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Wing Commander

Review by Elias Savada
Posted 12 March 1999

  Directed by Chris Roberts.

Starring Freddie Prinze, Jr. Saffron Burrows,
Matthew Lillard, Tchéky Karyo, Jürgen Prochnow,
David Suchet, and David Warner.

Screen Story and Screenplay by Kevin Droney,
based on a story and characters created by Chris Roberts.


Scientific fact: the universe is a big vacuum.

Scientific corollary: Wing Commander sucks.

Video game maestro Chris Roberts should beat a hasty retreat to the computer monitors of the world as movie goers who unfortunately pay out good money will undoubtedly amaze themselves that they made it through this disaster, 1999’s variation on Lost in Space. If the galaxy as we know it is on the verge of collapse, this debut feature from the creator of the ever popular computer game namesake will hasten that end.

Not being a apostle of the underlying franchise, I have learned that Luke Skywalker’s Mark Hamill was a participant in several of the small screen amusements, but was jettisoned in favor of a younger role model (Freddie Prinze, Jr.). Major mistake, especially since Trailer B for Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace looks to "premiere" in front of this dreary sci-fi piece. Twentieth Century-Fox, which is releasing both films, has sent out conflicting signals on which films will be blessed by the preview’s attachment. As a result, many Star Wars fans might just up and leave after getting an extended

three-minute glimpse of the biggest event of the year, instead of squirming through this space sludge for the next 90 minutes or so. For those of you so aching for a new fix on the George Lucas epic due May 19th, I pray you’ll find it attached to something other than this intergalactic mess. Stay at home and download the trailer or catch it on the numerous channels that are showing it on television. I wouldn’t be surprised if TV Guide doesn’t start listing the preview over the next two months. Appropriately enough, an early check of the film’s message boards on America Online found the most postings under the subject heading "I’m going just to see the Star Wars trailer."

The film has a naval, submariner motif (sleepy admirals, "man the" torpedoes, battleship/destroyer convoys, Red October-style search and destroy missions (complete with sonar pings!), fighter planes that look like World War II leftovers fleeing a sinking aircraft carrier, etc.) and the producers probably thought it was neat to cast Das Boot’s Jürgen Prochnow in a small role. As befits this "gee whiz" production, the story line is written at the level of a ten year old and the dialogue rivals that of 1995’s computer crossover fantasy Mortal Kombat, also penned by Wing Commander’s Kevin Droney. The special effects may be appropriate for a world set in the year 2654, but the $30 million budget effort (shot in Luxembourg) forgot to factor in that the entire cast in horribly directed in a script thinner than matzah.

Hard-core fans of the electronic series may get a kick out of seeing their popular characters on a large canvas, but movie patrons won’t take a liking to these drab stereotypes. Half-breed Christopher Blair (23-year-old Prinze), a rookie space jockey, is descended from a mysterious, mentally-insightful race called the Pilgrims, allowing the filmmakers to speed up how his navigational fingers can scan the galaxy’s yellow pages in a single bound volume (with gloves on!!!). Blonde-haired, irresponsible hot shot sidekick Todd "Maniac" Marshall (Scream’s Matthew Lillard, also featured with his co-star in She’s All That), whose garrulous antics sent me looking for a barf bag. Circle of Friends’ Saffron Burrows plays the emotionally disabled Wing Commander Jeanette "Angel" Deveraux, a step down for this model turned actress. Other actors are all drawn pencil thin, and the evil alien race Kilrathi are only seen fleetingly and look very much like green-eyed mutants cats equipped with Freddy Krueger fingernail extenders. Meouch!

FX wise, this is a quantum leap backward. Most of the visual lowlights are mired down in explanatory dialogue about space gravitational anomalies and other mumbo jumbo. The ships seem to be stuck in third gear, running on impulse power (Star Trek is light years ahead here!). At a crucial dimensional jump, the characters are frozen just like in the Gap khaki ads that have spawned a thousand imitations. You’d think that by the 27th century mankind would have evolved beyond such derivative stuff. Including the use of lunar dates (March 16) in computer generated subtitles.

As befits this hulking iceberg of a humorless script, towards the film’s end one of the characters is recovered from deep space in a state of hypothermia. The rescuer docks his ship on the large patrol vessel and announces that "I’ll go and get the medics." I guess they still have waiting rooms seven centuries from now. And HMOs.

If Wing Commander’s plight is earth’s last hope, it’s time to stick your head between your legs and kiss the universe goodbye.

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