Heaven knows I've tried to make sense of the Warcraft universe since the first game was released in 1994 for MS-DOS.

It began as a simple, SimCity-esque strategy game and grew like a crooked vine through 22 years worth of games, novels, and comics into a Byzantine thicket of creatures, kingdoms, and characters.

Now it's splashed all over the local Imax screen.

An incoherent, violent, and intensely loud 3D spectacle starring Travis Fimmel, Ben Foster, and Paula Patton, Warcraft: The Beginning (yep, there are more movies to come) isn't really a story, but a lavish, gory conflict that pits a nasty, brutish, and very tall race of (computer-animated) warrior orcs against (real) humans.

Honestly, that's all you need to know about the Warcraft mythos to get the film.

It opens on the orcs' home world, a dying planet that has been sucked of life and vitality by its greedy, power-consuming inhabitants. (Dudes, you should have gone green.)

So they come to the humans' lush and harmonious realm, ruled by sweet men and women like King Llane Wrynn (Dominic Cooper), his wife (Ruth Negga), and their best bud, Sir Anduin Lothar (Fimmel). With the help of kindly wizard Medivh (Foster, in a very Gandalfian turn), these folks, who are invariably decked out in majestic, shiny outfits, make love, not war.

The orcs ruin the party.

But there are orcs who don't toe the party line - dissidents (Patton plays an orc halfbreed who sides with them) who are wary of the evil magic used by their boss, orc wizard Gul'dan (Daniel Wu). Like petroleum products, his "fel magic" ruins nature.

Technically speaking, this is dazzling stuff. Eight years in the making, the $160 million film uses amazing CGI effects that render the orcs as lifelike as anything I've seen on film.

It's clear the producers also wanted the movie to achieve something like dramatic excellence: Why else hire writer-director Duncan Jones, whose two previous films, Moon and Source Code, established him as a creator of smart, character-driven sci-fi dramas?

Jones and his equally accomplished cowriter, Charles Leavitt (K-Pax, Seventh Son), sure seem to be convinced that Warcraft has the epic sweep, dramatic depth, and romantic intensity of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

They're way off the mark.

Blame the source material.

Just because you can come up with names such as Azeroth, Durotan, Orgrim, and Grommash Hellscream doesn't mean you're J.R.R. Tolkien, people.





Warcraft: The Beginning

s1/2 (Out of four stars)

yDirected by Duncan Jones. With    Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper. Distributed by Universal Pictures.

yRunning time: 2 hours, 3 mins.

yParent's guide: Rated PG-13 (extended sequences of intense fantasy violence).

yPlaying at: Area theaters.