Gort vs the Space Kitties: before you ask for a Mass Effect movie, look what Hollywood did to Wing Commander

"The games' crack military veterans are replaced by a bunch of whining, emo teens who can't seem to keep their pants up."

Ask a gamer of a certain age what game they would most like to see adapted into a movie, they will unanimously say Mass Effect. If you ask what they would have chosen twenty years ago and you will find they get a misty look in their eyes, make an excuse and wander off. This is because they would have chosen Wing Commander, and they got their wish.

Starting as a simple DOS game with basic graphics, Wing Commander was the forerunner of epic scifi games like Mass Effect and Halo. It offered the same space opera story and multiple endings, depending on how successful you were at the game, yet, in terms of the gameplay and graphics, it was nothing short of primitive.

"So like, was this a game or something"
The series only really hit its stride with Wing Commander 3, which featured video cut scenes of famous actors performing against green screen. Christopher "Maverick" Blair (thanks, Top Gun) was played by Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill, while his mentor, "Paladin" was John Rhys-Davies; his sinister senior officer was Malcolm McDowell and we even had Tom Wilson from Back To The Future, Jason Bernard and Tim Curry.

"Yes, sir, I suck"
This stellar cast acted out "World War II in space" as the creator described it, with humanity waging a space war against a sinister alien race by launching space fighters from galaxy-hopping carriers. Hamill was again a zero-gravity top gun, this time trying to win the war against the feline Kilrathi, essentially Klingon furries. The fourth game expanded the universe even further allowing the player to choose a side in a human-on-human civil war. This epic, political space saga was fantastic scifi storytelling proving that games could have a plot long before it was expected. The saga rounded out with Prophecy, the fifth game in the series that started again with a young pilot being mentored by Hamill as a new Cthulu-esque alien species emerged from another dimension.

"My acting terrifies me too"
Two years later, Hollywood began production on a film version. Fans were excited. All executives had to do was put those cut-scenes from the game up on screen with a bigger budget and gamers would be yelling "shut up and take my money!" but no. That would be far too easy for Hollywood. This was to be a prequel to the games with a brand new cast. Still, we were thrilled to hear that the film would be directed by the games' creator and star Jurgen Prochnow, David Suchet, David Warner, Tcheky Karyo, Saffron Burrows, Freddie... Prinze... Jr... Matthew... Lill... Wait a second! Were they making Wing Commander into some kind of teen drama? By all the cinematic gods, yes, they were...

Political intrigue? The horrors of warfare? Nope, this film offers an insightful debate about whether testicles or ovaries make for a better pilot. Our team of crack military veterans are replaced by a bunch of whining, emo teens who can't seem to keep their pants up. Worse, there's some rubbish about Prinze Jr's younger Cadet Blair being the descendant of Space Pilgrims, allowing him to navigate at faster-than-light speeds better than a computer. Instead of exploiting this, his superior officers find increasingly-bizarre reasons to persecute him over his ancestry.

Worst of all are the Kilrathi. While the producers had the sense to only show their faces in one very-short sequence near the end, when they do appear, they look horrendous. Though the games' Kilrathi were somewhat like Sweetums from the Muppets, the film version look like life-size Warhammer 40,000 figures with flappy mouths. Why they chose plastic faces over fur, eludes us.

So, why are we recommending this movie to you? Well, the non-Prinze and Lillard performances aren't bad and the occasional moment works; but the main reason is simply the fantastic design work. The gritty, steampunk spaceships genuinely fill the brief of WWII in space and the dog fights are pretty watchable. This may sound like faint praise, but really, just watch this film as a springboard to get you to go find second-hand copies of the games.

Wing Commander is currently available on UK Netflix. Have you seen it? Did you like it? Do you remember the games? Do you want to watch it now? Let us know below.

1 comment:

  1. When I heard about a Wing Commander Movie, I was so looking forward to it. because Wing Commander 3 and 4 had an awesome cast and if they could get all the cast back for the movie it would have been epic. But instead it end up more like "She's All That" in space with a stupid Pilgrim storyline.