- Directed by Daniel Haller
- March 30, 1979
An American astronaut emerges after 500 years in suspended animation to a devastated Earth under threat of alien invasion.
Watching Buck Rogers in the 25th Century really took me back. It is just a fun science fiction adventure film with a small helping of the post-apocalyptic. Coming out at a time when everything set in the future did not need to be hopelessly bleak, the post-apocalyptic bit seems to be just to heighten the sense of danger for the characters and the story. This is the theatrically released pilot film for the late 70s television series.
It’s the distant future-500 years hence (504 years hence in fact)-and Earth is still barely recovering from a nuclear war that apparently occurred shortly after Buck departed Earth on his mission. This movie effectively introduces us to the core characters and concepts of the series (at least the first season).
One thing that I’m not quite sure about is why Buck Rogers was given a whole space shuttle to himself. That always bothered me. It was clearly a multi person vehicle. Sending him up in a rocket would not have worked as the space shuttle was the new big thing that NASA was coming out with. I might not have been bothered if they gave him a crew but then they would have had to of crafted a whole bunch of new characters for this show or kill them off pretty quickly in some way.
I know others played Buck Rogers before him and given Hollywood’s penchant for recycling and repurposing, others will take up the mantle after him, but Gil Gerard was for me and probably many others of a certain generation the defining depiction of the long running comic strip character even though from what I understand it’s not that close.
As it is Buck is a fish out of water. A man out of time. Gil Gerard makes him cocky and self-assured. He’s a bit of a charming rogue or charming asshole (take your pick). Some of how he is portrayed here reminds me a little bit of the character of John Crichton in the classic series Farscape which wouldn’t come around for another 20+ years from this. Buck uses phrases and words and cultural references which are lost on those around him. His actions and mannerisms defy what they feel is common sense or should be done.
Twiki (Felix Silla performance/ Mel Blanc voice) is lacking his personality of the series here. He does that “beedee beedee” noise but doesn’t have very many lines. Having seen the show (though not in many years) and come back to this I was more than a little disappointed. His part here is to essentially be the R2-D2 to Dr. Theopolis’s (Howard F. Flynn voice) C-3PO. This came about after all in the days shortly after Star Wars and that’s certainly what they were going for with their pairing of those two characters.
Erin Gray. One of my earliest celebrity crushes. As Colonel Wilma Deering she takes to immediately distrusting Buck. Wilma is a little too stern here to be believable and the thawing of the ice at the end is delivered in a way that’s almost sarcastic. When Erin Gray gives her lines at the end I am left with the feeling that she didn’t want to give those lines.
Speaking of early celebrity crushes, Pamela Hensley plays Princess Ardala. Ardala was an interesting seductress villain that waffled between the aforementioned seductress and petulant child. She was a princess with dreams of overthrowing daddy (one of 29 daughters after all) and a horny little thing that wanted to jump Buck’s bones the moment he was thawed.
Henry Silva as Kane was a controlled evil. Henry Silva was generally good. He knew how to make a baddie intimidating without having to do too much.
And who can forget Tigerman (Duke Butler). I’m not sure if the guy ever did anything beyond this but he certainly became memorable to my young mind. Maybe it is because of the pro wrestler vibe the character had.
Dr. Elias Huer (Tim O’Connor), who would be more important in the series, is more of a blip here. It is hard to tell what his job is beyond talking to Wilma. In other words he offers minor exposition.
As a film Buck Rogers in the 25th Century is a little darker in tone than one would expect from something that appears to be a bouncy space adventure. There was a nuclear war in the distant past that left portions of the planet irradiated. There are mutants with some kind of underground economy. Governance and control of the environment has been turned over to machines called ‘quads.’ Downer stuff for the era.
Yet it is a family friendly film but isn’t a boring family friendly film. There’s enough excitement and humor and one-liners to keep children and adults entertained. Despite the time and the obvious cheapness of the production, the execution of the script is great. The story is entertaining from start to finish. In the short time they have they layout a well thought through plot. There are no significant plot issues in my mind. The closest we get to a plot issue is in the finale and how Buck manages to get so many bombs into the exhaust ports of the Draconian fighters. I can buy a few but he took out the whole fleet pretty much.
The costuming isn’t bad. The dress uniforms are among my favorites in science fiction but truthfully they look to be just a very nice jacket paired with the pants of the general uniform of Earth’s defense forces. Princess Ardala’s costume at the ball though is just one of the cooolest things I have seen. Maybe it’s because I had the action figure version of it.
The major shortcoming of this movie is the special effects. Star Wars set a new standard for special effects, and it was a long time before anything on television or theatrically released could equal it. They do an okay job but not great.
Story though should be what gets you through a movie. And this is a good story. As I said before it’s a fun adventure that is straight out of a movie serial. You have a star empire that threatens Earth. You have Earth barely holding on with a small fleet that has apparently been harmed by pirates and perhaps even a conflict with the Draconians. This has it all for a fun 90-minute diversion. And you will come back again and again because fun like this just does not get to film anymore.
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century is an entertaining and quality example of adventure science fiction. It’s got enough entertainment and excitement to satisfy just about any viewer. I cannot recommend this enough!