STARRING: Freddie Prinze Jr., Saffron Burrows, Matthew Lillard, Tcheky Karyo,
1999, 100 Minutes, Directed by: Chris Roberts
A few years back, Wing Commander III was the sort of game
you bought to show off what impressive hardware you had - a (then) state-of-the-art
486DX/100. Spanning several CD-ROMs, it was more than a mere shoot-them-up in outer space.
Combining live, admittedly B-list, actors such as Malcolm (Clockwork
Orange) McDowell, Mark (Return of the Jedi) Hamill and
Jon-Rhys (Raiders of the Lost Ark) Davies with computer graphics and real sets, Wing
Commander III was more of a movie than a game, taking the player through a linear
storyline and game play.
Considering the popularity of the game and the fact that Wing Commander would
have an edge over most games-turned-into-movies (such as Mortal Kombat) in that it
already had a storyline and resembled a live action movie in any case, it was only
obvious that it would make a very cool movie. Or that was the theory at least.
In reality it didn't quite work out that way even though Chris Roberts, who
"directed" the popular PC game, would also direct the Wing Commander
movie. For starters, they couldn't get any of the original actors in the game to reprise
their roles for the big screen. A bad sign in itself, because that meant that they had to
get even more obscure actors for the film version. The only two faces I could recognise
were that of Jurgen Prochnow (of Das Boot fame) and David Warner (Tronn, Wild Palms). And then there're a lot of twentysomething good-looking
actors, making this almost a teenage movie in outer space.
Listen, here's what's wrong with Wing Commander: it is
dead dull, boring and predictable filled with stereotyped characters. Besides that, the
special effects (admittedly thrown together at a very low budget), consisting of the type
of CGI effects we saw in Babylon 5, look murky and substandard.
"The spaceships are designed to look like old WWII propeller-driven
Also, Wing Commander tries to look like a World War II movie set in outer space,
but just ends up looking ridiculous in the process. The fighter ships, designed to look
like old WWII propeller-driven airplanes, actually make a rat-tat-tat sound like a
machine gun would when shooting down enemy fighters. The high-tech spaceships use
torpedoes inserted manually into firing tubes by crew members. One scene even has a
spaceship hiding from an enemy spaceship like a submarine would when hiding from a
destroyer - replete with the ping noises of a sonar we know so well from movies
such as Das Boot!
Wing Commander's biggest sin is that it doesn't
resemble the game on which it is based in any way whatsoever, something that will no doubt
alienate and disappoint the hardcore gamers that are the film's target audience.
My kid brother, one of those hardcore gamers, saw the movie with me and insisted that I
should give the film a zero in my review. Yes, that's how bad it is. If you're not very familiar
with the game, you'll find yourself slogging through the clichéd onscreen proceedings,
your mind wandering to other topics, mostly on how you could have better spent your ticket
Apparently Wing Commander was intended for the home video market, but 20th
Century Fox executives were so impressed with the movie that they decided on giving it a
big screen release. Why I don't know. Then again, Hollywood thought it fit to release
films such as Batman & Robin, The
Postman and The Avengers.
The story? It is Earth versus a race of hostile aliens that look like Dr. Evil in Austin
Powers' hairless cat, replete with green eyes that glow in the dark. Some space
battles and a group of testosterone-driven fighter pilots saving Earth from being invaded
by said kittens, er, aliens.