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20th Century Fox presents
Wing Commander (1999)

"You're all right, Angel."
- Blair (Freddie Prinze Jr.)

Review By: Robert Mandel   
Published: April 27, 2000

Stars: Jürgen Prochnow, Freddie Prinze Jr.
Other Stars: Matthew Lillard, Saffron Burrows
Director: Chris Roberts

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual references and sci-fi action/violence.
Run Time: 01H:40M:00S
Release Date: July 06, 1999
UPC: 086162121715
Genre: sci-fi

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C+ D+B+A C

DVD Review

All right, I'll admit: I wanted to hate Wing Commander. The name alone raises the hackles on my neck. At the last minute Fox attempted to drum up numbers by attaching the Phantom Menace trailer to its opening weekend screening, which should have been a clue as to what kind of flop they expected. Yet I still can't say I hate it. Phew. It hurts, trust me. I'm even considering a twelve-step program. But before you begin calling the white coats, read on...

The title sequence is pretty cool, and for the first half-hour I was impressed with the sets and the fact that live people actually interacted with them. Add to that one of my personal favorites (no, not JarJar), Jürgen Prochnow (Das Boot, Dune, Air Force One), and I'm about to start turning back the cynics. Hey, despite the fact this movie suffers some mediocre acting by Freddie Prinze Jr. (Blair), Matthew Lillard (Maniac—Scream), Saffron Burrows (Devereaux—Circle of Friends), and others too numerous to list, I still found myself interested in the contorted plot line. It had such potential, and I had this perverse need to sort it all out.

As I understand it (which may mean absolutely zilch, and is not helped by a lack of any informative disc extras), sometime in the future Earth people began space exploration with the help of an alien race, called Pilgrims. Pilgrims, it seems, had certain innate supercomputer-like navigational abilities that allowed them to correctly calculate a jump between quadrants through time and space. However, these Pilgrims became filled with Hubris and deemed themselves gods, and thus a war with the humans ensued. Because of this, full or half-breed Pilgrims like our hero Blair are not very welcome or trusted. Apparently, the Kilthari, a species of silly looking green-tiger-masked extras, have attacked an outpost named the Pegasus, and stolen the NavCom system, which attempts (with little success) to reproduce the Pilgrims' abilities.

While on Paladin's (Tcheky Karyo—La Femme Nikita, Addicted to Love) ship, Admiral Tolwyn, played by David Warner (Time Bandits, Tron), contacts Blair to carry the message of the Pegasus's demise and NavCom theft to the Tiger Claw, his first assignment after pilot school. It is here, with the help of Paladin, that Blair learns about his innate ability to navigate a "jump."

Once on the Tiger Claw most everything disintegrates to a bad Starship Troopers rip-off, and the room fills with bad acting (metaphorically speaking, the cast is not really in the room). Jürgen can not save them. Even if the movie was in German, Jürgen could not have saved this movie, and believe me, it might play better in German; at least they could blame some of the bad lines on the subtitle translation. I start to wonder why Jürgen has lowered himself to this film (besides the money). Okay, I think, maybe it read better on paper. It certainly has potential. Then it hits me like a torpedo as they begin to steal, er, borrow under water-like bombardment sequences from Das Boot, except, of course, these are in space; they need Jürgen to stare up with that wonderfully evocative face as he did in that fine film.

Unfortunately, the moment is interrupted by a nagging question: Can you really dump depth charges into crevices in space? Or make bombing runs? Isn't there a minor problem called gravity? Although I see the whole WWII-like feel, do the stupid string-hanging plane-ships have to take off as if from an aircraft carrier? (Scampering down the runway and then at liftoff a sudden drop in altitude before climbing.) Again, this is outer space. Where's the gravitational pull coming from? Hello? Do you feel the movie losing me?

Truthfully, it was closer to thirty-one minutes in when everything began failing for me. The sets and flying effects get cheesy. For a moment I wandered back to the smoke filled den of my teenage Dr. Who days. Now don't get me wrong, I have had TARDIS license plates and cats named Leela and Romana, but I digress. Blair's wing commander, the movie's namesake with whom he accidentally gets off on the wrong foot by mistaking her for a "grease monkey," allows her direct reports to call her "Angel". Please. I had a hard time with the leisurely attitude of this Marine Corps, where the delineation between ranks is so marginal even Angel doesn't know if she's giving an order: "Am I making a suggestion or giving an order?"

When the effects become video game-like I begin to feel that the movie is being made to look this way in hope of tie-in with the inevitable, upcoming game. Of course, not being a gamer, it comes as a complete surprise that not only was this a movie being made to fit a years-ago released video game, but that the director, Chris Roberts, was also the creator of the game.

All said, I prefer to see the movie as an entity to itself. But this only serves to drive home my anger at the type of language unnecessarily used in the movie, since it does have connection to a video game many kids have probably played (yes, I'm mounting the soapbox—please, no puns intended. Here are some lines my 13-year-old laid ears on:

"It's better than sex—better than sex with myself." -Rosie;

"That takes balls." - Maniac
"Mine are bigger." - Rosie
"I was told that size doesn't matter." - Maniac
"She lied." - Rosie; and:

"Ease it in, Rosie." -Maniac
"I love it when you talk dirty." - Rosie.

Would you consider these the types of dialogue to which you'd want your young teenagers to be listening ? Okay, if I didn't have a kid to worry about, I might not care, but I do. I guess the thing that really disturbs me is that this is an otherwise decent kid's film, so why fill it with all the sex and innuendo? Sure you want to attract adults, but the sexuality in question wasn't marketed in the first place, and this movie has only marginal appeal to the non-gamer/non-sci-fi crowd. Actually, unfortunately for Fox, Wing Commander obviously didn't appeal to hardly anybody, not even making back $12 million of the original $30 million spent to make the movie.

On the other hand, pulling back on the throttle a bit, I did like that these aliens (the Kilrathi) actually spoke in some indistinguishable tongue, and to understand them we were forced to read subtitles. Therefore, I am happy to report that at least in this Fox release the only ones being offended are green reptilian tiger creatures from Kilrathi, or the extras who played them and were dubbed over.

Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: D+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: 20th Century Fox presents this single-sided double-layered picture disc with a non-anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio. This is a near pristine print and transfer, with a near unnoticeable amount of dirt. The picture is sharp and the colors are rich and well saturated. There is marginal aliasing distortion, very little pixelation, and no shimmering that I noticed. Needless to say, I was very impressed with the transfer even with it not being anamorphic.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The disc contains an unused Dolby Surround 2.0 track and a very good Dolby Digital 5.1 track. I read a post on the net that asked whether a soundtrack could redeem a film. If there was ever a film that had a chance or a need it would be Wing Commander. This is a very good 5.1 Surround mix, with all of the fighter crafts and missiles buzzing about, the sweeping effects are pungent and often. At other times, the rear channels are filled with space noise, background space station buzzing and clatter, and the overhead speakers on the flight deck which all blend well with the action being performed on the forward stage. The dialogue is well understood, and the musical score, although not ground breaking, is powerful and sets an appropriate tone through all channels.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 27 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 TV Spots/Teasers
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Fox offers their usual lack of features, including scene selections, English subtitles, a theatrical trailer, two television spots, cast names and pictures. The last item was strange because it included no bios or filmographies. Instead five brief biographies are included on the insert, with a goof up being that Jürgen Prochnow's photograph is shown with Tcheky Karyo's bio. Oops.

Extras Grade: C


Final Comments

All in all, it ends up I don't hate Wing Commander. I don't love it either. The simple fact is that the movie did not do a good job of making me care enough about the characters to love or hate the film, instead leaving me ambivalent and unwilling to overlook its flaws, bad writing and mediocre acting. It's not bad, but without even an anamorphic transfer or any extras to entice, is that really saying much?


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