For director Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code), the three and a half years he spent helming a massively anticipated $160 million CG/live-action adaptation of Warcraft filled with bloodthirsty Orcs, wizards, and warriors were marked by his own major personal milestones.
While directing his third and biggest feature film to date, Jones told The Daily Beast, he was able to share the fantasy epic about fathers and sons to his own dad, music icon David Bowie, who passed away in January.
“I showed him an early cut of this and showed him some of the effects shots,” said Jones, who was born Duncan Zowie Haywood Jones. “You know, for everyone else he was one person. For me, he was my dad. And he was always interested in things I was working on. So I showed him what I was working on, and he was all excited for me and happy that I was doing the thing that I enjoyed doing in my life.”
Now Jones and wife Rodene are expecting their first child in June—the same month Warcraft opens worldwide, nearly ten years to the day from when it was first announced.
“If you talk to Rob Kazinsky, he absolutely swears that his life was saved by Warcraft,” Jones laughed of the British actor who plays a second-in-command Orc named Orgrim Doomhammer and also happens to be one of WoW’s most prominent celebrity players. “Marriages, divorces, all sorts of things have happened through this crazy game.”
Family ties run deep in Warcraft, the decade-in-the-making vidgame adaptation of Blizzard’s monster strategy and massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMOPRG) played by an estimated 100 million humans around the globe. The story by Jones and Charles Leavitt opens on a planetary invasion of the planet Azeroth by a race of hulking tribal Orc warriors who are fleeing their own dying world—and nearly every major hero in the culture clash that ensues is motivated by a desire to form, or protect, their own familial bonds.
The London-raised Jones, a longtime gamer, first played Warcraft as a college kid in Ohio during a seven-year stint in the Midwest. “I am a games player,” he proudly declared. “I ran a guild for another game called Ultima Online. When that game got to a point where we wanted to move on, we kind of moved onto World of Warcraft and there was a kind of Sophie’s choice for me of whether I’d be Horde or Alliance.”
In the beginning the Blizzard game was one of strategy, taking players through the fantasy world of Azeroth—which is where Jones argued the film should go when he first got the gig.
“Back then you just played the story that they had to tell,” he said. “And the story was this one, that first invasion of Orcs and humans. When I talked to Blizzard about what this movie should be we all kind of agreed that we should go right back to the very beginning and introduce the world and these two cultures when they first meet. You can see the two cultures from each other’s perspectives.”
“We tried to tell a story that was different from, you know, a Tolkien fantasy where the cute creatures and the humans are the good guys and the monsters are the bad guys,” Jones explained. “We wanted to do what Warcraft does, which is allow you to play any character and see yourself as the hero.”
Jones, who explored the sci-fi genre in his first two films, sought to bring a fresh take to the realm of fantasy cinema that’s been dominated by Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings franchises—a comparison he seems keen to shy away from.
“Science fiction has a much broader spectrum of what a science fiction film can be, and there have been so many different types and so many different styles, whether it’s Blade Runner or 2001,” said Jones. “Fantasy doesn’t really have that many.”
“There are a lot of fantasy films, but they all kind of want to be Lord of the Rings. Even Game of Thrones, which I love, is mature content-Lord of the Rings. And what we wanted to try and do is broaden out that spectrum of what a fantasy film could be.”
Jones tried to work in an insidery Easter Egg that would have tied Warcraft to his cinematic universe. “If you know Moon or Source Code, there’s this very sweet, very talented guy named Chesney Hawks who wrote this really, really big hit in Britain called ‘I Am The One And Only,’” he teased. “I used it as an alarm clock in Moon, and a ring tone in Source Code—and I actually got him to do a version as a bard in Warcraft.”
Alas! When Jones whittled down his 2 hour and 40 minute cut to the final runtime of just over two hours, “we weren’t able to keep it in the cut. But somehow, maybe, I’ll just sneak it into the Twitterverse… he did a Warcraft-medievally version of his single, and it’s just brilliant. Unfortunately I was the only one who thought it was hilarious.”
Warcraft viewers can read into the film’s broader themes, from the violent protectionism of the human heroes to the fervent, religiously-motivated warmongering of its Orcs. British-born Jones is “a green card holding resident” who chuckles at the timing of opening Warcraft in the middle of a heated presidential election year dotted by the brash aggression of Donald Trump.
“Congratulations, democracy!” he laughed, pointing out that he sees stronger parallels between the desperate plight of the Orcs—who are fleeing a dying planet that’s been ravaged by a power-hungry dark evil—and Europe’s current immigration crisis.
“To be honest, in some ways rather than America, [Warcraft speaks to] what’s going on in Europe as far as communities trying to find new places to live—that’s also, unfortunately, kind of timely as well,” he offered. “You’re going to paint me as some card-carrying liberal! But there is a resonance. And there’s certainly enough things that feel a reality to them that they add a believability to them.”