The Promise and Historical Context of Wing Commander
The Promise of the Wing Commander Movie
if we strip away the layers of shit that is the 1999 movie storyline we can see that there was a nugget of promise in the very basic concept and story of the WC movie: the bad space kittes have gotten their hands on the location of Terra and are screaming to end the human race, and the USS Enterprise...huh...sorry, the Tiger's Claw is the only starship in range.
The film plays around with the familiar sci-fi plot device of it being hard to locate the homeworld of their enemy, which would be true given our known of the galaxy and just how many bloody stars there are. This simple idea could have given rise to two more films. I can imagine that the first film (if altered) could have been called Wing Commander: the Battle of Earth, Blair and his merry band of space pilots defending the Earth against the bad space cats. In the second film, Wing Commander II: The Traitor, could have told the story of Hobbs, the only Kilrathi Terran Confederation pilot, and how he helps the Terrans located the furballs' homeworld.
I know that I am harping on this, but the successful translation to film from video game was there in the DNA of the game, and we already had several very successful WC full motion video games during the FMV fad of the 1990's. WC III and WC IV are considered the best examples of how to use the FMV technology for gaming and storytelling in the medium of video games.
The interior sets. The idea of the internal look of starships and space stations was forever altered by Star Wars, Outland, ALIEN, and Star Trek, and WC is no different. However, it can be taken to extreme, and most of the starship sets of the film were based on the director’s desire to mimic a submarine interior. The Tiger Claw carrier does not look like a place where I would want to spend any time, and an overdone example of the style laid down by those other works
The Kilrathi. Killer space kitties are a standard of science fiction, as FWS demonstrated some months back, and they were loosely based on the Kzin from Niven’s Known Space universe. However, their appearance in the 1999 movie is racially different than previously seen in the games. They were now hairless cats (think Mr. Bigglesworth) with goatees, and dumb as rocks. The Kilrathi’s new appearance was rejected and mocked by fans. The genesis behind their comical appearance rests in budget constraints and an inability to bring the director's vision to the screen. This resulted in the majority of the Kilrathi scenes being cut from the film.
When Lt. Rose Forbes crash lands onto the deck of the Tiger Claw, the rest of the pilots and the deck gang standby and watch the wreck of the Rapier be unceremoniously down over the side of the carrier without anyone bothering to check if their fellow pilot is alive. Total rubbish and total dishonor of soldiers promises to one another.
they could have Slayer performing in the galley and no one outside of the ship would hear them!” This goes hand-in-hand with the mushy, jumbled plot that often has no sense of itself or the dire nature of the situation. Hell, what do you expect when the names of the core characters are misspelled on-screen, along with words like: SECURITY BREACH (appears as BREECH).
The monocle eye patch aiming device used by the Terran pilots. I believed that it was based on the AH-64 Apache gunnery helmet, but not as cool and looks just silly in the film. This goes for much of the costumes, which are worse than Star Trek: the motion picture.
The steer stupidly of our mortal enemy, the Kilrathi. Instead of running for Terra to bombard the holy jesus out of the homeworld of their enemy, they wait around for the Terrans to mount a counter-strike. When you the enemy by the throat, you don't let go.
Why Did This Happen? WHY?!
"The Wing Commander movies was not the movie I saw in my head when I developed it, so it was disappointing, as on my games I pretty much always to realize the picture in my head on the screen. I think there was a combination factors that contributed to this":
- My inexperience as a film director. I had directed live action for WC3 and WC4, but a film is a while other level of subtly and finesse.
- I needed a producer that could do more than just do a good deal. I needed someone to help me on the set, to tell me, "hey, Chris, I know you want to do these 10 things, but we only have money to do 5 things really well. So let's pick what they are and knock them out of the park and cut the others." This is what a strong creative producer does, and its what I've tired to for other directors I've worked with over the last 10 years.
- We had a ridiculously short pre-production timeline. The movie wasn't greenlit until December (1997) and we were in production towards the end of February - we basiclly had three months of pre-production, which for a complicated sci-fi movie, is way too short. Most films like this have 6 months, some much longer. Its why the Kilrathi and a lot of other stuff ended up being cut - we didn't get to test/work them out in pre-production. So, we had to rely on what we got - and a lot of it just didn't work. Originally, we had more time, but when FOX signed the deal to distribute the next three Star Wars films from Lucas, they insisted that we deliver (the film) before Star Wars: Episode I. So, they could release before hand. So, we were given a 1998 December delivery date. Given the time needed for the VFX, we had to move up the shoot date.
- I gave into some of the studio's casting choices. In the same situation I would not. They were very keen to bring all the young horror fans that were seeing movies like Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer - but that really wasn't the Wing Commander audience.
If I made the movie today, it would be 10 times better...I've learnt a lot over the last ten years and have matured as a person/storyteller. Having said that, there are still some things in it that I'm quite proud of - there's some really great visual moments. But I would do a better job of the emotion and feeling if I was making it today.
The Toys...Oh, God, There Were Toys?!
Star Wars laid down the foundation and expectation of a toyline to compliment a film, especially one as similar to Star Wars. The studio, Carousel Picture Company (Dog Soldiers and The Lost Battalion) was under pressure from the distributor, Fox, to get WC done in time for the Star Wars Episode I trailer to be attached. This forced pre-production to be shortened as well as any mechanizing. X-Toys of New Jersey was tapped to product a line of 3 3/4 inch action figures with two vehicle toys and possibly a line of 9 inch figures. X-Toys had hopes of riding the success of the film into a long-term licence agreement. Sadly, only the first series of nine 3 3/4 inch figures were produced after the movie completely bombed, and hauled all further toy development, including the fighters. The timetable for the release of the Episode I trailer was March 12th, and the film was rushed to completion, forcing X-Toys to rush their toyline. As the movie was bombing and moved out to the dollar theater, X-Toys WC movie toyline was just hitting the stores. According to the website wcnews.com, only 10,000 figures were produced, with some being quite rare, but there is no collector's market for these. I have some experience with the "Pilgrim traitor" figure from the line, and how basic these figures were. The interesting figure was the "Pilgrim traitor" of the toyline was not in the movie, and those scenes were dumped. This traitor character in the film was Admiral Bill Wilson, who gave the Kilrathi the NAVCOM AI, so they could finish off Earth. The presence of the "Pilgrim Traitor" character tell me that this portion of the plot was jettisoned very shortly to the film's release.
The Aftermath of the Film
The fallout from the film was that Chris Roberts never directed another feature film again, (however, he is involved in TV and film as a producer) and while it may be a coincidence, the WC video game empire nearly hauled after the film. Wing Commander VII and Privateer 3 were cancelled, taking the planned Nephilim trilogy storyline along with it.Take for example: from 1990-1996, over a dozen games were released, and this slowed down considerable after 1999. This could be due to issues between Origin Systems and EA, or the popularity of home console gaming cutting into the popularity of computer gaming, or the popularity of flight sim games was down as well, or just that the film sucked so bad that sucked the life out of the WC franchise. A few games were released, like Wing Commander Arena, but nothing to the level of the mid-1990’s. Recently, there has been news that Chris Roberts is about to get the rights to the film, and the original music will be restored. Some fans have taken this to mean that the Pilgrim traitor subplot will be restored, along with other deleted scenes…however, it still will not help how broken the film is at its core. At the present time, Chris Roberts is busy with his newest venture Star Citizen.
Is There a Future For Wing Commander?
Here is an interview where Chris Roberts explains the horror that was this movie:
Here is the 1999 Starlog special on the upcoming movie:
1up's excellent overview of the film:
Kotaku's Total Recall series
The Man. The Myth. The Legend. He is the Spoony One!
Spoony's Commentary on his 2010 review...very interesting
Chris Roberts Reddit threat
Next Time on FWS....