[Welcome back to the Evolution of Video Game Movies series. Every week, I will be moving forward through time, starting with the earliest and ending with the most recent of video game movies. I will be detailing the histories of the games and how the films came about, and both my and fan reaction to the adaptations. Practically all of my background information is either common knowledge or from Wikipedia. So without further ado, let's move on to the next film on the list.]
In 1990, the company Origin Systems and creator Chris Roberts released a PC space simulation game called Wing Commander, meant to be like World War II... in space. The film is different than other games of its type, supposedly bringing more into the style of, say, Star Wars.
The game is set in the year 2654 with the Terran Confederation facing off against the Kilrathi, a feline race of creatures. You take control of an unnamed pilot with blue hair (later named Blair as a joke, since his nickname had been bluehair) flying as part of the Tiger's Claw. Two add-ons were eventually, well, added. They were called The Secret Missions and (wait for it) The Secret Missions 2. These added missions to the game. Bet you didn't see THAT coming. The first sequel came out in 1991 and continued the story, then another few sequels released over the next few years.
Of course, the games were relatively popular, meaning a film was on the way. However, not only was this the first video game movie based on a computer game (as opposed to an arcade or console game), but it was also directed by game creator Chris Roberts. Yeah, I'll just skip to the part where it's in the Top 10 worst video game movies of all time, and Chris Roberts never directed another movie again (though he has produced some films, such as The Punisher, The Jacket, and Lord of War. I'll let that sink in). Even worse, to the dismay of fans, the film actually inspired changes in later game installments... for some reason.
Oh, and I actually saw this thing in theater. Do I remember it? Not at all. So I think it's about time I give it a rewatch over a decade later and let you know what I think.
No, I've never played the game. Actually, I'm not a big fan of computer-based gaming. The controls always throw me off. I prefer consoles or handhelds. But the idea behind the game is simple enough... right? Lt. Blair (Freddie Prinze Jr.) and his best friend, Lt. Todd 'Maniac' Marshall (Matthew Lillard) are brought in to deliver a message to the Tiger Claw about a Kilrathi attack. Joining their new wing commander, Lt. Cdr. 'Angel' Devereaux (Saffron Burrows), they must do what it takes to stop the Kilrathi plot.
Or at least, I think that's what the plot is. I'm still not 100% sure. The movie made little sense to me, plot wise. Nobody's actions make sense. Nothing that happens is really every explained, or at least explained well. It just feels like a sequence of events surrounding a plot that hasn't been fleshed out. As such, everything is just so... boring.
It doesn't help that the characters suck and the actors are sleeping their way through the film, either. Only Saffron Burrows and Matthew Lillard seem to have any personality, and Burrows is pretty unbearable. You can have a hardass character, but when it's a good guy, you have to give them at least a smidge of heart or likability, to which she has none. Lillard plays really the only decent and interesting character in the film, and really the only character that faces any sort of extreme hardship and have any kind of change. And his relationship with the character of Rosie is fun, leading to the only good/suspenseful scene in the movie a little over halfway in.
Aesthetically, the movie looks like crap, as well. The costumes for the human characters are generally ridiculous--any of them (the pilot suits, the space suits, the soldier uniforms, etc.). Whenever you do see the Kilrathi, which isn't very often, they look just plain stupid (which is probably why you don't see them very often). The visual effects are lame, too. From the jets to the blasts, everything looks fake and cheap. Not even outer space itself looks good.
Even the action is dull. There is almost no suspense or thrill in the battles. The fights are lacking in scale, visuals, style... you name it. For a movie based on a game that is centered around Star Wars-esque space battles, this is not a good thing. And this is all particularly sad considering this came out the same year as Phantom Menace.
The film isn't painful or really all that insulting (or maybe it is for fans of the game). I just found that its worst issue was its dullness. Bad casting, acting, writing, visuals, etc., didn't help, either. I think the idea of this film could work, and perhaps it would have with a more skilled director and a slightly better script. But as it is, it's just not all that interesting of a movie. Let me say this again: Matthew Lillard is the best part of this movie. I think that pretty much says enough.