Wing Commander (the movie) is a guilty pleasure and it is something of an oddity in that it feels both very much of its time – especially in terms of its casting – but also like a curious throwback to the 1970s and 80s.
The movie, based on the popular video game series, was released in 1999, in the middle of the CG revolution sweeping through cinemas by the late 90s (Matrix, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace etc). The movie is a mix of rubbery aliens rubbing shoulders with relatively decent CGI for the time.
The story centers on a protagonist hotshot 26th-century pilot, Lieutenant Christopher Blair played by Freddie Prinze Jr, who finds himself in the midst of an intergalactic war between humans and the antagonists of the story, the so-called alien ‘Kilrathi’ that threaten to destroy Earth. Blair joins forces with his superior space cadets Lieutenant ‘Angel’ Deveraux (Saffron Burrows), Captain Sansky (David Suchet) and Admiral Tolwyn (David Warner).
On the topic of actors, since the video game series featured a lot of in-game cutscenes à la the 90s (looking at you Command and Conquer), there were quite a few renowned actors in the games. For example, in Wing Commander III, Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill, played the lead role of Christopher Blair in its numerous full-motion video sequences. Other games in the series featured actors such as Malcolm McDowell, Josh Lucas, John Hurt, Christopher Walken and Clive Owen.
The movie is resting somewhere between the remake of Battlestar Galactica and Top Gun and similar to the games, it features a lot of fighter dogfights as well as capital ships battling it out in submarine-esque engagements using torpedoes and even broadsides like the wooden ships of old.
Unlike the video games, with starfighter design more akin to modern day stealth jet fighters, the movie instead features a more low-tech Confederate fighter design, basing their design on old British fighter jets in an attempt at the kind of “future retro” look.
The capital battleships of the movie are something of a combination of submarines-in-space and carriers. Very similar to the Battlestars of the old and new Battlestar Galactica series. The games feature a much wider range of different capital ships that includes corvettes, frigates, cruisers, carriers, and destroyers, both human and Kilrathi.
Wing Commander made just over $11.5m in the US box office – little more than a third of its reported budget – possibly partially due to the Wachowskis’ unexpected blockbuster success, The Matrix, that was released just a couple of weeks later.
The movie was directed by Chris Roberts, who created the Wing Commander games, and who is now turning his full attention to the video game project ‘Star Citizen’ that began as an extremely successful crowdfunding campaign and is now closing in on 200 million dollars raised. The game was originally planned for a 2014 release, but with significant delays in production and the expansion of gameplay features, there is no release date yet announced.