Warcraft, one of the world's most popular videogames, has broken the shackles of the puny computer monitor and is rampaging wildly across cinema screens. The $160 million question is: should it be?
That whopping figure is the amount Hollywood splurged bringing Warcraft's hulking orcs and noble humans to life. The movie's as big budget as it gets. It's loud, flashy and bombastic. The story is ... well, the story is Warcraft.
In other words, the story is a videogame.
I doubt even the most ardent fan of this game series would argue that its story has ever been anything other than serviceable. To be blunt the world of Warcraft has always been a derivative and shameless rip-off. The game trades in garden-variety fantasy tropes to present a world where orcs battle humans battle elves battle kung fu pandas.
It's all stuff you've seen before. Blizzard, the games developer, nicked most of it wholesale from Tolkien. They spiced things up with a splash of lore from hobby game Warhammer (themselves guilty of pilfering liberally from ol' J.R.R.) and then filled in the blanks themselves.
The thing is, in the videogame context none of this mattered. Especially not in 1994 when the first Warcraft game came out. Back then all that mattered was how cool it was to finally be able to command vast armies of brute, lumbering orcs in the fight against honourable, but square, humans. The familiarity of it all was considered a selling point.
Now though, things are different. We've watched six extremely long films of source fantasy material courtesy of Sir Pete and his Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogies and we've played countless videogames that pit these classic fantasy foes against each other.
The names may change but the song remains the same.
When you're in the midst of a gaming sesh that's no problemo. When you're shovelling popcorn watching a film it's a big problemo.
With gaming's explosion in mass market popularity and with the rise of independent game developers pushing at the boundaries of crazy you can now play as just about anything you can imagine. You can be your favourite sportsperson, an Indiana Jones-type action hero, an ambitious gangster, a space adventurer or even a lovestruck pigeon.
In all of these the story will matter not at all. You're preoccupied with playing the game, making that story happen and so caught up in events that the ebbs and flows of the storyline are amped to 11 in the importance stakes. You're the star of the show. That's the crucial difference.
That's not to say story in videogames isn't important. It is. But there's a helluva distinction between watching someone else save the world and setting off on an epic, yet thoroughly cliched, world-saving quest yourself.
And there's the rub. What makes a videogame story great, what makes it resonate with you long after its final cutscene has faded to black, is the fact that it was you personally who saved the world. Or, if you're anything like me, conquered it.
Once your input is removed from the equation your interest and investment quickly follows.
Let me put it this way. Making a heart wrenching choice in a 40-hour-plus roleplaying game like The Witcher 2 leaves a huge impact in a way that watching a character in a 90-minute film bat away that same choice doesn't. It simply can't.
This inconvenient truth has never stopped moviemakers from trying to make a buck off a popular videogame franchise. They've made everything from total trash like Super Mario Bros. and Alone in the Dark right through to vaguely agreeable action schlock like Resident Evil and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. What they've never made is a properly good videogame adaptation. Can the tired old orcs and humans of Warcraft flip the script and buck this trend?
Historically Hollywood's best efforts have met only with varying degrees of critical or financial failure. Often both. That's because there's a world of difference between a story that entertains on a 22-inch desktop monitor and a story that's worthy of being told on a 22-metre-high iMax super screen.
Get it wrong on either and it's game over, man.