*Okay, so, I have a question. See this movie was one of the three films released with the initial TPM trailer. So, how many of you people paid for a ticket, watched the trailer and then walked out? Raise your hands. You smart, smart people.
*So, anyway, this film is based on the video game series of the same name, only with Freddie Prinze Jr. stepping into the role of Christopher Blair. In another backhanded connection to Star Wars, Christopher Blair was originally voiced by Mark Hamill in the video games.
*So, this film was directed by Chris Roberts who had directed a lot of the cutscenes from the videogames, if my research is accurate. The film was a massive flop, barely making back a third of its budget; and its budget was only 30 million, so that tells you something.
*Open call for anyone who’s played the video games to talk about how this film stacks up next to them. I’m not a gamer, as most everyone knows, so I have no familiarity with them.
*So, let’s get to the movie, because the sooner we get started, the sooner we can get finished.
*So, just to prove that this movie isn’t pretentious or anything, it opens with a voice over from the JFK speech about space exploration.
*So, the score here is actually pretty great, of its type. I sort of instantly thought, upon hearing the storming fanfare that opens the credits, that it was a David Arnold score. Actually it’s a score by someone named Kevin Kiner, but the credits indicate that it’s based on ‘themes by David Arnold.’
*Anyway, there’s a pretty interesting title sequence as we skip forward through the opening skirmishes of a war with a species called the Kilrathi. It ends with the formal declaration of war in voiceover; “God help us all,” the President (?) of Earth solemnly intones. A fitting prayer, as it turns out, for those of us watching the movie.
*So, we open with our first combat scene as a Kilrathi fleet attacks a ship of the Federation. Anyway, it seems the Kilrathi are after something called a Pegasus A.I.; it will be an absurdly long time before we are actually told what this is and why the Kilrathi want it. The captain of the attacked ship tries to invoke a self-destruct code, but the self-destruct has been tampered with.
*So, for some reason, the Pegasus is behind some kind of incredibly heavy plexi-glass or something which keeps the captain from being able to destroy it. I’m not sure why you’d put something like that behind plexi-glass, if it was going to be so important to be able to destroy it.
*Also, why is that after people have fired a machine gun at a shield to no avail they still feel compelled to go up and pound on the shield with the gun butt? I mean, you just shot it with like fifty thousand machine gun bullets and it didn’t break. What possible logic calls for you to go up and pound on it with your arms?
*Also, you’d think that those ricochets would have killed everyone on the bridge, but, strangely, no.
*The captain gets a message off to Admiral Tolwyn as the Kilrathi batter down the door of his bridge.
*Anyway, the Kilrathi fleet is on its way to Earth now that they have a Pegasus; the Admiral’s fleet will have to try to intercept them, but the Kilrathi fleet will arrive at Earth two hours before Tolwyn’s fleet can get there.
*Tolwyn intones, “A mere two hours may decide the fate of this war.” And as we will soon discover, two hours can be a really frigging long time.
*There’s a ship called the Tigerclaw that could gather intel on the Kilrathi fleet, but it’s beyond reach of Tolwyn’s communications. However, there’s a small freighter, captained by a rude but likable rogue, on its way to the Tigerclaw that can carry a message to the Tigerclaw. This freighter is on its way to the Tigerclaw because it is ferrying our two main characters to their new duty station.
*Ha! Actually I wrote the last two sentences before I saw it happen.
*So, the ship is captained by Tcheky Karyo, whose Eastern European accent will mangle even the most simple line readings over the body of this film. On board are Christopher Blair, played by Freddie Prinze Jr. and Todd Marshall, played by Scooby-Doo veteran, Matthew Lillard.
*Karyo has two modes: Furrowed Brow and Soulful Stare; Prinze has one: Puppy Eyes. Lillard has one: Ironic Detachment. Lillard comes off the best.
*So, there’s some odd backstory here about how Blair is a half-breed since his mother was a Pilgrim. It will be an obscenely long time before the movie actually tells us why this matters; she married a Federation captain. Blair is following in his father’s footsteps and trying to hide his Pilgrim heritage. He wears a cross around his neck, however, that Karyo’s character, Taggert, examines while spouting incredibly vague exposition.
*This scene is filled with lots of Soulful Stares and Puppy Eyes. Also a lot of strings.
*Incredibly Vague Exposition: “Since the Pilgrims were defeated, not a single Quasar has been charted.” And? I should care because?
*So, then the ship nearly falls into a black hole or something thanks to Marshall’s stupidity. Includes the deathless exchange: “What is this thing?” “This thing is a distortion in space-time.” I tell you, Karyo’s accent, coupled with his incredibly earnest performance, just makes this film much worse than it needed to be.
*There’s a great bit here where the ship starts falling apart and Taggart leaps up and bolts into the back of the ship and he shouts, as he does so, what sounds to me like, “YYYYYEEAAAAARRROOUUUAAAGGGHGHHHEEEELLLLLLLLL!” Hilariously, both Marshall and Blair respond by saying, in unison, “What?”
*So, anyway, Blair takes the helm (which is I guess what Taggart yelled). And then Blair does some weird magic or something and saves everyone.
*This script is subtle. HOW SUBTLE?
* “What happened?” “You just plotted a jump into a gravity well in under ten seconds.”
*I mean not even Brando could save that line.
*Also, after Taggart says this, Marshall says calmly, “Not bad,” at which point Taggart bellows, “SHUT UP!” I admit that made me laugh, it was so stupid.
*So, Blair takes the communiqué from Tolwyn to Captain Sansky of the Tigerclaw. He’s being played by David Suchet!
*Anyone who knows me very well knows how much I loved the Suchet Poirot productions. Suchet is an actor one rarely sees outside of Poirot, so I liked seeing him here.
*Also on hand on the Tigerclaw is Commander Gerald, played by Jurgen Prochnow. The accent quotient of this film continues to skyrocket.
*So, Blair gets into the cockpit of an empty fighter plane and powers it up. We are introduced to Merlin, the voice of the plane. Merlin is credited with a question mark in the closing credits; but let’s solve the mystery – it’s Mark Hamill.
*Aaaaannnnnnddddd its Saffron Burrows as the titular Wing Commander, Lt. Devereaux.
*Saffron Burrows is not much of an actress at the best of times. In this movie? Well, she’s given lines like, “If you want to play at being a fighter pilot, I suggest you find a virtual fun zone.” These are not the best of times.
*Actually, I find it sort of funny. Saffron Burrows name in this movie is Angel Devereaux. But, honestly, isn’t ‘Saffron Burrows’ a much better sci-fi name?
*There follows an increasingly obnoxious scene in the ship’s messhall or lounge or whatever in which Matthew Lillard makes an ass of himself. You know, in sharp contrast to all his other film roles.
*We cut to Sansky and Gerald watching Tolwyn’s message. It plays out in old school graphics that look just like a video game. I guess that’s a joke.
*Probably not a joke is the fact that when Admiral Tolwyn’s name is flashed up on screen in this sequence, it’s spelled “Towlyn.”
*So, back in the mess hall, or lounge, or whatever, Blair mentions that he got busted for sitting in Commander Chen’s fighter. A pall falls over the room and then one of the other pilots tells Blair that Commander Chen never existed. A fight nearly breaks out (or perhaps Blair and that other pilot were just going to start kissing . . .) but then Saffron Burrows shows up.
*I had hoped there might actually be some plot here, like a mystery or something about why they’re saying Chen never existed. As it turns out, it’s much stupider than that. Devereaux takes Blair outside and gives him a dressing down. During this she reveals that, in order to deal with the constant death of a war zone, they’ve all decided that when someone dies, everyone just pretends they never existed.
*I mean, what the hell? Were they drunk when they came up with that? That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.
*Sansky queries Taggart about the message from Tolwyn. He’d like to have some sort of proof that it’s legitimate. Taggart throws Sansky a ring and says that Tolwyn thought it might come in handy if anyone ever doubted him.
*We are then introduced to a Mr. Ubutu who is sort of like Mr. Sulu on Star Trek. So much so, in fact, that I soon began laughing hysterically every time someone would dramatically snap, “Mr. Ubutu!”
*Mr. Ubutu, by the by, is another link to Star Wars. He’s played by Captain Panaka himself.
*There’s a legitimately good moment when Marshall tries to get Blair to stop wearing his Pilgrim cross. At the end of the scene, Lillard does this great thing where he just sort of says, “God, this scene was cheesy,” and then walks off.
*We cut back to Admiral Tolwyn’s fleet. They’ve alerted the Earth about the Kilrathi fleet; Earth can’t withstand a full assault, but they’ll go down fighting.
*INCREDIBLY TECHNICAL DIALOGUE: “What’s our status?” “We’re running at one hundred and ten percent.” “Run at one hundred and twenty.”
*Oh God . . .
*Okay. Again. This is impossible. Anytime someone tells you to give a hundred and ten percent, ignore them completely; that person is totally full of crap and will never say anything you need to hear.
*But I mean this is beyond even the stupid motivational speaker cliché. This is two ship captains talking about the physical status of the fleet they’re part of. This second guy, he literally says that they are going ten percent again faster than they can go. And then the frigging ADMIRAL tells him that this isn’t good enough!
*That’s right; this fleet is breaking the laws of physics and it still is. not. good. enough.
*Of course, I suppose I see the Admiral’s point. Once you’ve broken the laws of physics, why not go for it? I mean, if you can go ten percent faster than is physically possible, I suppose you could just as easily go twenty.
*Hell, why don’t they just WISH they were back at Earth and that all the Kilrathi were already DEAD and it would probably just happen since, you know, they’ve solved that pesky little ‘laws of the physical universe’ problem.
*I really can’t tell you how annoying I find this kind of crap.
*So, anyway, Marshall and this black female pilot named Forbes start this utterly annoying and ridiculous flirtation that involves them screaming into the hanger bay upside and down and crap. Flirtation.
*So, anyway, Taggart finally explains exactly who the Pilgrims were to Blair, who admits that he wears the cross despite not knowing what it really means.
*So, anyway, the Pilgrims were this sort of advanced race of explorers who had the ability to do incredible computations in the heads in a split second, like Blair did earlier.
*So, anyway, Taggart has convinced Sansky to take the Tigerclaw through a Quasar Sonar Blast Gravitational Wave or something. It’s a shortcut, he says.
*Karyo is forced to actually shout at a computer screen, “Forget you, Artificial Intelligence!”
*I mean, good God.
*Being in movies like this must absolutely kill the actor’s soul, you know what I mean?
*So, as they leap, there’s this whole bullet time thing, only instead of like pulling a helicopter out of the sky or anything, everybody just falls down. So, not quite as awesome as The Matrix.
*Dramatically snaps, “Mr. Ubutu!”
*So, Sansky sends Devereaux and Blair out in a reconnoiter to spy on a Kilrathi battle group in a nearby asteroid field.
*OHMIGOD WE STILL HAVE AN HOUR OF THIS LEFT OH HOLY LORD IN HEAVEN
*Okay, the special effects? They are not terrible. Neither are they really that great. They are serviceable. They are never jaw droppingly bad or jaw droppingly awesome.
*Well, they are jaw droppingly bad exactly one time. We’ll talk about that later.
*Okay, so you know those oxygen masks that pilots wear? They have those in this movie. And you know how Horatio in CSI: Miami is always putting his sunglasses on just so he pull them off dramatically? The masks serve much the same function here.
*Later in the movie, during a larger combat scene, the friend I was watching the movie with turned to me and said, “Why do they even have those if they can just take them off anytime they want?”
*So, there’s a brief little space combat thing here, but just for a second.
*There’s a hilarious bit here of Commander Gerald being totally impolitic: “I had no choice, sir. They’d spotted Lt. Cdr. Devereaux’s heat signature.” “Really? Angel, how sure are you that the Kilrathi had you targeted? Given the Lt.’s background, are you really that certain?”
*I mean just straight up racist. No shame.
*Sansky interrupts this discussion by saying that it is ‘sterile.’ Uh, yes sir as you say sir never heard that word used this way before but yes sir yes sir fine sir.
*So, there’s a heated confrontation between Devereaux and Blair about his Pilgrim heritage.
*Or rather it would be heated if it weren’t for the fact that Blair is wearing a fire engine red vest over a gray sweater and looks like nothing so much as a G.I. Joe figurine.
*Some touching backstory about Angel’s parents being killed; she used to believe they were in heaven, but she finally realized that they never existed. Emotion just gets in the way, she says; she and Commander Chen got too close so now he has to have never existed.
*Okay, so Devereaux is just a batcrazy loon then, that’s what we’re being told here?
*I think figuring out that your own parents never existed is sort of the zenith of idiocy.
*So Marshall and Forbes are making out in a very PG-13 fashion for what seems like a horribly long time.
*So, Devereaux’s wing goes out to attack a Kilrathi command ship.
*Taggart screams at the top of his lungs, “ABORT!”
*He reveals at this point that he is in fact an espionage agent operating under Admiral Tolwyn. So, why didn’t he reveal this to Sansky earlier instead of throwing him that ring?
*God, that is a really blatant rip off of Star Wars there in the music.
*So, the Kilrathi are attacking the Tigerclaw. Devereaux’s wing goes hurrying back and we get our first real action sequence. Fifty-two minutes into the movie. Pacing here is . . . languid.
*This is . . . hmm, how to say? Not terrible, I would say.
*Suffice it to say at this point that Forbes bites it and without going into the idiotic details, it is indeed Marshall’s fault.
*I’ll only say at this point that when the central gimmick of a dramatic death scene just makes you think of WALL-E, you are perhaps not as invested in the movie at hand as would be ideal.
*So, during this battle, as the capital ships slug it out, Sansky gets a head wound. Now, originally, from what I read on the net, there was going to be a whole subplot in this movie about a traitor on board the Tigerclaw and it was going to turn out to be Sansky (or at least one of them was!) and he was going to commit suicide. But they excised all that, thankfully since I can’t see how the movie could have stayed under two-twenty with all that. So, Sansky now disappears from the film, presumably killed by his head wound.
*So, then after everyone lands, Devereaux pulls a pistol on Marshall and says she’s going to summarily field execute him for being an idiot. Or words to that effect. Much to my chagrin, she doesn’t follow through.
*I don’t know, it’s sort of weird to say this. Matthew Lillard gives the best performance in this movie. He’s actually pretty good in this scene.
*So, then the Tigerclaw has to limp to an asteroid and hide from the Kilrathi fleet. This involves them, and I am not even kidding here, having to be really, really quiet so that sound won’t transmit across the vacuum of space and into a Kilrathi ship.
*I swear, I’m not kidding. Somebody’s been watching too many submarine movies.
*I suppose once you can go a hundred and ten percent, you can also hear sound across a vacuum.
*There’s a stunning Asian woman in this scene as an extra. God, she is gorgeous.
*So, the Kilrathi do a carpet bombing of the asteroid field and don’t even ask me how that would work. And so a hole gets blown into the hanger bay and there’s the standard issue being sucked out into space scene where Freddie Prinze Jr. is clinging desperately to a cable and everyone else is just standing there watching him . . .
*Seriously, everyone just stands there and watches him for a really weird amount of time. Then they help him, but what was that about, dudes? I’d be really upset with those nimrods.
*To the credit of the screenplay, at no time during this scene is there a pun on the word ‘sucks.’
*I however will take no credit when I can instead take a cheap shot. That scene really sucked.
*Blair finally calls Devereaux on her stupid ‘never existed’ thing. This might actually be moving, had it been delivered by an actor and not Freddie Prinze Jr.
*Blair says that Marshall feels responsible for Forbes’ death; Devereaux shoots back that he should (wait, shouldn’t he just be pretending she never existed which would remove all responsibility? Logical consistency, thy name is Wing Commander). Blair says that they need all the pilots they can get. Actually, no, not idiotic ones.
*So, the Tigerclaw sends up a flight to go and capture the Kilrathi bomber that’s been left behind to carpet bomb the whole frigging asteroid field (now there’s some busywork for you).
*So, Blair and a group of commandos go on board the Kilrathi ship and . . .
*Okay, these Kilrathi puppets . . . I mean, those things are hilariously bad. I mean, they are about the worst thing ever.
*Apparently, this is why the traitor subplot was scrapped because it required a lot of scenes with the Kilrathi puppets who frankly look like Sesame Street level.
*Even in this poorly lit, smoky action sequence that was probably directed specifically to hide how crappy they are . . . you can still tell they’re crappy.
*So, anyway, on the ship, they not only get fuel for the Tigerclaw, but also the Kilrathi jump point.
*So anyway, Taggart comes up with the idea of sending Blair to jump through the Quasar and take the coordinates to Admiral Tolwyn; he can be waiting when the Kilrathi come through.
*They really should have called this movie Quasar since they’re frigging screwing around with one of them like every five minutes.
*In order to do this, Blair will have to use the Fo-, I mean, get in touch with his inner Pilgrim and do that whole supernavigation thing he did earlier in the movie.
*There’s a somewhat effective moment here where Taggart reveals that he knows that Blair can do it because *gasp* Taggart himself is also a Pilgrim!
*So . . . uh, why doesn’t Taggart go do it?
*During this sequence, Blair tells Taggart he doesn’t have the faith; Taggart says, “It’s not faith; it’s genetics.” Which is a heck of a line that’s supposed to be inspirational and just absolutely kills the quasi-gospel uplift of the scene.
*It’s ironic that this line was uttered in the same year that TPM was released and essentially it said the exact same thing about the Force by introducing Midichlorians: “It’s not a mystical energy, it’s a bunch of tiny bugs!”
*You know, this reminds me of that essay Tom Wolfe once wrote for Rolling Stone where he basically argued against atheism and genetic determinism because neither of those things are artistically or emotionally interesting. I happen to agree.
*I suppose this is what happens in a ‘post-Christian’ society; we try to replace our spiritual yearnings with science, but seriously, genetic determinism is not a good replacement for the essential power of the soul merged with God, if you know what I mean. I mean what’s the point of the hero’s journey if the hero is genetically determined to succeed from the get go?
*Seriously, faith is one of the greatest themes of art; believing in something, you know. You gotta just love it when someone in a movie explicitly says, “No, this isn’t about faith, that universal and evocative concept of human existence. It’s about your blood cells.” That some people still can’t understand the ways in which this ruins the prequel trilogy continues to baffle me. It does the same thing in this movie.
*Long sequence short . . . (very long sequence; extremely long sequence), Blair does it, but in doing so Devereaux gets stranded in an escape pod or something with only an hour of oxygen.
* “So, what now?” “Now we make them sorry they were ever born!” Much like the people watching this movie!
*There is at this point an extended sequence of the Kilrathi aboard their ship, speaking their own language, translated in subtitles. The feelings evoked by this sequence are rather like the feelings evoked by seeing Chthulu, I think. It is as though even the word ‘meaning’ no longer has meaning.
*So, a Kilrathi ship follows Blair through the Quasar but then he tricks it into tripping and falling into another one or something. I was getting tired by this point.
*The Kilrathi demonstrate their powers of deduction while falling into a Quasar: “That’s not the Confederation fleet!”
*Wait, that’s a hole of blazing white light ripped into the very fabric of space-time, not a bunch of ships!!
*So, then we cut to the Kilrathi fleet appearing one ship at a time and getting blown to bits as they appear. Tolwyn’s second in command stalks up to him and, while standing in front of a huge picture window through which we can clearly see this happening, he says, “Admiral, the Kilrathi fleet is coming through the jump point one ship at a time with no chance to defend themselves or warn the ships behind them.”
*This is also the sole like really, really terrible special effects sequence in the movie.
*So, Blair gets picked up by the fleet, Taggart managed to use his Pilgrim genetics to find Devereaux an hour after her oxygen should have run out but she was still alive for some reason that is left way, way too vague and everyone hugs and screams as they race through the hanger bay. In an inspiring break from tradition, no one gets a medal.
*Blair and Devereaux start making out. In the sequel, presumably, they would have been revealed to be siblings.
*Credits roll to music far too inspiring for the current movie.
*This one wasn’t really entertainingly bad. It was mainly just lame brained and dull. It wasn’t a very easy movie to watch; the lighting was pretty terrible, and there was surprisingly little action for a VG based movie. The vast majority of the movie is essentially people wandering about in cramped spaces staring at each other intensely. Sometimes the light was blue; sometimes it was red. On two occasions, it was green.
*Occasionally, there were hilarious muppets. More often, there were hilarious accents.
*The acting was generally bad, but bad in terms of being flat, so not really entertainingly bad.
*Also, the movie just never really clicked into story mode. I mean there were loads of exposition and things that just had nothing to do with anything and it all added up to a movie that felt like it had no real plot. Which is not how you want a movie about an alien fleet wiping out the Earth to feel.
*This was a long, hard slog. It was hard to stay hooked up with this movie. I made it. Twice, believe it or not, though the second time I admittedly did a lot of fast forwarding. You’re welcome.
*Next time, one of Roger Ebert’s least favorite movies as Jim Jarmusch takes on Neil Young. Join me next time for Year of the Horse!