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Game maker to put 'WoW' on big screen
By Seth Schiesel
The New York Times
Published: May 9, 2006, 6:16 AM PDT
For years, Hollywood has talked about the supposed convergence of films and video games. And for years, the primary results have been low-budget movies based on games, and uninspired games based on films.
On Tuesday, Blizzard Entertainment, a leading game developer, hopes to reverse that trend as it plans to announce a deal with Legendary Pictures, a major Warner Bros. affiliate, to make a big-budget "Lord of the Rings"-style live-action film based on Blizzard's wildly popular Warcraft series.
The franchise began with a relatively simple real-time strategy game in 1994, but the latest installment, the online role-playing game "World of Warcraft," has become the most successful video game in the world.
"World of Warcraft" now has more than 6 million paying subscribers and is on track to generate more than $1 billion in subscription revenue this year.
Tuesday's announcement would come as the video game industry descends on Los Angeles for its top annual convention, the Electronic Entertainment Expo. Later this week, Blizzard is expected to announce details about an expansion pack for "World of Warcraft," called the "Burning Crusade."
Many details of the film deal remained unsettled or undisclosed on Monday, including the choice of director, cast, the planned release date and the exact budget (rarely a firm number in the movie business, anyway). But Blizzard and Legendary appeared united in wanting the project to be a major departure from Hollywood's undistinguished record in turning games into films.
"We try to make big, epic, immersive games at Blizzard, and we have a track record of making some of the best games in the world," Paul Sams, Blizzard's chief operating officer, said in an interview. "Similarly, our goal is to make one of the best films in the world. With Legendary, they have a creative and management team that is so attuned with us, it was like we were separated at birth. We want to make a movie that will not only appeal to our existing fans, but will also bring in people that have never heard of Warcraft before."
From "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" through "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within" and "Doom," films based on video games have traditionally ranged from the merely bad to the downright masochistic. Generally, the fault has appeared to be a focus on special effects and cheap thrills at the expense of emotional engagement and character development.
For many years, films based on comic books and traditional high-fantasy worlds suffered the same fate. Yet recently, directors and screenwriters ranging from Peter Jackson with "The Lord of the Rings" to Sam Raimi with "Spider-Man" have come to appreciate that in even the most fantastic setting, a successful film is based on compelling human stories rather than on yet another explosion or dragon.
As in Tolkien's Middle-earth with its totemic One Ring, the primary story line in the Warcraft universe revolves around the temptations of power, told through tragic tales of corruption. Throughout the Warcraft saga, characters like the orc Gul'dan, the mage Illidan and the knight Arthas are seduced by powers beyond their ken. Some find redemption. Most do not.
The top bad guy in Warcraft, the demon Sargeras, began as a sort of angel (a la Lucifer), before twisting himself into the enemy of virtue.
Formed last year with $500 million in financing from a consortium of Wall Street investors, Legendary signed a deal with Warner Bros. to co-produce and jointly finance at least 25 films over five years. Legendary's first film, "Batman Begins," directed by Christopher Nolan, was released last year to mostly favorable reviews. Other Legendary projects include the coming "Superman Returns" and M. Night Shyamalan's "Lady in the Water."