100 minutes | Rated: PG-13
Opened: Friday, March 12, 1999
Written & directed by Chris Roberts
Starring Freddie Prinze Jr, Saffron Burrows, Matthew Lillard, Tcheky Karyo & Jurgen Prochnow
SMALL SCREEN SHRINKAGE: 20%|
LETTERBOX: NOT NECESSARY
TV is this movie's natural environment. It's a video game, after all! Details of better- than- it- deserved production design might be lost on smaller screens, but otherwise generic pap doesn't need any special viewing conditions.
VIDEO RELEASE: 7/6/99
Cool production design can't make up for absense of originality in 'Wing Commander'
If you want more for your $8 than just a video game brought to life by a cast of third-tier actors without a modicum of depth, excitement or reason, "Wing Commander" probably isn't for you. But I will give it credit for two things:
1) Through 100 minutes devoid of a single spark of creativity or character appeal, somehow I was never bored.
2) The World War II-in-space inspired production design is far more inventive than a movie based on a CD-ROM game deserves.
From the dogfights in spacecraft fashioned as futuristic Stuka dive-bombers (complete with flak and machine guns instead of lasers) to the combination submarine/air craft carrier battleships that fire broadsides at each other, "Wing Commander" borrows heavily from 1940s military influence for both models and sets, lending the film a uniform visual style that feels wasted on a movie this bland.
The story is also borrowed -- or rather pillaged -- from a dozen hit movies with very little attempt to hide it's origins. "Top Gun" and "Star Wars" are the most notable sources, and a depth charge scene that finds a submarine-like ship trying to avoid detection on the shadowy surface of an asteroid is lifted almost whole from "Das Boot," even bringing that movie's star, Jurgen Prochnow, with it.
Freddie Prinze, Jr., Matthew Lillard (both seen in "She's All That"), and Saffron Burrows ("Circle of Friends") play hot-shot pilots who battle the Kilrathi, a race of feline-faced aliens who look like they raided the defunct "Dr. Who" wardrobe for their costumes.
Writer-director Chris Roberts (who also created the game on which the movie is based) attempts to fatten the measly plot with an unnecessarily complex historical backstory -- something about a race of human pilgrims with a gift for navigation who were wiped out in a civil war -- but you'd need an abacus to keep track of it all.
Anyway, the history lesson only serves as a springboard for Prinze's last-act heroics where he, as a descendant of the pilgrims, is the only person who can fly a ship through an unstable wormhole and save humanity as we know it. (It was all I could do to keep myself from shouting out "Use The Force, Luke!")
"Wing Commander" doesn't pretend to be high art, but so much more could have been done with the WWII navy theme that one can't help but be disappointed when it comes up so very empty.