Friday, 17 July 2015

Wing Commander (1999)

You know how sometimes you can watch a movie and at the end of it your reaction is "that didn't work for me, but I'm not sure why?".  Well, Wing Commander is not one of those movies.

The flaw of this film is readily apparent from the first few minutes.  It's not the cast.  Other than the near-expressionless Freddie Prinze Jr they all range from solid to good.  And while the effects are adequate at best and sometimes far south of it (the costumes for the alien Kilrathi being the nadir), they're not the real issue either.

The real issue is the script.   I'm not going to go into detail about what it does wrong, because (a) it's a lot and (b) someone else already did a fine job of that.  I do want to call out though that it's not an issue to me that it's clearly riffing off WW2 naval films (Das Boot and Midway immediately leap to mind).  I know some people have complained about that, but I think it's actually a potentially smart move since it grounds the science fiction action in familiar structures.

Rather than going into detail about the issues (read the link if you want that), I'm going to call out the thematic element that I think they share, which is that the film seems to lack energy.  It takes too long to get started, and the characters frequently don't act like they're under any sort of real time pressure (they talk about it plenty, but the movie fails to show rather than tell).  It's a failing that's exemplified by a scene where the Kilrathi (the villains) are trying to escape a lethal predicament and the only way you know they're at all agitated is because there are three exclamation points in the subtitles - nothing in the visuals or audio conveys the severity of their situation.

The plot?  I guess I should cover that.  It's not complicated, really: humanity has spread to the stars and encountered a hostile alien race.  These Kilrathi manage to capture a human navigation computer that will let them launch a direct attack on Earth.  It is up to a single Earth vessel to delay the invasion armada long enough for the human fleet to assemble.  It's a serviceable enough premise, really - it's the execution where it falls down.

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