Wing Commander Movie 1999 Scene A fighter spaceship flying to engage the Kilrathi vessels

Wing Commander [1999]

Do you know that I watched this movie for the first time just two days ago? I watched this almost a quarter of a century-old science fiction movie based on a popular video game franchise I actually played less than 48 hours ago. I mean, I know you didn’t know that but I think you know what I mean. Wing Commander is a ludicrously heavy-handed and pompous space opera now endowed with that cool retro nineties charm. If you’re wondering just how much cool retro nineties it is, let me tell you that it stars Freddie Prinze Jr. We will be following a young pilot who finds himself on a dangerous mission in the middle of an interstellar war.

If the plot of Wing Commander sounds a bit familiar, it’s because it is basically a Star Wars spin-off. Even its creator Chris Roberts acknowledges this in an interview: “I took the look of the world too far away from the game look. I had my reasons, partly because I was paranoid of being accused of being too much a Star Wars clone.” While I was watching this movie I kept going back and forth between classifying it as a standard movie recommendation and a movie so bad that it’s good. In the end, I came to the conclusion that it doesn’t really matter what kind of movie it is.

What is important is that it’s perfectly watchable if you know what you’re getting yourself into. Then, you can just let go of any expectations and dive straight into this bombastic mess. The story moves at a brisk pace and the ticking clock (the destruction of Earth) is introduced pretty much immediately. Combine this with the running time of just ninety minutes and you get a nifty little distraction. There’s no tension, the twists are incredibly cheesy and the characters are stereotypical. All of this makes Wing Commander one of those movies best watched with a group of friends.

You can make fun of the hilarious dialogue that gets worse and worse over time. You can see the general ideas they were exploring and they were okay. But the execution was just clumsy and yet also fascinating. Especially the introduction of Pilgrims which I hope do not represent religion. The special effects range from impressive to quite janky, depending on the scene. The fighter spaceships look like airplanes from WWII and the bigger ones like submarines. This retro-futuristic style extends to the interior design complete with Nokia logos. Now, there’s a blast from the past.

Chris Roberts, the guy behind the video games and the movie Wing Commander is also a fascinating person. If you’re a gamer, I’m sure you’ve heard of his immense and ambitious project Star Citizen. This space video game was announced back in 2012 and it still has not been released. During that time, the budget kept increasing and increasing to finally reach a whopping $750 million in 2023. All of this money came from backers who know can play not even the alpha version but some sort of an early access demo. If you want to know more about that whole mess, you can find loads of videos on YouTube.

And if you’re looking for a good space sim, Elite Dangerous is a much, much better choice. Take it from someone who has almost 1,500 hours of game time. Moving on, the cast of Wing Commander is a familiar one. We have our young hotshots in Freddie Prinze Jr., Matthew Lillard, and Saffron Burrows. Here’s what Freddie said about the script during one of his interviews: “I can’t stand Wing Commander. I can’t watch one scene of that movie… I read the script and loved it. So did my buddy Matthew Lillard. We both got the parts. We went on location and they said, “Here’s the new script.” It was a piece of shit.”

The old guard led by charismatic Tchéky Karyo and further bolstered by Jürgen Prochnow and David Suchet gave the much-needed sense of seriousness and authenticity to the movie. Wing Commander also features a lot of action mostly consisting of space fights. Probably because the evil aliens Kilrathi look like overgrown cats. As you can probably guess they didn’t have enough money to make them look better despite the hefty $27 million budget. So, we remain in the realm of 1984’s The Last Starfighter.

Still, they managed to cram in exactly two 360 Matrix-style shots that look totally out of place. And yet they feel oddly appropriate considering the flashy atmosphere of the movie. I also love the caps our pilots wear. They look like they’re members of a future Russian Space Federation. Finally, if you’re looking for similarly relaxing and weird space operas do check out sexy Supernova and cheeky Space Truckers

Director: Chris Roberts

Writers: Chris Roberts, Kevin Droney

Cast: Freddie Prinze Jr., Matthew Lillard, Saffron Burrows, Tchéky Karyo, Jürgen Prochnow, David Suchet

Fun Facts: The story in the movie is taking place in the year 2654.

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