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David Bowie’s son owns the battlefield in ‘Warcraft’

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Duncan Jones, director of the new movie "Warcraft," at a Universal Pictures lot in Los Angeles, May 11, 2016.

You could see “Warcraft” as just one more entry in the arms race of summer movies. Adapted from the popular video game series, the film (which Universal will release June 10) depicts the conflict on a mythical world called Azeroth, as humanity defends itself from a horde of invading orcs. With its intricate visual effects, immense battle sequences and a reported budget of $100 million, it is a movie that its creators dearly hope will provide the foundation for a blockbuster franchise.

Yet “Warcraft” is an intensely personal undertaking for its director, Duncan Jones. It is a supersize project that this filmmaker and dedicated gamer passionately campaigned to make, with just two previous movies on his résumé.

It is also a film whose yearslong creation circumscribed a period of upheaval and tragedy in Jones’ life. When he started work on “Warcraft” in 2012, he had just married his wife Rodene after she was given a diagnosis of breast cancer and had a double mastectomy. Then, as the movie was nearing completion, Jones’ father, rock star David Bowie, died of cancer in January.

“My film started and ended with cancer,” Jones said during a recent interview.

Now, with “Warcraft” about to enter theaters and Rodene Jones preparing to give birth to the couple’s first child at roughly the same time, Jones cannot help but regard the film — with its subplots of fathers and sons, and an orc couple preparing for their first baby — as a distillation of some of the very best and very worst experiences he has had.

“‘Warcraft’ is going to be a period of my life I treasure and loathe at the same time,” he said.

Setting aside the celebrity lineage of Jones, he has become an accomplished director in his own right. His 2009 debut feature, “Moon,” was a well-reviewed Stanley Kubrick-style suspense film that starred Sam Rockwell as an astronaut working in solitude on a lunar base.

Jones’ second movie, “Source Code,” a science-fiction thriller starring Jake Gyllenhaal, was a commercial hit in 2011.

Chris Metzen, who is Blizzard’s senior vice president for story and franchise development and has worked on its “Warcraft” and “World of Warcraft” games for more than 20 years, said his company was also looking for a balanced story that found “a common humanity” in both sets of characters.

Although Jones had never made a film as big as “Warcraft,” Metzen said, “He was obviously just a geek like us — a PC gamer who had spent an inordinate number of hours within “World of Warcraft,” specifically, and just got it.”

There was plenty of practical experience still to come for Jones, who wrote the “Warcraft” screenplay with Charles Leavitt.

The movie, which carries a costly price tag and faces steep competition at the summer box office, has been flagged as one of the summer’s riskiest releases by trade publications like The Hollywood Reporter.

Toby Kebbell, who plays the orc Durotan, a tribal leader and father to be, said he was surprised to find that Jones, beneath a pleasantly rumpled exterior, has the desire to be a director on the scale of James Cameron or Peter Jackson.

“Anyone who comes into that category is absolutely a lion,” Kebbell said. “The ambition is something to respect. I think it’s wonderful that someone we all thought was going to be lo-fi has actually got the ability to take a genre piece, make it fun, keep it entertaining and choke you up.”

Jones said that his father, an avid fan of fantasy and science fiction (and a star of films like “Labyrinth”) had been encouraging of “Warcraft.”

“I showed him an early, early cut of the film,” Jones said, “and he was very excited for me and was pretty amazed about how we achieved some of the visuals.

“It’s always nerve-racking, showing your parents things you’ve been working on,” he added. “But he loved ‘Moon,’ and he loved ‘Source Code.’ He’s always been incredibly supportive.”

Jones said he and Metzen had discussed a possible three-film “Warcraft” arc if the first movie were to prove successful.

The strange symmetry of becoming a father at a time when themes of fatherhood pervade his life was not lost on Jones. To have grappled with loss during the film, Jones said, was “tragic, but at the same time, the fact that we’ve got a baby coming it all just feels ...”

He paused to consider the right words. “Well, that’s the circle of life, unfortunately,” he said. “You go through hardships, and you lose people, and new people come into your life. That’s what life is.”

For him, Jones said, “Warcraft” will “definitely be one of those bookmarks in life.” With a laugh, he added, “For most people, it’s just going to be a movie.”

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