Duncan Jones On ‘Warcraft,’ ‘Mute, ’And Why It’s About Time To Start Another Twitter Fight With Rian Johnson

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It’s been a long time since we’ve had a Duncan Jones movie. After his 2009 directorial debut, the fantastic Moon, he quickly turned around and gave us 2011’s brainteaser of a film, Source Code. Now, over five years later, Jones’ third film – an adaptation of the popular Warcraft video games – will finally hit theaters. (In the interview, I compare Warcraft to Gun N’ Roses’ Chinese Democracy… and just like Chinese Democracy, Warcraft is finally, actually being released.)

If you’re a fan of Duncan Jones’ films, you know that he’s always included Chesney Hawkes’ “The One and Only” somewhere in the movie (best known as the song that opens the 1991 Michael J. Fox vehicle, Doc Hollywood) – which is a little tough to pull off in a fantasy film about Orcs fighting humans over the control of the world they both inhabit. And, no, if you see Warcraft, you will not hear Chesney Hawkes. But, as Jones explains, he does have a surprise for you on the Blu-ray.

Ahead, Jones talks about his history with video games, why his next movie – the sci-fi thriller, Mute, which has been described as a spiritual sequel to Moon – is influenced by M*A*S*H (?!?!), and why he thinks it’s about time to start another Twitter war with Star Wars: Episode VIII director Rian Johnson.

There’s no Chesney Hawkes “The One and Only” in Warcraft.

[Laughs.] When the DVD and Blu-ray comes out, there are extra scenes. Not only was Chesney Hawkes’ song in there but Chesney Hawkes was in there as a bard performing the song.

Are you being serious?

Yes. So that actually exists as footage that we’ll put on the extra features. It does exist. If we get to do an extended edition ever, I’ll put it back in.

That’s much better than my idea of using it when Ben Foster’s character is shooting lightning.

You’ll have to wait. It exists!

That song always reminds me of Doc Hollywood.

[Laughs.] Absolutely. Yeah.

You were a video game player…

Oh yes, absolutely. I kind of traveled a lot growing up. And for me, books, movies, and video games were kind of the things I could take with me wherever I went. And that’s what gave me a little touchstone so wherever I was moving, that was home. I was playing video games from a very young age.

What did you start with? The Atari 2600?

Yeah, I was on the Atari 2600, then the Commodore 64, then Amiga. My buddies had the Apple IIe, so we played Wolfenstein.

I was envious of people who had Wolfenstein.

The Amiga was the big one for me that really got me hooked.

I just bought an Atari 2600.

Oh, very cool.

It’s very hard to hook up in 2016.

With the faux wood?


Oh, yeah. That’s nice.

The first game I remember having an elaborate backstory was Yars’ Revenge.

I remember there were all sorts of Indiana Jones wannabe games. There was Pitfall and there was Riddle of the Sphinx.

You’ve been gone awhile. We haven’t seen a Duncan Jones movie since 2011.

I know, it’s crazy. We were trying to make something for a while after Source Code came out and it was a real challenge to get made. And then the opportunity to go in and pitch on Warcraft came up and I just couldn’t pass up on it. It was just too good a thing.

So the film that fell through is a big reason for this.

Warcraft has been a long time, it’s been about three and a half years. But that still doesn’t account for the year and a half before that. Straight after Source Code I was trying to make this other thing. It was a female-led sci-fi and I think really unique and ambitious. Hopefully I’ll still get the chance to make it one day. Maybe it was a little too early? I think now it might be an easier time to get female-led sci-fi films made.

You say three and a half years. As an admirer of your work, it fells like 20 to me. Warcraft is your Chinese Democracy.

[Laughs.] It’s been a passion. Yeah, three and a half years on the film, but 20 years in the making as far as being a Warcraft fan goes. I was playing Warcraft since Orcs and Humans, the very first real-time strategy game.

And now Mute is next?

Now that Warcraft is done, I’m going to sneak off and do this little sci-fi, Mute, out in Berlin. I’m going to do that next, which is a much smaller film.

I’ve heard you describe Mute as a spiritual sequel to Moon and that it’s inspired by Blade Runner.

It’s really going to be very different, I think, than any kind of science fiction films that are being made right now. I’ve likened it recently to something being more like Casablanca. It’s more like a ‘70s thriller in some sense. It’s almost like Paul Schrader’s Hardcore. It’s not what you traditionally think of as sci-fi, but it is and it works great.

I don’t want to know too much, but what do you mean by that?

A lot of what people think of is when you do an R-rated movie these days, it’s either extreme violence or a “sweary” comedy. I think that this is just going to have an adult nature to it, thematically. And the way we approach the material, it’s going to be dark and surreal – but there’s also this layer of comedy in it as well. There are a lot of films from that ‘70s period that are in the soil of this movie. So whether it’s Hardcore or M*A*S*H, it’s that tone.

M*A*S*H? I assume the Altman movie…

Yeah, the Altman movie.

You don’t hear Robert Altman’s M*A*S*H brought up often when describing an upcoming sci-fi movie.

[Laughs.] It really is going to be very, very different. You’re probably right not to know too much about it, so just go see it knowing as little as possible and it really is going to kind of bump you. It’s going to be fun.

What would really throw people off is if you added, “And it has a shade of Doc Hollywood.”

Well, of course. There has to be Chesney in there somewhere! It will always be that song, but the trick will be to find ways to arrange it and perform it so every time it sounds different. So in Warcraft, the version we did for that, it’s kind of this medieval, bardic ditty.

I know it was in fun, but your online Twitter fight with Rian Johnson was very amusing.

I need to find out how busy he is, because hopefully he can watch Warcraft and we can go round two with that. Okay, definitely. We’ll go round two. We will go round two.

Your relationship with Twitter is interesting. You tweet a lot and have gotten to know a lot of film writers. Does that ever get tricky?

I don’t know. It’s kind of tricky. I don’t want to push pressure on anyone – I want them to feel comfortable in saying what they feel they need to say. At the same time, I like to be accessible. So, if there is something they want to know about, I’d rather be an open book and just kind of let then talk to me directly. I hate all of the spin and padding a lot of films surround themselves with – a kind of bubble wrap of marketing. I understand it, but at the same time, I like that there is a way for people to directly talk to me about stuff if they want to.

I’ve been on it since 2009 because back when I was doing Moon, there was no press and there was no marketing. And the only way people were going to know about the film is if I ran around screaming about the movie and made sure everyone I knew had heard about it. I was running Twitter competitions and giving out prizes – paying for all that myself just on order for there to be some word about the movie.

I remember that. It can be a great tool…

[Laughs.] Yeah, it does probably require too much time and dedication.

We are all guilty.

Which I know I overcompensated and I need to try to work on that and try to cut down on my Twitter use a little bit – I’m a work in progress, what can I say?

Mike Ryan lives in New York City and has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York magazine. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.