SUB-GENRES: Action / Adventure
DIRECTED BY: Daniel Haller
WRITTEN BY: Glen A. Larson & Leslie Stevens; Based on Buck Rogers, created by Philip Francis Nowlan
PEW PEW: The action plays out like sixties television action: fist fights, throws, and blasters. It’s charming in a dated sort of way.
CAT FOOD: The film attempts to probe at deeper subjects, but the execution is far too flawed to be anything beyond an attempt.
This re-imagining of the serial classic, created almost certainly to blatantly cash in on the Star Wars boom of the late seventies, is undoubtedly more about its irresistible charms than it is about any kind of real substance. As a pilot for a television show that, for the most part, made fine use of the charms initially presented, it is more than serviceable and most definitely catches the attention of space opera and pulp sci-fi fanatics like myself.
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century blends the silliness and menace of Star Wars with the camp and sexiness of Star Trek: The Original Series, but it really does miss some of the most important aspects of both franchises.
The backstory is filled in quickly enough: while piloting a shuttle for NASA, Buck Rogers flies into some kind of anomaly in space and is frozen for five centuries. He is eventually discovered by the Draconians and their painfully svelte princess (I don’t know about Buck, but Pamela Hensley unthawed my ass in a hummingbird’s heartbeat) and given new life aboard their flagship… which incidentally is headed to Earth in a cunning deception aimed to ultimately conquer said planet’s population.
Deciding to put Buck to good use, the Draconians get him all fixed up, put him back in his own shuttle, and send him toward Earth’s defense forces (there’s a defense shield with a very narrow and invisible opening in it that the Draconians hope to find by use of a homing beacon planted on the shuttle).
As if the damn princess wasn’t enough, we are introduced to Earth’s Col. Wilma Deering, played by Erin Gray. (in this writer’s opinion one of the downright sexiest women ever… bloody hell…) After being interrogated at every turn by Wilma and Earth’s defense force, Buck discovers that in the 500 years he’s been frozen, the Earth has suffered a nuclear holocaust.
Through investigations with his new friends, the mildly entertaining Lite Brite, Dr. Theopolis (like most things in the film he graduates to something better in the series… he still has the best line in the film when referring to the princess’ hat), and his poor sap of a conveyance, the droid Twiki (whose coarse voice, supplied by Looney Tunes vet Mel Blanc, undermines his cuteness), Buck discovers that only hideous (and terribly cheesy) mutants populate the Earth outside of the artificially maintained city he now calls home.
So basically, Buck and Wilma have to decide how to best use Buck’s chance knowledge of the Draconian invasion to cripple the enemy and save planet Earth from defeat at the hands of Princess Ardala. It’s not a terribly interesting premise, and if not for interesting visuals that thankfully bombard the viewing experience, I doubt I’d have seen the film to completion.
So why will I call Buck Rogers in the 25th Century a good movie? Because it is fun, its action is cool in a sixties sort of way (not quite the eighties, like its peers were aiming for), quirky and sort of funny, and it looks great (and yes, I am thinking beyond the fact that that white uniform is pretty much painted onto Ms. Gray).
Very much like the Flash Gordon film of the same era, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century is an homage to pure pulp camp, but it would have benefited from better writing and a bigger budget. If this were a review of the full series, and not just the theatrical pilot film, I would have much better things to say.