Wing Commander (1999), or Is That Your Joystick Or Are You Just Happy To See Me? Oh, It’s Your Joystick…

19 08 2009

Welcome back to Failed Franchises Week! It’s the week that we’ll be exploring the death of potential franchise films based on their first movie. It’s the week that will also severely test my patience with big-budget Hollywood filmmaking. Today’s feature is another colossal loser, in the tradition of the rest of the week, but it stands out for a very particular reason, and that is its truly bold and truly botched attempt to break bread with the most finicky and fickle fanbases in the universe; gamers. Even worse than that, they were trying to court PC gamers! I’m surprised these people made it out with their lives, considering how insanely pissed PC gamers get when someone tries to fuck with one of their titles. Wing Commander was an immensely popular title for sci-fi flight simulator fans, and while I didn’t particularly enjoy the games, I can see why they’d be popular. If you like to pretend like you’re in a cramped cockpit with nothing but the universe and a handful of enemy planes and CG videos to entertain you, perhaps its cool. But I digress. The series somehow spawned a major Hollywood picture in 1999 with a budget of $30 million and a young up-and-coming cast. Expectations from the gaming community were low, but somehow even those meager standards were smashed like the hull of a tiny spaceship when this thing came out. To this day, people STILL come by the forums to openly mock this horrendous mess. I honestly wish I had some sort of measly defense for it, but everything you’ve heard about this movie is true; it’s quite awful.

Based loosely on nightmares of Wing Commander creator Chris Roberts and even more loosely based on the series of games he designed, it’s about three sexy new recruits of yet another future war. At some point in human history, not only do we reach beyond the furthest stars, but we manage to piss off an alien race called the Kilrathi along the way. So earthlings, known here as Terrans, are fighting a difficult war with aliens on one front in space, and at the same time are experiencing racial tensions amongst themselves as a race of humans known as Pilgrims have recently had a falling out with the rest of the species and waged a war against the Terran Confederation. Well, it turns out that out of these three young, bright, incredibly attractive soldiers, named Blair, is a Pilgrim *gasp!*. His friend, Todd “Maniac” Marshall, is a total psycho jock who would be dispensing wedgies if he were back on Earth, and his boss is Jeanette “Angel” Devereaux, ia a seasoned Wing Commander who got the two guppies Blair and Marshall to work with and is at first none too pleased to have to babysit them. But they might just be the key to winning the war, because while the Kilrathi have developed a new navigational system to sneak up behind the Terrans and their fleets, Blair’s Pilgrim genetics give him a huge edge when it comes to navigating, allowing him to do it without the aid of a computer. Using Blair’s super navigation skills, can the three partners stop the Kilrathi from jumping to Earth and killing everyone before reinforcements arrive?

Everything about this movie would suggest that:

A. It was made exclusively for the Sci-fi Channel

B. It was a home video for 90s big-shot Freddie Prinze, Jr.

C. This was a compilation of deleted scenes from Starship Troopers.

But it turns out that none of this is true. Actually, this movie was directed and written by the guy who created the games! Which truly amazes me, because anyone who has ever played the games and understood the story knows that this is a totally bastardized version of the original mythology combined with almost every single soldier-centric war movie EVER. It’s one of those chicken-or-the-egg conundrums that plagues the fan of any work of art that is intentionally marred by its creator. Is it wrong for an artist to sabotage his own work? Should a fan even complain? I don’t know; all I know is that Chris Roberts somehow made something less underwhelming than a barely 3-D PC game with $30 million, and in the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, “What the fuck, Bro-mosexual!?!”

The acting is bad on all sides. Nobody even tries to save this fly-ball from hitting the fence (that is my first and only sports reference on this site).  It is grossly unjust how a veteran like Jurgen Prochnow has to play a paltry side role when wimp extraordinaire Freddie Prinze Jr. locks in a leading role. Especially since they really put the same amount of effort in, with is precisely zero. The lead is a waste of space, David Warner, the king of sinister, can barely work up enough energy to be a supporting character, and Saffron Burrows didn’t have enough time to really get into the character because if they didn’t finish with her by midnight she would turn back into a pumpkin. I’m so sick of a cast who doesn’t give a shit!!! It’s really starting to bring me down, and if it wasn’t for Matthew Lillard I would have lost my cool with this whole theme week. He plays Lieutenant Todd “Maniac” Marshall, and he puts it the old Lillard try, which is a hell of a lot compared to most of the cast. The character is just plain fun; he IS a maniac! It’s not just a “hilarious” faux-military tough-guy nickname! He’s a total bad-ass jock! His death scene makes me proud to be a Terran! So here’s to you, Matthew “Lil’ Smokey” Lillard; your so-so is everyone else’s amazing.

And the hits just keep on coming! Let me give you a quick problem medley. The special effects are crap. Simple as that.

The Kilrathi creatures look like a Jim Henson Workshop reject concept, and for some reason they hunch. What kind of advanced alien race has the same posture as Quasimodo?

The scientific errors boggle the mind! Who knew that ships in 2654 took off like jets in 2009? One would think that they wouldn’t, seeing how one is in space and the other isn’t, but what do I know?!?!

And to top things off, humanity’s greatest enemy turns out to be the dumbest intelligent race ever! Their best warships are bamboozled like a villain in a Scooby-Doo episode! (see the sequence in which a Kilrathi Snakeir is dispatched within the span of a couple minutes. Ridiculous!)

What a disappointment to fans of Wing Commander everywhere. I’ve seen some forums that celebrate the movie because it was a legitimate piece of the Wing Commander mural, seeing as how Chris Roberts made it as well, but most fans will be the first to express their hatred of this movie. Even when the creative force behind one of your favorite series tries to break into a new medium, the results can be disastrous. Nothing is fun about this movie. It’s a sickeningly boring sci-fi movie that chokes on its own-self-importance and endless references to events that will never be important due to its glaring lack of sequels. It’s lameness piled on top of lameness, and the one shining flag that keeps its head above the dung is Matthew “Hump Cat” Lillard as Todd “Maniac” Marshall. I wish I had something better to report, I really don’t. Sometimes 90% of America is actually right, and since only 10% of America was insane enough to watch this, I now anxiously long to be in the majority again. I give Wing Commander 2 1/2 Matthew “Bloody Nachos” Lillards out of 10. Boo.

Tomorrow we continue with a movie that never spawned any sequels on the big screen, but might be due for a reboot in the near future; I’ll be watching David Lynch’s Dune! Until then!

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