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Wing Commander (Film)

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This article is about the the 1999 video game film adaptation. You may be looking for the 1990s video game series the film adapted from.
Wing Commander (Film)
Wing Commander Movie.jpg
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You would think if the guy who made the games directed the movie, it would actually be good.
(Spoiler Alert: It's not.)
Genre: Science Fiction
War
Directed By: Chris Roberts
Produced By: Todd Moyer
Written By: Kevin Droney
Chris Roberts
Based On: Wing Commander by Chris Roberts, Published by Origin Systems
Starring: Freddie Prinze Jr.
Saffron Burrows
Matthew Lillard
Tchéky Karyo
Jürgen Prochnow
David Suchet
Distributed By: 20th Century Fox
Release Date: March 12, 1999
Runtime: 100 minutes
Country: United States
Budget: $30 Million
Box Office: $11.6 Million
Franchise: Wing Commander


Wing Commander is a science fiction action film directed by Chris Roberts and written by Kevin Droney and Chris Roberts. It is based on the Wing Commander video game series. The film stars Freddie Prinze Jr., Matthew Lillard, Saffron Burrows, Tchéky Karyo, Jürgen Prochnow, David Suchet, and David Warner. Filming was done mostly in Luxembourg in 1998 and the post-production of the film was done in Austin, Texas (The same location of Origin Systems, the company that developed the Wing Commander games). The film released on March 12, 1999 and was a critical and commercial failure and is frequently considered one of the worst film adaptations of a game.

Plot

In the year 2654, humanity is doing very badly in their war against the alien Kilrathi empire, who wish to end all of humanity. As the film begins, the Kilrathi attack Pegasus Station and steal the navigation computer that will direct them to Earth in order to end the war. Admiral Tolwyn orders the Confederation fleet to defend Earth, but they will arrive two hours later than the Kilrathi. To buy the needed time, Tolwyn orders Lieutenant Christopher Blair to the TCS Tiger Claw to help delay the Kilrathi fleet in order to buy the time, along with another cadet named Todd "Maniac" Marshal and Commodore James "Paladin" Taggert.

With Blair joining the carrier, he is frequently distrusted due to the orders Tolwyn gave and the fact that he is part Pilgrim, who where the first people to go to space, but believed they where beter than the other humans and started a war with them. Maniac also gets in a romantic relationship with one of the pilots named Rosie Forbes. Later, the Tiger Claw is brought into a battle against the Kilrathi battle group and Rosie dies and the Tiger Claw is badly damaged.

After many other setbacks, the crew of the Tiger Claw invades a Kilrathi comm ship and also locates the coordinates the Kilrathi will use to reach Earth. In a desperate last attempt, the crew orders Blair and Angel to fly to Earth to give the Terran fleet the coordinates to stop the Kilrathi fleet. However, Angel can't continue the flight due to being caught in the explosion of a Skipper missile that was sent to destroy the Tiger Claw. She stops it but can't go on and tells Blair that he must reach Earth to warn the fleet. Against all odds, Blair manages to bring the coordinates and the Kilrathi fleet is stopped, saving humanity.

Why It's Not A Wing Commander

  1. As greatly detailed below, it suffers from many of the flaws that film adaptations of video games have that anger fans of the series, as well as having the normal bad movie flaws that anger all audiences.
  2. The biggest problem is that the film's plot suffers from being way too predictable and is full of movie cliches. The plot is about humanity's last chance to save itself in a hopeless war. Along the way, the heroes suffer multiple setbacks including a character's love interest dying because of a battle, and the main character who is a new soldier saves humanity against all odds and turns the tide of the war single-handedly, and shares a kiss with his love interest. The fact that the film is this predictable makes it not worth watching in the first place, as it doesn't bring anything new to the table.
    • Roger Ebert himself stated in his review of the film that once he saw the character Rosie, he knew that she was going to die.
    • There are also many overused plot conveniences that make the success of the heroes in the film seem entirely like pure luck, such as Blair telling the Confederation fleet about where the Kilrathi are coming from and doesn't think they are listening, but it turns out that they are and they come in at the last minute. Also, why in the world does the destroyer that Blair and company board just so happen to have the captured NAV computer, out of all of the destroyers that were hunting them down?
    • In addition to being completely generic, the plot is also muddled with some bad story -telling that ultimately ruins the film as a result.
      • First off all, why does Maniac speed into the anomaly at full speed to get to the jump point? Is he really that oblivious to what is right ahead of him?
      • Why is Blair sent with the marines to board the Kilrathi destroyer? We get no background at all on the marines needing more people to help them in case they lost some in a battle, and it would make much more sense for Blair to be with the fighter pilots, considering that he is a fighter pilot and has no experience that we know of for marine combat.
      • Why doesn't Blair send out a signal to where Angel's escape pod is so the Tiger Claw can find her easier?
      • Blair leads a Kilrathi destroyer into a similar anomaly at the near end of the film, and the Kilrathi destroyer completely follows him and it's not until they are completely inside it that they realize it's not the Terran fleet. Seriously, do they not have any windows to see that or is their radar that bad?
  3. Similar to the Super Mario Bros. movie, almost nothing in the film resembles anything that was in the video games, save for the protruding designs of the Kilrathi fighters. The capital ships for the Terrans look more like naval battleships than space ships. The Rapier fighters also bear a huge resemblance to World War 2 fighter craft rather than anything in the games.
  4. On the same note, there is a lot of disrespect to the source material throughout the film.
    • The carrier the main characters are on is called the Tiger Claw, when it was known as the Tiger's Claw in the game.
    • The setup of the film's story doesn't have most of the game's timeline and has a lot of canon errors in the main timeline. The film takes place in the year 2654, which is about the right time for the events of the first video game. However, there are many ships and technology that wasn't at that time of the standard timeline. For example, skipper missiles only got developed at around the year 2668-2669, which was the events of the third video game. The same goes for the Snakkier class destroyers, which where only in the third game. The Concordia carrier is also in the film, but we didn't know of its existence until the second game, which took place in the year 2664. Basically, the film disrespects the source material by having a lot of events and technology being used before they where canonically supposed to exist.
    • According to the lore of the video games, only one torpedo is supposed to destroy a large enemy capital ship, with the occasional two being needed. However, multiple torpedoes are used by the Kilrathi to destroy the Tiger Claw in the film and it still wouldn't get destroyed. The same goes for the Kilrathi themselves, with their ships needing multiple blows to get destroyed.
    • None of the actors look anything like the game characters they are playing. The James "Paladin" Taggart characters isn't even a Scotsman like he was in the games and is French instead, which is a strange choice.
      • On a similar note of disrespect, the film also doesn't use any of the music from the video games and opts to use a decent but generic orcheatral score instead.
  5. In relation to WIS#3, the most infuriating part about the film is that a lot of the source material was changed for the film but some of it was left intact. This makes no sense, as why would you change so much, but keep the most basic parts of the universe? Sure the setup is the same, with a war between humanity and a seemingly unstoppable alien race called the Kilrathi, but everything else is so different that it really shouldn't have any reason to carry the Wing Commander name.
  6. While the idea of making a Wing Commander film was a good idea since the games were already cinematic, it was also completely unnecessary. For one thing, some of the games already contained many FMV sequences, so they had already accomplished the feeling of watching a movie and changing the outcome. Secondly, they already used great and talented actors Mark Hamill and Malcolm McDowell who put good work into their roles. Finally, one of the problems of adapting the game into this movie was that all of the actors who played their characters in the games were either doing other things at the time or were unavailable, and the result was getting some good but less experienced actors for the film, already making it very inferior to the games themselves. In short, it was a bad idea to make the games a real film in the first place due to the games already accomplishing that.
  7. Numerous continuity errors, goofs, and plot holes in the film.
    • In Admiral Tolwyn's communication to Captain Sansky, his name is listed as Admiral Towlyn rather than Tolwyn.
    • The Rapier fighter craft in the film take off and land from a aircraft carrier-like landing strip on the Tiger Claw. However, the problem is that they appear to drop down and land on the strip. The problem is that there is no gravity in space so there is no way they could drop down. Even if there was some kind of gravity field around this section of the Tiger Claw carrier, there is no dialogue to indicate that this field exists.
    • When Blair was searching for the Kilrathi com ship, his Merlin computer states that there are possible hostiles ahead, but he states that they are confirmed targets.
    • When the Tiger Claw was hiding in the asteroid, there is no reason for the crew to be silent due to sound not being able to travel in space, so they could be as loud as they wanted and they wouldn't be heard.
    • In the same scene, the Tiger Claw has to have all of its systems shut down to prevent being detected by the Kilrathi. However, we can clearly hear a ping to indicate the Kilrathi are getting closer to the ship.
    • The design of the Kilrathi is also very off from their designs in the video games. The Kilrathi in the film are mostly furless, rather than having fur all over their bodies. They also appear to be somewhat slimy looking.
    • Blair has a bandage on his hand in one scene for no apparent reason (This error is due to a subplot being removed from the film. See WIS#9).
    • We do not learn why Blair wasn't wearing his Pilgrim's Cross, but he says he didn't have it when he jumped to Sol.
    • Angel has to eject from her ship after she was caught in the blast of the destroyed Skipper missile. She ejected and we learn that she has only one hour of Oxygen left before she dies. After the destruction of the Kilrathi fleet that invades the Sol system, we are told that Taggert will return to the Tiger Claw in two hours if he doesn't find her. However, the Tiger Claw was ordered to return to Earth, which is farther away than where the where earlier, so it is likely that Taggert would have found Angel to late, and she should be dead at the film's conclusion.
  8. The characters in the film are very one-dimensional and have barely any depth to them, and some of the characters personality traits have lost.
    • The Kilrathi are supposed to be a menacing villain, but due to a lack of explanation and terrible writing (see below), we don't know their motivation for wanting to destroy all of humanity and because of this they feel like a generic doomsday villain and makes it hard for the audience to "connect" with them.
    • Blair is a very bland and cliche hero-type of protagonist, as he is the guy who saves everybody at the end and also has some sort of extraordinary ability (In this case, inherriting the knowledge of space that the Pilgrims had).
    • While Maniac is the competitive guy who thinks his flying skills are better than everyone elses, it is way to exaggerated to the point where his entire character comes off as annoying. He also has the cliche "hot shot" trait.
    • Angel is the overused strong and serious female leader and doesn't have the same soft side like she did in the games. She also acts like a jerk to Blair most of the time.
    • Rosie is the generic love interest character who dies halfway through the film, and has barely any personality at all.
  9. In addition, a lot of important secondary characters from the games are either omitted completely or have barely any role in the film at all that they feel non-existent in the first place. For example, Spirit was quite an important character in the games and would later have a very emotional death in the second game. Even putting aside that this film is only a re-telling of the events of the first game, a lot of these wingmen like aforementioned Spirit and Hunter had some good roles in the game and supporting material, and being cut out from the film wasn't that great of an idea other than making the film have a quicker and less following pace.
  10. A lot of the characters are also very different from their video game counterparts and some come off as different than the characters they where in the games.
    • In the video games, Christopher Blair was just a standard human who had no special abilities other than his piloting skills. In the movie, he is part Pilgrim, which allows him to navigate through space without needing a navigation computer. His background has also changed, as he is now part Pilgrim.
    • A good example of the is Paladin, who is now of French relation rather than being Scottish, which was a completely unnecessary change.
  11. Many camera shots in the space battle scenes are way to overused, with there being many camera shots on a character's hand on the joystick that controls their fighter craft.
  12. An entire subplot was removed from the film that would have possibly made the story less cliche than the final product and removed a few continuity errors and making many parts of the plot more clear. The plot itself would have involved that Admiral Wilson was the traitor who compromised Pegasus Station. Some scenes would have involved Wilson communicating with the Kilrathi. There was also going to be a knife fight scene among Blair and Commander Gerald which Wilson started (Blair would have injured himself in the fight, which is why he has a bandaged hand when he is given Paladin's Pilgrim Cross). Blair also would have used his cross to kill Wilson. The reason the subplot was cut was because the Kilrathi puppets didn't look realistic enough for the scenes where Wilson communicated to the Kilrathi.
    • To add to the removal of the traitor subplot, Captain Sansky was also supposed to be a traitor on the Tiger Claw and commited suicide to prevent being caught. This was also cut and all we got was a shot of Sansky bleeding in the head, implying that he got the wound from battle.
  13. The acting from many of the actors is downright terrible at points, with Matthew Lillard's performance as Maniac being the worst offender. The role of the character is way to exagerated to the point where his character comes off as way to annoying. The actors also don't give much emotion in a serious situation, such as one of the officers reporting on damage in a half-scared voice that doesn't sound like a natural reaction.
  14. The dialogue in the film is hilariously bad in many scenes, such as at the end of the film when Blair has to leave Angel to save humanity and he doesn't want to leave her, where we get (Angel)"You disobey my order and I'll have you court-martialed", followed by (Blair) "Like I care." Another example is the infamous "You've got balls." "Mine are bigger."
    • In addition, some of the dialogue in the film is very overused, such as Angel refering to the other pilots as "ladies".
  15. Another problem is that many things are not explained in the film, and even alienating people who never played the games in some cases, with the most notable example being that unlike the video games, we are not told anything about where the Kilrathi are from and what their motivation is to end all of humanity.
  16. The space battles are supposed to be the most exciting parts of the film, with the many ships flying around and blasting each other with lasers, but they don't feel exciting at all and are more of a disappointment than a highlight. There isn't much happening on the screen when we see the battles happening, usually having only three or four ships at a time when we see them shooting each other. When we do see massive waves of starfighters coming in, it is just a shot of them flying in with nothing going on.
    • On top of that, the battles are also brought down by cheap special effects. At some points, it is obvious a green screen is being used and it sometimes looks like the explosions of the enemy ships where plastered on without the model actually being destroyed like other films of its kind.
    • The scene where the protagonists have to board a Kilrathi ship to steal fuel is also uninteresting to look at, despite that it is supposed to be very tense scene. The camera shots usually only contain one or two characters, usually a front shot of one guy shooting his weapon and te next shot an over the shoulder view of said character and a Kilrathi falling to the floor. This is basically the entire scene, with a few different shots added in with the heroes together.
  17. The lighting is also a problem throughout, as everything seems dark to look at, even in bright areas such as the bar. This makes scenes such as the space battles hard to see at points and difficult to make out objects in the scenes like ships. The aforementioned fuel stealing scene and parts where we see the Kilrathi on their capital ship also have a lighting problem of their own: There is way to much green lighting that makes it hard to see.

Redeeming Qualities

  1. The concept of a film based on the Wing Commander games was a pretty good idea, as the games were very cinematic and the focus was to feel like you where playing a science fiction action movie, but it's unfortunate that the final product didn't reflect the games well at all, just like other films that tried.
  2. The score of the film is decent, despite not having any of the theme music from the games.
  3. Some concepts that were in the games are in the film, such as the basic setup, the character names, the blue color of the Terran uniforms, and (to some degree) the cat-like design of the Kilrathi.
  4. There is a somewhat cool but brief scene where when the Tiger Claw jumped to the next system, we see two camera pans of Blair, Maniac, Angel, and Rosie with no movement at all.
  5. While the acting is mostly bad throughout, there are a few decent performances such as from David Warner, who does a good job playing Admiral Tolwyn.
  6. Maniac did have some character development halfway through the film unlike most of the other characters, as he acts more mature and feels guilty as a result of causing Rosie's death.
  7. To the film's credit, it tackles themes of racism throughout the film, with Blair frequently being alienated by his comrades for being part Pilgrim, but he is later a respected soldier by many regardless of his origin by the end of the film.

Reception

Wing Commander received negative reviews from critics and audiences. On review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 10% rating based on 51 reviews. The critic's consensus reads "The low budget may explain Wing Commander's cheesy special effects, but can't excuse the lame dialogue or the movie's obsessive reliance on sci-fi cliches"[1]. On Metacritic, the film has an aggregated critic score of 21/100 [2]. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun Times gave the film one star out of four[3]. Anita Gates of The New York Times stated that "the film is painfully boring and funny in the wrong palces[4]." The film has also been criticized by Wing Commander fans for barely resembling the video game, not having the character development the games had, disrespecting lore, and the flaws most negatively reviewed films have includiing bad acting and plot holes. The film was also a box office failure, with a box office of $11.6 million on a $30 million budget, making no money at all.

Freddie Prinze Jr., the lead actor of the film, has since stated his displeasure with the film, saying "I can't stand Wing Commander. I can't watch one scene of that movie... I read the script and loved it. So did my buddy Matthew Lillard. We both got the parts. We went on location and they said, 'Here's the new script'. It was a piece of crap[5]."

Trivia

  • It was one of only three films that showed a trailer for ‎Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, leading to many people paying admission and walking out of the movie theater after the trailer.
  • Despite the events of the film being non-canon, Wing Commander Arena would have a few references to the film in its manual, including references to the Pilgrim Wars, which hadn't been in the main timeline untill that point.
  • The film is sometimes called Wing Commander: Space Will Never Be The Same.
  • Despite the traitor subplot being removed from the film, toy manufacturer X-Toys made a Pilgrim Traitor action figure, with a masked face that when removed had the face of Admiral Wilson.
  • Jürgen Prochnow and David Warner had previously appeared in a Wing Commander spin-off game called Privateer 2: The Darkening.
  • On the film's movie poster, the font for the title is the same font as the aforementioned series spin-off Privateer 2: The Darkening and the DVD cover has the title font of the game Wing Commander Prophecy. However, the font of the title on the Blu-Ray cover is completely original.

Videos

Trailer

Reviews

References


Wing Commander (Franchise)
Games: Wing Commander (Pre-Origin Shutdown Era) - Wing Commander Arena
Other Media: Wing Commander Academy - Wing Commander (Film)
Releated Articles: Strike Commander

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