Wargaming Tradecraft: Why the Ultramarines movie is a failure for Games Workshop


Why the Ultramarines movie is a failure for Games Workshop

I just watched this video: http://www.geeksaresexy.net/2011/01/17/one-rat-short/ (a video made 5 years ago)

One Rat Short from Charlex on Vimeo.

While I already reviewed Ultramarines, it got me thinking and I suddenly became very disappointed in Games Workshop - here's a small production by an advertising studio flexing it's muscles to say "We do more than commercials now." and they win all sorts of awards for it's animation and story and I've seen plenty of student films that look better than Ultramarines did.

This is an age where it's easy to get funding for movies based on geek culture - look at the Superhero boom. I'm not just talking about successes like X-Men and Iron Man - lets look at the failures; Sure Catwoman and Elektra were baaad, but they keep remaking Hulk and even though emo-Spiderman failed in it's last movie they're rebooting the franchise with a new actor starting from "With great power comes great responsibility" all over again! Then you get other high production value movies like Avatar that blows the world away on a man's vision and a script, with no backstory like 40k has or movies like Skyline that are simple "Look at all my fancy CG".

Enter a movie based on three DECADES of history, fans worldwide, the definitive tabletop miniature game, that's already expanded into a massive collection of novels and comic books. Science fiction super-soldiers battling the forces of Chaos on a barren planet (or any other fluff / existing novel) should be an EASY sell to a major studio today to get the financial backing required to make a full feature movie. (Chronicles of Riddick is probably more obscure than 40k, but that became a trilogy) Really picture it - any action sequence from a rulebook's fluff or any battle we've played out up on the big screen - how awesome an action movie would that make?
(Or give it to Kevin Smith and we'll at least laugh for two hours as he and Muse move minis across someone's backyard ala Honey I Shrunk the Kids - though to be fair, Chasing Amy and Jersey girl showed his chops in other areas and I'm looking forward to Red State.)

Instead we get Ultramarines.

I think I can safely say the same quality of animation and texturing for everything but faces existed in Babylon 518 years ago in 1993 and surpassed by the lesser known Lexx in 1997, just 14 years ago.

The trailer for the upcoming "Space Marine" video game looks better and gets me more excited than anything that was in Ultramarines. (and a good chunk of this trailer is in-game graphics, rather than pre-rendered CG)

Ultramarines does not hit theaters, it goes straight to an overpriced direct-order "special edition" DVD we probably won't even see in movie rental stores or Walmart's $5 bins and Games Workshop's chance to actually get a foothold in mainstream media (with all the rewards that go in suit) fffff-izzles.

Hmm, I suppose /endRant... but I think that's a good way of looking at the Ultramarines venture. It wasn't a terrible movie, maybe you could say it was "ok" or "alright" but I certainly wouldn't say "great" - and I mean really, everything about 40k seems to scream "Make me a full feature blockbuster!" so why didn't Games Workshop give it their all, rather than stamp of approval something that a world full of fans was just going to say "meh" and *shrug*? (which will surely hang over their heads when they finally try to make a real movie as everyone remembers "the last one" - though maybe "everyone" and "remembers" doesn't really apply to Ultramarines)

If they don't hurry up, Blizzard's going to figure all this out before Games Workshop and the last thing GW needs is to be known as the company that "copied Starcraft".


  1. GW didn't fund Ultramarines, or really have anythign to do with it asside from rubber stamping an OK on it. The project was entirely funded by Codex pictures, who paid GW to use the 40k IP.
    GW has avoided big studios (and apparently turned down offers) as they have felt they wouldn't get a fair cut and their IP would be altered more than they felt was necessary.

    The Codex guys have said they approached GW with the idea and it was approved due to the fact they would 'respect' the IP and existing fiction, rather than making it 'hollywood friendly'.

    It also had a smaller budget than the DoW1 intro movie, and they had to pay for multiple voice actors, Dan Abnett, the advertising etc.

    Blur, who make many video game trailers, said this:
    "On average, I'd say a regular three-minute trailer like Brink's will take about three months and use between 40 and 50 people.
    The DC Universe Online cinematic we just finished stretched over about six months, and was touched by a total of 71 artists, from layout artists, concept designers to lighters and a team of FX folks."

    The fact that it's a 70 minute long movie is a major factor here - short films can have great effects on a low budget as they only have a smaller number of frames to animate and process. When you increase that tenfold, the server time alone needed for rendering can become ludicrously expensive in of itself, never mind the time needed for animators.

    Every low budget CGI movie tends to look kinda rubbish, as does every CGI tv series. Games have low-res models and get weird clipping and jerky movements sometimes, while their trailers have huge budgets as they're the main form or advertising.

  2. I absolutely get that... And I'm not saying it has to be a fully CG movie.

    My point is Ultramarines is the first sanctioned Warhammer 40k movie - and it's low budget "rubbish" that GW sold the rights to, instead of a real attempt at making a movie their fans would actually enjoy.

  3. The title of your article is interesting. I figure at least 75% of folks out there have made the same mistake.

    If anything Games Workshop now have evidence to feed their IP paranoia though eh?

    Codex Pictures are the ones at fault here.

    As for why they're at fault. I think you're right on the button! They took a great opportunity and canned it.

    There are lots of reasons, sure, but Ultramarines: A Warhammmer 40,000 Movie really is a poor showing.

    Too much money and effort in all of the wrong places. Too little of both in the right places.

    I just worry that too many people out there will be blaming GW for it, when it had nothing to do with them. It's not their product. It's not their work or money either.

    Let's hope someone out there is busy thinking they could do a better job of it. Preferably soon!

  4. Any time that a company allows someone else to use their intellectual property, they're putting their product in that other company's hands.

    When GW made the choice to allow a movie to be made of their IP, they put their product in the hands of someone who up until then was known for the Lego Bionicle movies. (Who don't even list them under their "Productions" website link anymore, now that they have "Ultramarines" to headline with)

    ( http://www.imdb.com/video/screenplay/vi2178744601/ )

    GW couldn't have been expecting a whole lot. By not investing and just selling the rights, it's pure profits, making this a money grab. By not investing, they also know the movie's going to be lower budget.

    The Blood Bowl video game didn't start out as Blood Bowl - it was a company ripping off Blood Bowl with some other name. GW went after them, they saw the product was good quality and (presumably) told them if they wanted to continue, they had to rebrand it as Blood Bowl and kick back profits.

    GW's suing Chapterhouse Studios right now for taking their brand and making poor quality versions of it partially because it hurts Warhammer 40k's image. If GW thought Chapterhouse's quality was better, they'd have done the same thing as with Blood Bowl.

    Maybe GW have turned down offers from big studios because they felt it wouldn't be honest to the fluff - I don't know. But what we have in Ultramarines is a movie that may be faithful to fluff, but is done poorly.

    As it stands, Games Workshop has control over who uses their image and what's done with it. This is what makes GW ultimately responsible for Ultramarines.

  5. It wasnt too close to fluff. 10,000 year old veterans vs 200 century just-turned-batte brothers, not to say there is more Black Legionares and the fact that they're Black Legion, they woulndt be that stupid or not caring and just charge at them nor whould they be so out of control

  6. It wasn't just the animation that made this movie bad. It was totally off any of the books I have read and didn't fit the warhammer universe at all.

    It was nearly tearful watching bolt rounds that don't explode or a squad of ultra marines that should have had decades of training (let alone actual combat experience) in such a debacle.

    I can't believe that Dan Abnett himself would be remotely satisfied after that film was made. His book know no fear was one of the best books I have ever read. This film left me sooooooo disappointed I wrote this!

  7. Well, yeah gw need worry about that, since starcraft is based on warhammer 40k ...


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