Before I get started on my perspective on the Wing Commander movie, I want it to be perfectly clear that I am NOT a film critic. To me, film critics are snobby, art-loving individuals who get hot over Victorian-era, tear-jerking, sleep-inducing, adultery-supporting (i.e. Bridges of Madison County) flicks that no real moviegoer of my caliber would ever see. Just watching the Shakespeare movie beat Saving Private Ryan this weekend for best picture is a prime example of the problem. If you want to see a review from a movie critic, check out the gushing reviews for Shakespeare in Love. If not, please continue.
Hard core Wing Commander fans such as myself have always looked forward to see what a theatrical release of our favorite game series would be like. After all, Chris Roberts had developed a strong track record with the theatrical quality presented in both Wing Commander 3 and 4. I was never truly a fan of FMV until I saw this masterpiece, and would have loved to see it come true on the big screen.
But if I knew then what I know now, I would have immediately cleared my mind of any such thoughts.
The trailers for the new Wing Commander movie showed promise, and I was nervously counting down the days until the final release, even getting out of work early to see it. I ignored any critic’s reviews that I may have noticed (hence the warning at the top of this article), endured through all the theater trailers (including the highlight of the show, the excellent Phantom Menace trailer), and got ready for what turned out to be the biggest waste of seven dollars I had ever experienced.
Now, I’ve grown up with Wing Commander ever since I first played it in 1992 (yes, I know the game was released in 1990, but I first played it when I went to college), and have enjoyed every aspect of it. I got to really like some of the characters (i.e. Maniac), and learned to detest others (Tolwyn). I even got used to the technical schematics of all the fighters and bombers that were under my control. However, the movie has taken all of the series that I known and loved and flushed it down the toilet.
For instance, Lt. Christopher Blair (Freddie Prinze Jr.) is always given slack for being what is known in the movie as a "Pilgrim," who were the original explorers of the outer reaches of space. Meanwhile, his buddy, Todd "Maniac" Marshall (Matthew Lillard in a very dorky blonde crewcut) fits in with the rest of the Tiger Claw pilots, even gets a female pilot to fall in love with him. What is wrong with this picture?
Well, first of all, I have never seen any knowledge of Blair (be it the "Bluehair" character or the Blair played by Mark Hamill) being a Pilgrim, nor his parents being of Pilgrim descent. In fact, I recall from Prima’s Official Strategy Guide for Wing Commander: Prophecy that Blair’s parents were colonial subsistence farmers, that his father was killed in a farm equipment accident, that his mother went to find work and remarried at a young age, and that Blair was raised by his maternal grandparents [McCubbin, 1997, 13].
In addition, the character of Maniac, especially when played by Tom Wilson, was one to be avoided by his shipmates, as no one wanted to be on his wing because of his erratic flying style, and the ladies cannot stand his brash attitude or sexist passes, i.e. the bioconvergence chemist who smacks him hard in WC4.
Another character that I didn’t think fit the mold was Paladin (Tcheky Karyo). First and foremost, this Paladin was French! He even used French comments for God’s sake! Wasn’t Angel the one who did that before? Now, I can partly forgive Tcheky Karyo because of his French descent, but still I think he could have added a couple Scottish lines, Paladin was truly of Scottish descent, to the dialogue. After all, he did a successful Russian role when he was in ”Goldeneye”. Just one ”laddie” would go a long way.
Admiral Tolwyn (David Warner) was not shown much, but perhaps this was more of a good thing, because his reputation would have been hurt me if he had more camera time in this flop. Matter of fact, I am glad that Malcolm McDowell turned down this role because of prior arrangements, because in my mind, McDowell is Tolwyn and that will never change, just like how Mark Hamill is Blair, Tom Wilson is Maniac, and John Rhys-Davies is Paladin.
Now that I complained too much about the characters, let me get to the ships. Was it me, or was there a serious World War II complex here? The Rapiers had chainguns, for crying out loud. Others that I talked to claim that they might be mass driver cannons, but I did some research, and found out that the Rapier never had mass driver cannons. Instead, it was equipped with two laser cannons and two neutron guns [Minasi, 1994, 38]. It could also be believed that the chainguns were acutally Stormfire guns, but they weren’t really used until after the Kilrathi war in Wing Commander 4 and Prophecy. Basically though, the ship quality was pathetic and made me wonder if technology took a back step in 2654.
And speaking of technology taking a step backwards, take a close look at some of the equipment used. A Mini Disc player? Come on! Even worse, I noticed a radar monitor with a Nokia logo on it. Well if this movie can predict the future, at least I’ll know one company that will still be making monitors.
What about the Kilrathi? One word describes them: laughable. They look nothing like the cats we’ve grown to hate. They looked more like rubber-skinned robots. Heck, they make Melek in Wing Commander 4 look good, and that goes a long way. Keeping their alien language seemed like a good idea, and the way the subtitles were written over their Kilrathi text was a plus. But I looked real closely, and it does not look at all like the original Kilrathi alphabet seen in past games.
But by far the biggest disappointment was the combat, or total lack thereof. I think I only counted about 10 minutes of actual fighter combat, and what I saw of it wasn’t spectacular at all. None of those eye dropping special effects that were seen in Prophecy like lens flares, shockwaves or ship blood. For a movie based on a game that specialized around space combat, I would have least expected some combat to be shown. It just seemed like this movie centered around developing the characters, and not the combat.
This film was a total disgrace to Wing Commander fans. If I went back in time to see it again, even if just for the Phantom Menace trailer, I would put my money back in the bank, tape the Phantom Menace trailer when it was on the TV news, and load up Wing Commander 4 on my PC. At least there I would have see a decent cast and a movie plot that gave the Wing Commander series justice.
I don’t think a rating can be provided for this travesty, but if there was, it would be an obvious zero gems!