Site created 12/15/97.
review added: 9/8/99
1999 (1999) 20th Century
review by Andy Patrizio,
special to The Digital Bits
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras):
Specs and Features
100 mins, PG-13, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), single-sided,
single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, photo gallery of the
actors, theatrical and teaser trailers, animated menu screens with
sound effects, scene access (27 chapters), languages: English (DD
5.1 and 2.0), subtitles: English, Close Captioned
Commander is based on a very popular computer game
series, set in a future where the Earth is at war with a leonine
race of beings called the Kilrathi. In it, you play a pilot
stationed on a ship called the Tiger's Claw. The ship is a space
carrier loaded with fighter craft. The game had you flying missions
with a wingman, in which you'd frequently be jumped by the Kilrathi
and you either shot them down or ran like hell. The game was
enormously addicting back when it hit in 1990, introducing things
like background animations and a branched storyline, where your
success or failure determined how the game went. You could help
defeat the Kilrathi or, if you failed, Earth would be seriously
losing the war.
Wing Commander hit a peak of
popularity in 1994, when it became the first game to make heavy use
of full motion video and actors in the game itself. The Jedi Knight
himself, Mark Hamill, played Colonel Blair, and twenty years after
Star Wars, we saw that poor
Mark still couldn't act his way out of a paper bag. Eventually
however, Origin Systems, the developer of the game, fell victim to
the same disease currently infecting all of Hollywood: it became
obsessed with pretty computer pictures and forgot about the story.
As a result, later sequels in the game's series were less than
Wing Commander's creator,
Chris Roberts, left Origin a few years back to form his own gaming
and movie development company, Digital Anvil. When I heard he was
going to be directing the movie version of his game, I thought, "Good,
he wants to be a movie maker anyway." And I had to figure that
he could realize his own vision on the big screen better than
anyone. Many authors have complained bitterly about Hollywood
screwing up their stories/characters (Tom Clancy, Stephen King).
That being said, you have to wonder how the guy who created theWing
Commander game could foul up his own movie version of the
same so completely. Chris Roberts has managed to do just that.
The basic plot of the film, has the Kilrathi stealing a plotting
device for jumping through quasars and black holes, which lets them
pass enormous amounts of space in a very short amount of time. The
space forces charged with defending the Earth discover, to their
horror, that the Kilrathi fleet can suddenly get to Earth before
they can be intercepted. As the story opens, our hero, a
wet-behind-the-ears cadet named Lt. Christopher Blair (played by
pretty boy Freddie Prinze Jr., who reprises his doe-eyed and
purse-lipped look from She's All That),
is being transported to his new duty assignment aboard the Tiger's
Claw. Blair is carrying an encoded message to the Captain of the
Tiger Claw, which is basically that the Claw should haul ass back to
Earth, in a desperate attempt to stop the Kilrathi invasion. Things
of course go south almost immediately, and the film degenerates into
a series of space battles, in which Blair, his fellow pilot Maniac
and their commander Angel (played by Matthew Lillard and Saffron
Burrows) get into all kinds of trouble.
Some things I can forgive, but there are plot points here that
really started to bother me. Blair is described as the son of a "pilgrim"
(a group of people who can somehow navigate the stars by instinct,
instead of using computers), and there is some mistrust of these
pilgrims for reasons that aren't explained. Yet Blair takes grief
from many of his fellow pilots, and especially from the Claw's
second-in-command Commander Paul Gerald (played by Jürgen
Prochnow, the Captain from Das Boot).
Also, I didn't like the relationship between Angel and Blair. This
is actually a storyline that happened in the original game, but
there the pair were simply fellow pilots, and not in a
superior/subordinate position. I don't buy a pilot falling for his
C.O., especially in the middle of a war.
This cast is not that strong, and to be honest, it's one of the
homeliest movie casts I've seen in ages (pretty boy Prinze aside).
And the production design leaves a lot to be desired. The Tiger's
Claw looks impressive from space, but inside it's cramped, with
tight bulkheads and pipes snaking all along the walls, like the
inside of a submarine. The original Enterprise looked more advanced
than this ship. Wing Commander
is even more ridiculously archaic-looking than Starship
Troopers (with its bullet-slinging machine guns). And the
Kilrathi look terrible. They're supposed to be lion-like, and they
end up looking like rubber suits. Add to that the implausible
relationship, and a stupid subplot that only serves up pointless
tension, and Chris Roberts has managed to really make a mess here.
Now on to the disc. For a non-anamorphic transfer, the picture
looks beautiful. The colors are rich, bright, and stand out clearly,
even in the dismal drab of the Tiger's Claw (and the spartan design
of the ship's bridge). There's surprisingly good contrast and shadow
detail, and little digital artifacting. The only real strike against
the picture, is the occasional shimmer on fine detail caused by NTSC
deficiencies (a high-def, anamorphic transfer would have corrected
But where the disc totally shines is the sound. The Dolby Digital
5.1 surround sound is nothing short of awesome. Ships zoom around
from left to right, or front to back. You really will find yourself
spinning to look around the room. I can't remember a movie that used
surround sound this well, except maybe Desperado.
As for extras, you get a cast list and animated menus, which are
actually quite cool. But the only other things you get are the movie
trailer and teaser. Big deal.
Fans of the game were royally PO'ed by this film, and I can't say I
blame them. First-time director Chris Roberts somehow managed to
completely forget the very game concepts he created. It only cost
$30 million to make Wing Commander,
which just goes to show that you don't need to spend $150 million to
make a movie that stinks (Armageddon,
Wild Wild West, Godzilla,
etc.). With a modicum of the spirit of the original game, Wing
Commander might have really been something. At the very
least, however, this weak movie is made a little more watchable on
DVD, because it looks and sounds great.