In recent weeks a number of rumours had been swirling around the internet. I should clarify, seeing as the internet is made up of at east 30% rumours) that these rumours are to do with the release date of Star Wars Episode VII. Many have questions if it would be ready for the previously touted Summer 2015 release date. This has been fuelled by announcements of JJ Abrams and Lawrence “The reason Empire Strikes Back was so good” Kasdan rewriting the script and the fact that they’re still running highly publicised casting calls. Earlier this week the announcement came that That Star Wars Episode VII would be released on December 18th 2015. Which, the eagle eyed amongst you may have noticed isn’t summer. The more nerdy of you may have also noticed, this is the day Duncan Jones’ Warcraft film comes out. Uh oh!
“Why uh oh?”, you may ask. That’s a good question if you’re one of those normal people who don’t care too much about either of these worlds of wonder created many moons ago. If you are a nerd, like me, though, well… that’s a really stupid question. You should know what this means. This means that the Warcraft film is likely to get trampled under the weight of the juggernaut that is Star Wars Episode VII. Or is it?
You see, Star Wars isn’t in the shape it was prior to the release of The Phantom Menace. Some younger folk out there may have a hard time believing this, but there was a time when people spoke highly of George Lucas and his treatment of the Star Wars universe he had created… well, created with the help of a bunch of clever chaps that never get the credit they deserve. Since the prequel trilogy came along and crapped all over our dreams Star Wars has gone through somewhat of a lull. There was a Star Wars animated film released in 2008 that only grossed $68 million worldwide. Sure, it’s not a major film but keep in mind that this is Star Wars and animated films are big business with kids. The Star Wars Old Republic MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) was promoted to high heaven, and within a year it was being turned into a free to play game as subscribers deserted it. Many left as soon as their 1 month free trial was up. This was a game people were clamouring for and they deserted it.
Having the Star Wars logo on your product does not guarantee success these days. That said, the hype for Episode VII is going to be huge. Hopefully it’ll reach the heights of hypertude that was going around before The Phantom Menace was released. I was working at a Toys R Us store back then, don’t judge me, and was put in charge of running and maintaining the Star Wars aisle. Which was actually 2 aisles of nothing but Star Wars merch. Someone came in on the midnight launch, a few days before the film’s release, and paid close to £1000 for a replica of Princess Amidala’s ridiculous dress. Could you imagine that happening in a post Phantom Menace world?
Whilst Star Wars went through some what of a decline in popularity with adults, it’s managed to maintain its core child audience, another fantasy series was building its audience. That being Blizzard’s World of Warcraft. There had been a couple of Warcraft games prior to the 1999 release of The Phantom Menace and it had managed to build a solid cult fan base. This wasn’t a series that burst into superstardom from it’s beginning like Star Wars had in 1977. In 2004 Blizzard released World of Warcraft, a MMORPG that managed to pull in so many players that soon every games publisher was scrambling to get their own online RPG out there. Star Wars the Old Republic borrows extremely heavily from the World of Warcraft template which, to be fair, Blizzard had borrowed from Everquest. The fact remains, though, that World of Warcraft was a bit of a pop culture explosion during the first few years of its life. Not on the scale of Star Wars when it was first released, but then again nothing is. But I think an argument could be made that Warcraft’s popularity in recent years has been exceptionally strong.
That all said, Warcraft still is not as culturally relevant as Star Wars and that means that the film adaptation will have an uphill struggle come December 18th. What we’re going to see is two juggernaut franchises on film the same day directed by people that have a passion for the history and background of the license they’re handling. JJ Abrams has demonstrated time and time again that he is obsessed with the Spielberg style of science fiction and his recent Star Trek films felt a hell of a lot like high octane Star Wars films. Meanwhile you only have to follow Duncan Jones on Twitter to see he’s a total videogame nerd, especially for Blizzard’s games. Hell, I even exchanged emails with him once as he was having trouble getting Diablo 3 to install on launch day. As everyone was.
What Warcraft has going for it is that, for the series, this will be the first time it has been on a cinema screen. No fantasy looks like Warcraft fantasy… well, provided you casually ignore Warhammer like I just did. But Warhammer has never been on a cinema screen either. There’s a colour and vibrancy to the world of Warcraft (pun intended) that’s never really been done in fantasy films before, except for Legend somewhat. Looking at the concept art and the fact that Duncan Jones revealed that some of the swords they’re making are as big as a human could possibly hold I have quite high hopes that the look of World of Warcraft will be translated to this film quite accurately.
Of the two directors Abrams is the more well established, but Jones has proven in his two features that he can tell a story with a skill that may eventually put him on an upper level. Abrams has not done that yet. I’ll take Jones’ Moon over anything Abrams has directed so far. That said, Abrams is just the man for Star Wars. He revels in the romanticism and adventure required of a Star Wars film, plus I highly doubt there will be any extended scenes of trade route discussion. At this weekend’s Blizzcon panel Jones said that the script he had when he joined the project, likely the one Sam Raimi was due to shoot with, was very human centric and painted the Alliance as the clear heroes. The fact Jones has dumped this story in favour of one that features hero characters from both the Alliance and the Horde shows that he understands that Warcraft is about more then traditional good versus evil. It’s about heroes from all sides fighting for what they wish to defend with their motives being what either creates conflict or brings them together. The Horde aren’t evil as such, but they’re painted that way due to the actions of it’s leaders and the fragile alliances that were forged due to the dangers the races had faced over the years.
All in all this is going to be a real interesting clash. Both films will appeal to similar markets. Star Wars is Sci-fi fantasy and, as such, is very much within the fandom of the nerd. Warcraft is fantasy that does involve a few sci-fi elements and is entrenched in the minds of (currently) 7.7million subscribers and lord knows how many lapsed players. It will also be appearing around a year after the final film in The Hobbit trilogy which will leave it in a position to pick up a large number of fantasy fans looking for something new. Will Warcraft make more money than Star Wars? Lord no. Likely be default Star Wars will be heading towards one of the largest BO takings of all time, something that was likely a strong factor in moving its release date to December 18th. Will Warcraft be crushed under the weight of the Jedi though? I really hope not. It has the setting, style and certainly the director to ensure that this film could end up being a spectacle worth seeing. Maybe even twice.
Star Wars has so many advantages going into this, especially as sci-fi is a stronger genre with casual movie goers. But this isn’t 1999 when everyone was gearing up to see the birth of Darth Vader. This is a post 2005 world where Darth Vader just yelled “NOOOOOOOO!” in an overly awkward fashion and people left the cinema for a third time questioning why they loved the original trilogy. Warcraft hasn’t had an embarrassing moment such as that yet, despite introducing Pandas as a playable race. Also, up yours, I like my Panda. We don’t know what state World of Warcraft will be in come Christmas 2015 but with a new expansion, new character models and 2 games featuring characters from that world (of Warcraft) on the way it may be in a position to take a sizeable chunk of business away from the house of mouse owned Star Wars. Hopefully Warcraft will be a tank rather than tank… do you see what I did there? I was showing hope that it would hold it’s ground like a character playing a tank role in the game would.