Wing Commander Hits Theaters

Read Alan Dunkin's review of the movie based on that very well-known game.

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The printed sheet at the ticket counter in the movie theater was not a good sign: "No refunds for Wing Commander." Of course, it was meant to discourage people from seeing the trailers (the Star Wars Episode I trailer "B") and then demanding their money back before even seeing the movie. But how many would have known that going in?

I decided to plunk down US$4.75 in any event and went on in. After all, I had a mission: see the Wing Commander movie. Was I disappointed? It depends on your point of view. If you were expecting a lousy movie with little relation to the game series, you probably wouldn't be disappointed.

Well, there are some similarities, of course. Humanity and the Kilrathi are at war. Young Christopher Blair (Freddie Prinze Jr.) is fresh from the academy. There is combat in space between fighters and capital ships, Earth is in danger, ships "jump" from one point to another in space, and Blair and Devereux (Saffron Burrows) develop a relationship, but other than that, don't expect much else.

The plot is pretty simple: The Kilrathi attack a Confederation shipyard and manage to capture their supersecret navigation AI that allows the Kilrathi battle fleet to jump into the Terran (that is, Earth) system within 40 hours, two hours ahead of the bulk of the Confed fleet. The only thing to stand in the Kilrathi way is the TCS Tiger Claw (yes, not the Tiger's Claw), where two new pilots Blair and Marshall (Maniac, played by Matthew Lillard) are being transferred to, ferried by secret agent Paladin.

Directed by series creator Chris Roberts, the movie is just mired with all kinds of problems, including a rather lousy script (Kevin Droney). For instance, the movie throws in the concept of the "Pilgrims," the descendants of the original space explorers who genetically have a "feel" for space and who went to war with the regular humans in the previous generation. Blair is half Pilgrim, a concept that a few of his shipmates dislike (including the second in command, played by Jurgen Prochnow) to the point of racism. Another good one is the concept of avoiding the emotional baggage of losing a buddy in combat: he or she "never existed."

The movie raises all kinds of questions. Why does a carrier need a landing deck in space? The Kilrathi sort of look like cats (they are never referred to as cats though even though most fans of the series know that they are feline-like), but they don't have any hair. The ships are downright ugly, the combat sequences are way too dark and unrevealing, and the movie suddenly has the need to borrow from World War II movies (like the "depth charge" sequence with Das Boot veteran Prochnow at the helm). Why would you want to board a ship with fighter pilots? Isn't that a job for the Marines (note that the Marines were there, but of course Blair gets to do all the work)?

Fortunately Wing Commander is saved from movie purgatory by perhaps a few good things. The score, based on "themes" by David Arnold (Tomorrow Never Dies and Stargate among other film scores) and Kevin Kiner, is actually halfway decent. The special effects (by Digital Anvil) are also good in a number of places (and fair in others). There apparently is no enhanced sound (SDDS or THX) either, which was somewhat surprising.

All in all, I almost felt cheated (even if I did get to see the Episode I trailer on Thursday), but then again, I came in expecting to feel cheated. Wing Commander has few good things going for it, and fans of the game will wonder where it all went wrong.

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