delve too far into the backstory of Warcraft.

So they decided on making the World of Warcraft movie set a year before the WoW game story begins. That way the movie will feel very recent, compared to the thousand-year history of the Warcraft universe, yet it will feel familiar to those who never played Warcraft before it hit the MMO scene.

The story itself in the film is being approached in a similar way to Batman Begins or X-Men, with a sequence of events sort of re-imaging the game’s plot points, with them all weaving together into a strong 2 or 2 and a half hour movie. Thematically the story will deal with questions of conflict between the cultures with question regarding the continuous war and why it never ends.

Thrall is likely to make an appearance, as is Daelin Proudmoore. Characters that have been created specifically for WoW and may not have had as much attention in the past may show up as well – Bolvar Fordragon’s name was mentioned, and they’re trying to weave Cairne Bloodhoof into the story. The problem, of course, is trying to make sure everyone fits, and not just including characters for the sake of including them.

And an all-new hero has also been constructed for the film. “He’s pretty badass, he’s going to womp a lot of heads together over the course of this thing . . .”

Blizzard ended by saying they are definitely looking to please the rabid fan base with this film. “This movie’s very, very important to us. There’s a reason there are over 9 million of you now who are so passionate about this game, and we want to be true to that. So believe me, we pay attention, and my hope is that the next time you guys all get together in the not-too-distant future, that there’s a movie that’s come together, there’s a trailer, and we can put something together that you guys enjoy, and that’s worthy of the WarCraft name.”

Read ahead for more highlights from the World of Warcraft movie Q&A:

Question – “A lot of the heroes from WoW and previous WarCraft titles will be included – what about classes from WoW?”
Answer – “While they’re still in the scripting process, yes – the classes will be involved, but they’re not sure how yet. They’re trying to add as many familiar elements as possible, to create a ‘Hey, I know that!’ feeling.”

Question – “Is it live-action or animated?”
Answer – “Live action!” (crowd goes wild)

Question – “Any ideas on directors? We want a good one.”
Answer – “Currently looking for someone who “gets it” – just like they found Zack Snyder for 300 and Christopher Nolan for Batman Begins. Ideally they’d find someone who can be mentioned in the same sentence as those great names.” (crowd: “Uwe Boll!”)

Question – “What about actors?”
Answer – “No shortage of people inquiring, but casting generally comes after they find a director, so it’s still a little while off.”

Question – “Discussions of the WoW Comic Book have mentioned the introduction of “a new badass character” – sort of the Thrall of the Alliance. The film is now mentioning “a new badass character” – is it the same guy?”
Answer – “. . . They could be twins!” *pause* “But no, it’s not the same guy.”

Question – “I’ve played both Horde and Alliance, and as Horde you feel that you are good also (despite being the ‘baddies’). Will the film continue the idea that Horde is ‘evil’ and Alliance is ‘good’?”
Answer – “Good question… that idea is sort of central to everything WarCraft is about, so it will definitely be explored in the film.”

Question – “This is going to be an epic movie… will it be the sort of thing I can take my kids to, or will it be full of blood and gore and violence and slapped with an R rating?” (crowd: “Aarrrrrrrr!!”)
Answer – “It’s difficult to predict what the ratings board people will do. Legendary don’t want to compromise on the story, but they still want people to be able to see the thing. Lord of the Rings was PG-rated, and that had “the right amount of intensity” – but other PG-rated films have been lacking. Basically it’s too early to tell, but they’re not intending to release the “G-rated” watered down version. ‘It’s WarCraft – it’s not PillowfightCraft!’ ”

Question – “Will the story be a group of people traveling through the lands, or will it be an epic battle of various races to find the one dominant one, or…”
Answer – “Basically – it’s not a great adventure or a quest like LotR. It’s more of… a war movie, so it’s more about huge powers and things building up to one point before it spills over in conflict.”

Question – “What races will be represented? Specifically – the Undead?”
Answer – “Not as simple an answer as you’d think. Given the time-line of the movie, it’s unsure if it’s set before or after the Foresaken have joined the Horde, so it’s all a bit up in the air. There’s the option of having many characters and races having cameos or background parts while keeping the principal cast relatively small – ‘in the first one, anyway’.”
(crowd cheers)

Question – “Will the movie likely be themed more toward Alliance or Horde?”
Answer – “It will principally be told from the Alliance perspective…”
(crowd cheers and boos simultaneously)
“. . . So while my heart lies with the Horde . . .”
(crowd boos and cheers simultaneously)
“. . . It would be pretty difficult to create an unbiased story – or focus it on Thrall, who is a crazy green dude . . .”
(crowd: “What about Shrek?”)
“At this stage, we’re throwing around names like 300, Braveheart and Gladiator, as examples of the sort of feeling and emotion that we are after, creating characters that are deeper and more complex, and not just a gimmick . . .”

Question – “There is a lot of WarCraft history – you’ve said this is set just before WoW – in future, would you consider revisiting further back in history? Maybe to the time of Arthas Menethil?”
Answer – “Definitely interested, there’s some great storylines in the history. Right now though, they’re concentrating on the first movie – ‘Gotta get the first one right’ – before thinking about future directions the films might take.”

Question – “Even though they’ve been rivals in the past – will Alliance + Horde join allegiances to fight against a common enemy in these films, or will it just be conflict between the two?”
Answer – “At this stage, the Horde / Alliance conflict is the heart of the WarCraft series, so the film will definitely focus on that.”

Question – “Video game movies have a pretty bad track record – I believe that’s at least partially to do with departing from the classic storylines and characters. You seem to be departing from the main storyline to take care of a sort of interim period… so I’m worried that because you’re leaving tried-and-true characters and moving away from the storyline, that the movie may suffer.”
Answer – “If you try to build a movie franchise based on each of the game products, it gets a little clumsy. There’s a 20 year gap between WarCraft II and III (is that a little StarWars-ish? We didn’t plan that.) …it’s not based on any one specific game, it’s got two or three recent components of recent games, drawn together. It’s a little bit apart from the continuity, but not radically. They’re working very hard to be as respectful as possible, trying to make it fit in with the games and not screw up the storyline. Basically – it’s trying to present the perfect story, the best little sound-bite from WarCraft for people who don’t know about the history.”

“Essentially using characters, history, elements of the world – extrapolating it and putting it in a movie. If you’re too rigid, too stuck to “what was in the game”, then it won’t necessarily translate to film – something that’s cool for 5 minutes may not carry over to 2 hours.”

Question – “Are you planning on keeping some of the tongue-in-cheek humor from the games?”
Answer – “Yes. Humor is critical to what WarCraft is – even in WoW, with the world as big as it is, there’s a lot of over-the-top zany stuff, situational humor, bad jokes – wacky humor. It’s something that people have come to expect from the games, so while we’re still trying to figure out how it’ll all fit, we’re definitely going to make sure that the ‘WarCraft Humor’ comes through.”

Question – “Will you focus on some of the same elements that Lord of the Rings did – makeup and costumes and practical effects – lots of real people fighting lots of real other people – or will you instead go with Blizzard’s CG that you already have on hand – or will you just go for a blend of the two… or is that the director’s call?”
Answer – “Having the film grounded and feeling real – not like a dream sequence, say – is important. Every day the technology keeps getting better and better which will make the film look less cheesy than they did 10 years ago – but ultimately the director has a lot of say in the matter. 300 opened a lot of doors, and may have created some interesting ways of creating the WarCraft cinematics, with its super-vibrant colors and imagery that could never happen in real life. Digital world-building offers some very cool possibilities – now it’s a case of waiting for a director with a vision to pull it all together.”

Qusetion – “Behind the $100mil budget restrictions – are you considering approaching big name actors, or instead looking for fresh faces?”
Answer – “There are certain movies that ‘need’ a big actor for the film to work – WarCraft doesn’t need that.”
* Tangent “. . . while working on Superman Returns, Brandon Routh who played young Superman was on a plane going somewhere with with Legendary and overheard part of a phone conversation with Blizzard about the upcoming movie. Brandon grabbed my arm – this is the guy who’s about to be Superman – and he was like ‘Wait a minute, do you know the WarCraft guys? Could you get me a tour of the WarCraft thing?’ . . . which we did. I don’t think there’ll be any shortage of actors wanting to be involved with this.”

Question – “Are there any plans to include input from Blizzard’s art department into the workings of the film?”
Answer – “At this time, everyone’s busily working on the games stuff – but that’s setting the precedent for the movie, it’s a massive inspiration. We’ll know more as time progresses.”

Question – “Are you interested in including Arthas in the storyline? References to the fall of Lordaeron or Silvermoon?”
Answer – “This film probably doesn’t focus on his storyline, but references to the fall of Lordaeron and other recent history that has only just taken place will probably be prevalent.”

Question – “…for the role of Thrall, are you planning on casting Borat?”
Answer – “Um… he wasn’t our first thought . . . maybe that guy he fought . . .” – Quotes via Internode Games Network