The lights are on
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The Wing Commander series is known for being one of the earliest videogames to play with cinematic storytelling via cutscenes. Wing Commander III and IV went so far as to film live-action scenes with professional actors, casting Mark Hamill (best known as Luke Skywalker and the animated Joker), Tom Wilson (best known as Biff from Back To The Future), and John Rhys-Davies (best known as Gimli from Lord Of The Rings and The Professor from Sliders).What sets Wing Commander apart from other videogame movies is that it was actually directed and co-written by the series creator, Chris Roberts, who had also been directing the live-action scenes for the games. This resulted in what is still one of the most faithful adaptations from videogame to film. Unfortunately, remaining faithful to the source material means nothing when the source material is poor to begin with.
What you get is essentially a B-movie with higher production values. Not that the special effects are ever a highlight; there's a brief attempt at "bullet time" so clumsily executed that it already looked dated, and The Matrix wasn't even out yet!
Co-writing the script with Roberts is Kevin Droney, who also penned the script for the Mortal Kombat movie. But all he seems to contribute is making the lead characters just as unlikeable as that other movie
Making matters worse, the main characters have all been recast. Mark Hamill and Tom Wilson are strong enough actors that they're able to sell even the silliest line of dialogue, but Freddie Prinze, Jr. and Matthew Lillard don't afford the the filmmakers that luxury.
For science fiction fans, the worst part is Roberts' complete ignorance as to how space actually works. When trashed fighter jet is pushed off the spaceship's runway, iit doesn't float away but instead falls downward. Down where? We're in space! At one point the crew is told to stay quiet as they pass a Kilrathi ship so that they won't be heard. We're in space! Noise does not travel in space!
The one thing the movie does well is the lighting, sets, and cinematography. The look of it all has such a strong Battlestar Galatica (reboot) vibe to them, I almost wonder if that BSG series took visual inspiration from this. Mind you, both series are just trying to be Rogue Squadron written like Star Trek, so it could just be a coincidence.
On the other hand, the Wing Commander had a female Starbuck before BSG did it. A black female Starbuck with a British accent, to be exact. Rosie is the only remotely likable character in the entire movie, which makes it especially disappointing when she dies partway through, unable to escape her fate of being a black character stuck in a 90s action movie. Her death marked the moment that I lost my last remaining bit of interest in the movie, and I only continued suffering through it just to say I finished it.
Wing Commander's biggest draw during its opening weekend was that it would be the only place that weekend where you could see the trailer for Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace, and numerous bought tickets just to see that trailer. Those poor fools...
Yet still not as bad as Double Dragon or Mortal Kombat: Annihilation.