Duncan Jones has taken on the epic task of bringing World of Warcraft to the big screen. He talks to Dominic Corry.

Even after the success of his first two films, distinctive sci-fi thrillers Moon (2009) and Source Code (2011), ad director-turned-filmmaker Duncan Jones was still primarily perceived and referred to as the son of David Bowie.

But with this third movie, a big-budget adaptation of the insanely popular online role-playing game World of Warcraft, the man formerly known as Zowie Bowie has a chance to really make his own mark on popular culture.

Jones' short filmography doesn't make him an obvious choice to helm a project on the scale of Warcraft: The Beginning, but his experience with the source material helped him land the gig.

"They've been talking about making this movie for nearly 10 years," Jones tells TimeOut during a sit-down at Warner Bros Studios in Burbank, California.


"There were other directors attached before me, Sam Raimi was attached for a long period of time, and they just didn't move forward, because it wasn't right. When I had the chance three and half years ago to come and pitch my approach to [WoW creators] Blizzard, I think there was a pretty big sigh of relief that maybe someone who, as a fan, understood what the game was, had come in and pitched something that was in parallel with the way they saw the film."

Any first-time blockbuster director faces challenges but Jones has an extra - the curse of the video game adaptation, a sub-genre that has yet to generate a single good movie.

Then there are those millions of World of Warcraft subscribers, along with the concern that the gamer fanbase, as big as it is, may not translate into a big movie audience awareness.

On top of all that, there is the Peter Jackson factor.

Jackson's Tolkien adaptations remain the first and last word in big-screen fantasy, something Jones appears all-too conscious of.

"Look, I love New Zealand just about as much as anyone," Jones tells TimeOut. "But you feel like the enemy right now."

It is said with a smile, but it's clear that, like the shadow of Mordor, Jackson has loomed large over Jones and his undertaking, the most ambitious film of its kind since Jackson's historic efforts.

"In fantasy, the gorilla in the room is the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the original ones by Peter Jackson. It really set the bar as to what a fantasy film should be. It feels like the spectrum of fantasy is much smaller than it is for science fiction.

"We wanted to find a way to do it differently, and to give you guys a little bit of a rival.

"It would be nice if there was a bit of a rival out there for fantasy films."

In slight contrast to the textured, gritty world of Jackson's films, Warcraft aims for something closer to "high" fantasy with a broader mythology.

"We just wanted to create a spectacle and give it an energy that was a bit different but hopefully achieve the same bar as Lord of the Rings; give fantasy a little bit of a new voice and a new feel."

The most potent point of difference is the emphasis Warcraft places on portraying both sides of a violent conflict between humans and giant orcs - creatures who don't usually get much of the way of character development.

"I think what Lord of the Rings and Tolkien did so well, and established in those books and films, is something which maybe now feels a little bit dated - the idea that the humans are the good guys, and the monsters are the bad guys - that worked then.

"Now we have an opportunity to try something different - the idea that all the races have heroes and that their perspectives are all completely reasonable if you look at things through their eyes."

The massive muscular orcs in Warcraft have been rendered with motion-capture technology which helps them resonate as fully-rounded characters - it's hard not to fall in love with these big lugs.

"I think that was very unexpected, certainly for a fantasy movie, to have the opportunity to show orc family life, the fact that they have wives, they have children, and they just wanna protect their families.

"We got to do all of these quieter scenes that would normally just be for the humans."

Warcraft's high fantasy tone has made it easy pickings for critics, but it demonstrates Jones' commitment to staying true to the source material, and honouring its legions of fans, himself included.

"What we were trying to do was make a film that felt like home to the fans, but then also felt like this grand brand new fantasy for people who know nothing about Warcraft.

"And the ideal situation is where people who love the game can bring people who know nothing about it, and communicate to them through the movie 'This is what I loved about Warcraft, this is the reason I spent night after night staying up playing this game and being tired when I went to work the next morning.'"

As we're leaving the soundstage at the end of the discussion, Jones endearingly confesses to TimeOut that he would absolutely love to hear what our Peter thinks of the film.

In big screen fantasy there's just no escaping the Jackson factor.



Duncan Jones


Warcraft: The Beginning


Opens in New Zealand cinemas on June 16.