Happy Birthday, Wing Commander (March 12, 2009)

Bandit LOAF

Long Live the Confederation!
The movie is ten years old.

That’s a startling fact. When the movie came out I was a senior in high school, the world was ahead of me and I was off on one of my first great Wing Commander adventures. In shaking hands with Chris Roberts, debating continuity with Chris McCubbin and seeing the movie again and again with Chris Reid, Wing Commander went from being my favorite world to simply being my world. Previous anniversaries have been academic, this one is personal.

I will always remember it as a supremely exciting time. It is hard to understand today how deeply ingrained the desire for a movie was in Wing Commander fans in the 1990s. It was in our DNA: the earliest fans were demanding their movie at bulletin boards and newsgroups mere days after the original game changed the world in 1990. To say we were excited would be an understatement.

I am not going to argue for the movie here; lord knows I have done this many times over the years. I am not going to debate continuity or explain the workings of the original cut or the reasons for changes or any of those things. Ask me tomorrow for all that and I will, as always, gladly oblige.

Instead, I want to clear up a single point tonight. We hear about Wing Commander again, from time to time, when some studio pushes out another ‘video game movie’. Our film gets stuck in an oft-repeated list of bad adaptations, alongside Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat and DooM and the Mario Brothers. Another point on a ceaseless line of paint-by-numbers cash-ins, we’re told.

No! We must recognize, regardless of anything else, that Wing Commander does not belong on these lists. Yes, it is based on a video game and perhaps you were disappointed with it… but the similarities end there, and the difference is absolutely essential to recognize.

All these others were, indeed, cash-grabs: game companies turning a fast profit by selling their name recognition to a movie studio. Wing Commander was not: Chris Roberts put his career on the line in order to make the movie himself. It was something he believed in, and it deserves our respect for that reason alone. Mr. Roberts fought, for years, to turn Wing Commander into a major motion picture and to make sure that he was involved instead of just handing over the rights for a big check. At the end of the day, the man who made the games made the movie. No one else has that.

Still, we must recognize that the movie was also an ending. It was the last published Wing Commander project that anyone at Origin worked on. It will be the last tenth anniversary that we recognize until 2013, and that one will be for a GameBoy port. Ten years is a bittersweet recognition, in a sense.

Happy birthday, Wing Commander. I think you’re great.

Original update published on March 12, 2009
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Very good points. I have been known to bash the movie as much as anyone (well, some at least), but I very much appreciate what Chris Roberts did. I remember following the movie development excitedly through its entire production, thrilled that the maker of the games himself was personally attempting to craft it instead of letting Hollywood "adapt" it. And it certainly was exciting.

It was the end of my freshman year in college. I had discovered WC1 and WC2 in early high school and already lived through the thrill of victory in the Vega sector, the agony of the loss of the 'Claw and of Spirit's death, and then the redemption with the destruction of K'Tithrak Mang, several times. (I also had sworn a lot when Kilrathi capships suddenly figured out how to aim thier AM guns at fighters). Then, just before I left for college, with a shiny new top-of-the-line gaming computer (er...I mean, "engineering tool"), they gave me Kilrathi Saga. I played through WC3 my freshman year, with my roommate thinking he was so clever for nicknaming me "Hitler" after he watched me destroy Kilrah. And then, in a brilliant 1-2 punch, I discovered that both Lord of the Rings and Wing Commander were being made into full-length motion pictures.

I followed the production news daily...casting rumors, special effects notes, leaked plot rumors. Meanwhile, I discovered WC4, and got very annoyed when one of my best friends "borrowed" it from me and played through it first. It was all good, though, when I finally got my hands on it and blazed at the betrayal of Tolwyn.

Then I was so excited when the movie finally came out. I saw it in one of the last showings ever at the Nickelodean Theater in Kenmore Square in Boston (the theater closed down soon after due to pressure from newer, ritzier theaters, and an attempt to replace it with a shiny new luxury hotel). My non-wing commander fan friends ridiculed it, and I defended it, but I was secretly a little dissappointed. Maybe part of the reason why I didn't like it as much as I should have is that I'd gotten my hopes up too much.

But then, as now, I am very impressed that Chris Roberts helmed that movie. It truly came across as a labor of love. LOAF is right...we can wish that it had been all that it could have been but wasn't, for whatever reasons...but we should appreciate it.

Thanks for posting this, LOAF. And sorry for my rambling reminicences down memory lane.
I'd been part of the WC community for several years when news of the movie first surfaced. Much like LOAF, I was a Senior in High School. I went to see it opening night with my current roommate's little brother who was WC fan, but of a much lesser extent than myself.

While I was annoyed with some things about the movie, watching it I can remember being so damn excited that here I was, watching WING COMMANDER, on the big screen. It was surreal.

Happy Birthday Wing Commander.
Bravo. You've brought up some things that nobody in the film/media world talk about.

Also, reading your statement made me think of something peculiar: What would a movie Shigero Miyamato made look like?
Good work LOAF on the Article. I have to agree too, unlike the other bad video game movies there is something special about it. It wasn't done by some studio that didn't care about the video game it self but just wanted to rake in the money from the title. Wing Commander wasn't a great movie by any stretch but it has something that the other movie people normally affiliate it with and that is the care that was put into it.

It was done by Chris Roberts, the man himself and I'm still amazed that with such a small budget for a sci-fi film that it was able to produce the results it did as a film. The movie was done with the love and care of Wing Commander in mind in creating something different for the fans of it. Though it might not have succeeded in every wish of ours, its still Wing Commander and was done with the respect of its title, unlike others that should be ashamed to even bare title(aka, Mario, anything by Uwe Boll, Double Dragon, etc)

So, Happy Birthday Wing Commander and hopefully you'll get the respect you deserve one day.
The WC movie is one of the few movies where the original directors and game producers were part of the entire writing process. Most "video game movies" have directors and other creative staff that were never part of the game originally. At best, if you're lucky, most game movies may have spent a few minutes with the guys who did the creative work behind the game, but rarely are those people part of the whole writing process. Instead, they just license the game's characters and basic plots and run with it independently of the game.

I will say this - I enjoyed the movie - not as much as the game, but for a movie, it's enjoyable. The part I liked most would be the soundtrack.
Wow, ten years and it feels like just yesterday. It's all so vivid, from the The Phantom Menace trailer to sitting in our seats listening to the bombastic credits music at the end. Accidentally putting a $20 in the change machine in the arcade and winning $20 worth of quarters.

What a night that was.
And then, in a brilliant 1-2 punch, I discovered that both Lord of the Rings and Wing Commander were being made into full-length motion pictures.
It's just too bad one of those two ended up sucking... but at least it wasn't Wing Commander :).
Wow, I can't believe it's been ten years. I still remember seeing it in theatres with my parents and my then girlfriend, and having to lean over and explain things throughout the movie to her.

Like you Loaf I was a senior in High School at the time and I constantly wished for a WC movie since the days of Wing Commander II. When it came out I was very excited and after seeing it I was still excited (though slightly deflated by the appearance of the Kilrathi).

I still watch the film to this day and enjoy it as is, and I'm really hoping for a Special Edition Blu-Ray (would look fantastic!) before too long with making of's, interviews, deleted scenes and other informative features.

I would also like to take this opportunity to publically thank Chris Roberts for everything that he did on this movie. Without him doing everything that he did I don't think this film would have turned out like it did. I feel sorry for him because he's constantly maligned by the press as creating a "cash-in" movie. I felt it was very clear that this was a labour of love for him, and while it may not have turned out as everyone had hoped, it was most certainly better than 99.99999% of the video game adaptations that came out before and have come out since.

Regardless, I hope we see something this year in terms of a better stocked DVD/Blu-ray this year to celebrate this occassion.
Let's see, it was 1999, I was a sophomore in college. I'd already been a fan of the game series since 1992 or 1993, when I got Wing Commander on Super Nintendo (and proceeded to play it through and through and through and through - I don't KNOW that I hit every mission on every track, but I'm almost positive I did). After that I got Wing Commander II on PC and never looked back. It's been a big part of MY life, for sure.
Wow, 10 years already? How time passes by.

Sadly, I don't remember how I heard about the movie the first time. But I remember that a friend who was in the states for a vacation brought me the movie magazine (he knew I was a WC fan and was himself somewhat one) and how excited I was about this (he also brought me WCP Gold). The magazine made me sceptical because I saw some things I didn't recognize, especially the Kilrathi. And then Freddie P. talked about hoe incredibly realistic the puppets looked and I thought, "Well, they don't look that great on the pictures."

Still, that magazine is one of my most prized WC possessions.

Happy Birthday WCM, it's good you're there.
My memories of seeing the movie is quite different from everyone. Lets see, I was ten and my brother and I were huge fans of Wing Commander. I went and saw it at a movie theater that doesn't exist anymore and had a Dick's built on top of it. Also the theater was empty when I saw it. Just me and my brother in there, we joked that we could have been playing football in there while the movie was playing. He didn't like the movie that much(actually he hated it but my brother is wierd when it comes to movies). I really didn't like it that much either.

I learned to appreciate it more when I got older and its one of the reasons I am part of this site. Still mostly the video games though ;)
I'm really having a hard time believing that it has been 10 years.

What else is there to say? I think that the fact that here, now, there is a devoted community still following this incredible world says more than could possibly be conveyed in a hundred posts.

Happy birthday.
Still, we must recognize that the movie was also an ending. It was the last published Wing Commander project that anyone at Origin worked on.

Would it be impolitic of me to point out that technically, no one at Origin worked on it? Chris took a lot of his team with him when he went to DA, but he and his production folks were long gone from Origin when the movie came out.
Would it be impolitic of me to point out that technically, no one at Origin worked on it? Chris took a lot of his team with him when he went to DA, but he and his production folks were long gone from Origin when the movie came out.
I think Loaf is refering to former members of Origin, not-then current members.
Would it be impolitic of me to point out that technically, no one at Origin worked on it? Chris took a lot of his team with him when he went to DA, but he and his production folks were long gone from Origin when the movie came out.

Sorry - I didn't mean to imply Origin worked on the movie, I was trying to refer to the former Wing Commander artists who did 3D work for Digital Anvil. I'm not sure how many Wing vets were even still with Origin when the movie came out - the first try at Privateer Online had been killed a matter of weeks (days?) before the premiere.

(Now *technically*, Neil Young had a Producer credit on the movie... but I'm willing to admit that may not have fit the 'done any work' criteria :))
wow. 10 years already. doesn't seem it but I guess that's right as I was still living at home and going to community college.