- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Home theater gamers familiar with Blizzard Entertainment’s mega-popular, massive multiplayer online adventures can now appreciate the mythology’s debut in the live-action blockbuster Warcraft (Universal Studios Home Entertainment, Rated PG-13, $34.90, 2.43:1 aspect ratio).

Now available on Blu-ray, director Duncan Jones heavily computer-generated vision of the beginnings of the epic war between orcs and humans never reached new heights in the fantasy genre but offered a bit of action-packed, popcorn-munching fun for audiences earlier this year.

The dense story reveals part of an invading orc army named the Horde, led by Fel-magic-infused Shadowmoon orc warlock Gul’dan (Daniel Wu), passing though the Great Gate (a dimensional portal) to attack the humans in the lands of Azeroth.

The humans — led by King Llane Wrynn (Dominic Cooper), commander Sir Anduin Lotharand (Travis Fimmel), a brash young mage Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer) and mysterious Guardian Medivh (Ben Foster) — hope to thwart the attacks with help from a prisoner, the female orc half-breed Garona (Paula Patton). She not only reveals the Horde’s plans but also may be the key to solving the conflict.

The production works hard to inject the “World of Warcraft” universe’s various game versions and myths with characters from the orc clans Warsong, Frostwolf and Blackrock represented as well the kingdoms of Stormwind and Ironforge and that nasty Dark Portal.

Viewers will appreciate the care taken in creating the creatures and some rousing violent close-quarter combat sequences.

Of course, those arrive via a stunning digital transfer showcasing Industrial Light and Magic’s digital artisans and weapons craftsmen of WETA workshop, highlighted by the many orcs.

Examples worth appreciating include the detail on a variety of metal and stone hammers or axs wielded by the creatures to literally crush or cut apart tiny humans.

Also, look close for minutia such as the sweat running down the back of a green-skinned orc’s noggin, the branded clan tattoos, ornate skeletal armor, scarred pointed ears, poorly manicured fingernails, jewelry on lower jaw tusks and the orc’s worg (large wolf) fur.

Unfortunately, the movie is never as focused or dazzling as any of Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” efforts and concludes with a confusing, unsatisfying ending that reeks of sequel desperation.

However, as the highest-grossing, video-game-based movie of all time, “Warcraft” does celebrate with a Blu-ray package loaded with extras.

Let’s start with a five-chapter, 53-minute motion comic culled from the “Warcraft: Bonds of Brotherhood” graphic novel that acts as a prequel to the movie.

The presentation features plenty of accented narration, dialogue bubbles popping up to read along with, sound effects, and slightly animated, adequate artwork from a band of humans featuring Matt Broome, Michael O’Hare, Eddie Nunez, Roy Allan Martinez, Ale Garza and Mike Bowden.

The story is set several decades before the film and explores the early years of young heroes Prince Llane, Captain Lothar and Guardian Medivh and their battle against the trolls. With loads of backstory to the film, it’s required watching before the main event.

Next, a five-part, roughly 33-minute overview of the production features interviews with cast and crew while concentrating on the origins of the games, casting, costumes, stunt work, visual effects and the extensive motion-capture used, especially the facial capture technology, to bring the orcs to life.

Two short quirky featurettes also worth a look include the elaborate costumes worn by fans at the massive Blizzcon at the Anaheim Convention Center and a promotional piece on Madame Tussauds’ “Warcraft Experience” explaining how the company creates some impressive life-like wax figures.

And, best of all, for any viewer ever interested in playing a genuine “Warcraft” adventure, Blizzard Entertainment offers a download code to the original “World of Warcraft” game (including all of the expansion sets up to the “Warlords of Draenor” release), with 30 days of free play and compatible with a Mac or PC.

Also, it includes a code to unlock Gul’dan in the free-to-download team brawler Heroes of the Storm and a code to unlock Medivh in collectible digital card game “Heroes of Warcraft: Hearthstone.”

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