Genre: Sci-Fi Adventure Running Time: 1 hr. 40 min.
Release Date: March 12th, 1999 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Chris Roberts Actors: Freddie Prinze Jr., Saffron Burrows, Matthew Lillard, Tcheky Karyo, Jurgen Prochnow, David Suchet, David Warner, Ginny Holder, Hugh Quarshie
n the year 2654, the space-faring human Confederation has exhausted all diplomatic avenues with the conquering Kilrathi. It’s clear that they have no interest in coexisting with humans or any other species. And so, war has been declared. The Vega Fleet headquarters on the Pegasus asteroid base becomes one of the first major warzones, undergoing a surprise bombing attack that reveals an infiltration stratagem designed to steal the invaluable Navcom Artificial Intelligence, which would allow the enemy to jump into Earth-space. And this latest ambush places the Kilrathi just 40 hours away from Earth itself.
Admiral Tolwyn (David Warner) – or Towlyn, as it’s spelled on a computer screen – desperately needs information on the invaders’ next plan, leading him to contact nearby starship Diligent, captained by civilian scout James “Paladin” Taggart (Tcheky Karyo) and aided by half-human/half-Pilgrim First Lieutenant Christopher Blair (Freddie Prinze Jr.) and Lieutenant Todd “Maniac” Marshall (Matthew Lillard). Blair, whose father played an important role in past military conflicts, must hand-deliver an encrypted communications chip to Jason Sansky (David Suchet), the captain of the T.C.S. Tiger Claw, patrolling the Enyo System. And then they must all jump through a pulsar to reach the Charybdis Quasar in time to intercept the Kilrathi (clearly, the tongue-twisting sci-fi appellations are abundant).
The production design is impressive, blending the brighter, more colorful visuals of the “Star Wars” films with the darker, colder aesthetic of “Starship Troopers” and “Aliens.” And with all the extraterrestrial designations and heroic spaceship monikers, this futuristic arena also feels at home with the worlds of “Star Trek” or “Battlestar Galactica.” The computer systems are outdated, but that’s a common failure in anticipating futuristic advancements. Likewise, many of the sequences that depend too heavily on computer animation aren’t nearly as convincing as the practical effects of actual props and costumes/makeup. In particular, the dogfights, while acceptably orchestrated, have a difficult time appearing as big-budgeted as in the film’s feature-length brethren. And the Kilrathi puppet-creatures are terribly uninspired.
Expectedly, amidst the space battles are a couple of love stories, one involving stern ace Lieutenant Commander “Angel” Deveraux (Saffron Burrows) and the more reckless Blair, another seeing Marshall crawling into bed with Lieutenant Rosie Forbes (Ginny Holder). And adding to this is a subplot of systemic racism against the Pilgrim species (space explorers predating humankind), promulgated by stony Commander Paul Gerald (Jurgen Prochnow). Yet despite the various details intended to create depth and uniqueness for the characters, the majority of the personas fail to inspire much concern. Even when tragedy strikes, the impact is minimal.
In fact, it’s somewhat annoying when characters make deadly mistakes in pointless games of oneupmanship or interpose themselves to absorb injuries in overdramatic acts of heroism. The plot isn’t complex enough – nor are the roles engaging enough – for these feats to generate emotional weight (it is, after all, loosely based on a video game series). Prinze, especially, is wrong for the part, but so too are nearly all the younger hotshot pilots; the older actors are sincerer, if only because of their more serious approach to the material. By the end, it’s obvious that “Wing Commander” would have worked better as a single episode of a sci-fi television show rather than a standalone theatrical picture.
– Mike Massie