Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979)
May 1, 2024 10:36 AM - Subscribe

[TRAILER] Captain William "Buck" Rogers (Gil Gerard) is a jovial space cowboy who is accidentally time-warped from 1987 to 2491. Earth is engaged in interplanetary war following a global holocaust, and Buck's piloting skills make him an ideal starfighter recruit for the Earth Defense Directorate, where his closest colleagues are Dr. Huer (Tim O'Connor), squadron leader Col. Wilma Deering (Erin Gray), the wisecracking robot Twiki (voiced by cartoon legend Mel Blanc), and a portable computer-brain named Dr. Theopolis. Produced as a television pilot, but released theatrically in advance of the TV show.

Also starring Pamela Hensley, Felix Silla, Henry Silva, Joseph Wiseman. Narrated by William Conrad.

Directed by Daniel Haller. Written by Glen A. Larson, Leslie Stevens. Based on the comic strip "Buck Rogers" by Philip Francis Nowlan. Produced by Richard Caffey, Glen A. Larson for Bruce Lansbury Productions/Glen A. Larson Productions. Distributed by Universal Pictures. Cinematography by Frank Beascoechea. Edited by John J. Dumas, David Howe, William Martin. Music by Stu Phillips.

25% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

You can't stream this anywhere currently, but if you're an aging Gen X nerd who grew up with this schlock, you can buy a Blu ray of this from Kino Lorber. But you really shouldn't admit to that, let alone post about it. (sigh)

Here's a vintage 1979 featurette.
posted by DirtyOldTown (29 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I loved Twiki so much.

This is not good as a film, but as a bonkers time capsule of TV's reaction to the success of Star Wars, it's very watchable and fascinating. Buck teaching an interplanetary space keyboardist how to play funky jams with a few vague suggestions is great, as it is when he "boogies."

I probably spent 10x as much time playing with the toys as I did watching the actual show.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:51 AM on May 1 [2 favorites]

Remember Twiki's girlfriend, who I think appeared in only a couple of episodes? While Twiki's vocal utterances were something like "biddi biddi," his girlfriend had a weirdly solicitous sounding "booooty booooty" as her most notable contributions to dialogue.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 11:01 AM on May 1 [2 favorites]

Ah yes, Tina!
posted by DirtyOldTown at 11:09 AM on May 1 [1 favorite]

I will admit that, as a young man, I found Erin Gray in a jumpsuit quite interesting.
posted by SPrintF at 11:46 AM on May 1 [11 favorites]

I would have pushed any of my loved ones face down into the mud if it meant I got to find out what Erin Gray smelled like.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 11:47 AM on May 1 [2 favorites]

Wait, the show was only 2 seasons and 32 episodes? As a kid of the 70s I would have sworn it was around for a lot more than that. Shoot, that's barely worth syndication!

(I know, I know, this is just for the movie / pilot, but it felt like Buck Rogers was more of a cultural thing than its actual presence would have justified? Weird.)
posted by Kyol at 11:50 AM on May 1 [2 favorites]

For years after this show was off the air, the reaction in my household to any not terribly convincing matte painting on a TV show or movie was, "biddi biddi, look, Buck!"
posted by Naberius at 11:53 AM on May 1 [5 favorites]

I maintain that Buck Rogers is ripe for a grimdark makeover -- basic story the same but Buck has big ptsd because everyone dead and Earth largely blowed up. Earth Directorate is vaguely unsavory and they keep giving Buck the Zakalwe dirty jobs. Maybe the Draconians have some legit beef against Earth and aren't just mindless conquerers.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 12:03 PM on May 1 [7 favorites]

There are many guffaws spurred by the effects in this, but the one that got me the most, over and over again, was how lousy and half-assed the lighting of the miniatures is.

The design of the miniatures here clearly apes the style of those in Star Wars, but they didn't put much effort at all into the lighting. IIRC, the team on SW lit the miniatures with very bright small point lights shone from a distance, to provide the same kind of intense, angled shadows that you'd see when the light source was a star millions of miles away. It gave the ships a sense of scale and depth.

In Buck Rogers, it looks like someone set up the miniatures and then just turned on all of the overhead lights. They look like frigging toys.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 12:19 PM on May 1 [1 favorite]

One of the things I remember most about this, as a sci-fi-loving 12-13-year old, is that a number of the flying sequences were recycled from Battlestar Galactica, with Buck Rogers' ships overlaid on top of the Colonial Vipers and Cylon Raiders. There are sequences in that trailer (after the 2:24 mark) where the movement of the ships can be mapped directly back onto sequences from Galactica.

Also, Dick Tufeld's voice narration is wonderful, as always. You might remember him from such roles as Robot on "Lost in Space"and the voice overs for "Thundarr the Barbarian" and "Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends".
posted by hanov3r at 12:32 PM on May 1 [3 favorites]

I remember seeing this in the theater when I was a kid and liking it and the series.

It does not hold up to a rewatch.
posted by cuscutis at 4:07 PM on May 1 [1 favorite]

I saw this movie on TV some years back and it was campy fun but it seemed kind of slow and padded out. Then the series turned up in reruns on MeTV a while back and I thought it was a blast. (My girlfriend, on the other hand, snarked relentlessly all over it.) I found that I preferred the second season, where they're exploring space and there's a weird hawk-man and all that. That's when you get the real wacky gold, like Buck turning into an evil satyr or the love triangle of Buck, Wilma and the alien ambassador who can take off his head (played with entirely too much gravitas by Mark Lenard, Spock's dad.)

I think it's definitely still worth watching, if you approach it the right way. Do you actually like '70s sci-fi cheese, with cleavage, cardboard sets and spaceships that smell of model airplane glue? Well, you're in for a swell time!
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:17 PM on May 1

I maintain that Buck Rogers is ripe for a grimdark makeover

Wouldn't that be Farscape though? By the way, is there a name for the trope where the manly man from the past arrives in the future to show everyone how to get things done? Kind of a variation on the "white savior?" I guess Flash Gordon is sort of the same thing. Everyone is helpless until a manly Human shows up.

Ursula, it really bothered me (even when I was twelve years old) that Mark Lenard could remove his head and still talk. I mean, how can you speak without lungs to push the air through? Gah, it still bothers me today.
posted by jabah at 5:06 PM on May 1 [4 favorites]

I thought I remembered a couple episodes of this fondly, then I realized those were Galactica. I did like this show, though -- despite my dad's vocal hatred of Twiki.

I DID like the old comic a lot. I had a big volume of the early run, it seemed immense; I liked to just flip to random pages and try to figure out wtf was going on. I like that 20s-30s scifi aesthetic; I suppose it could be called raypunk; nestled I guess between steampunk and atompunk, both of which I like much less. I reread a few scans of the comics awhile ago. It has aged hilariously badly in many ways of course: Wilma Deering is introduced in the center of the very first strip shouting a racial slur.
posted by fleacircus at 5:46 PM on May 1

LOVED this show, I was 9, 10 years old...and yes, Erin Gray helped form my pre teen idea of what sexy was, it was Pamela Hensley as the sneaky, evil, horny, sexy Princess Ardala that really got me worked up.
posted by vrakatar at 6:03 PM on May 1 [1 favorite]

This came out when I was nine, and I can vaguely remember seeing it in the theatre, and wanting to like it more than I did.   Recall the TV series that followed much better.

All the absolute crap that came out after Star Wars was eye opening to child me.   Everyone scrambled to capitalize on the sci-fi revival it brought, but none of the studios wished to expend the money it took to produce that level of special effects, not to mention overall production values, or the scripts.  I mean, Star Wars was no Casablanca, but at least its script was polished.  You learned pretty quick back then to expect disappointment.

Thundarr…now there's a series ripe for serious live action treatment.   Its setting was just so damn surreal for Saturday morning cartoons:  Post apocalyptic Earth, super science and magic both, a moon split in twain…what a visual feast it would be.  If you weren't there to see it firsthand, it's hard to convey just how bizarrely out of place its whole zeitgeist was on Saturday morning cartoons. A fantastic weirdness to be sure, but I still wonder how it ever managed to be greenlit. The closest I can think of to it was possibly the more kid-friendly Herculoids, and that predated it by 15 years.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 7:37 PM on May 1 [3 favorites]

TSR put out an RPG based on Buck Rogers using a variation of AD&D rules that had an updated take on the setting, which The Expanse books years later seemed surprisingly close to in some ways.

Humans were an interplanetary species flying around the solar system on rocket ships, with the primary conflict between an ascendant Mars and a devastated Earth. Mars was ruled by corporations run by AIs, all the inner planets were being settled and terraformed, with genetically engineered humans adapted to live on each, along with the asteroid belt and even Jupiter.

I really liked the setting, but nobody I knew was excited to play, sadly. There were a bunch of book tie-ins, at least, and also a couple of SSI computer games.
posted by Pryde at 8:39 PM on May 1 [3 favorites]

Years ago some fans created a trailer for a Battlestar Galactica/Buck Rogers crossover. The VFX they created look worse than the original models, but I can definitely imagine how excited my 80's childhood self would have been if the Galactica reached Earth (with Cylons hot on their trail) to find Buck and the 25th century.
posted by Pryde at 8:47 PM on May 1 [2 favorites]

Not gonna lie, I was pretty into the hawk guy. Buck looked like someone's dad stuffed into a Lycra jumpsuit.
posted by emjaybee at 10:03 PM on May 1 [3 favorites]

Ursula, it really bothered me (even when I was twelve years old) that Mark Lenard could remove his head and still talk. I mean, how can you speak without lungs to push the air through? Gah, it still bothers me today.

It never bothered me, because space magic. Although I was never sure if he was supposed to be a cyborg of some kind (like maybe he'd been wounded at some point and this was how they put him back together) or if his head and his body were sort of like separate, symbiotic lifeforms. In any case I'd assume he has some sort of air supply in his skull. Like, little lungs, in his head. Or else he just breathes thanks to space magic!

The whole episode is a trip. You've got Lenard's head situation, a giggling, blue-faced dwarf spouting riddles, an invisible monster with a lightsaber, and there are even cavemen wandering around! Like I said, if you approach this show with the right mindset, it's awesome.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 10:03 PM on May 1

I am stunned to hear there are people who preferred season 2. I hate-watched it even as a ten year old.
posted by biffa at 1:21 AM on May 2

In the opening credits for Thundarr, you see about 15 billion people instantly killed! Saturday morning cartoon fun!
posted by SoberHighland at 4:57 AM on May 2 [1 favorite]

Used to you could watch the series on NBC's streaming service. Not Peacock but the free service they had. Which I still think exists. I vaguely remember a couple of years ago reading that the rights had been bought and was going to re-developed into new movies, and tv shows. There was some big star attached. I wanna say George Clooney but could be wrong. He is a bit old to be Buck at this point but could be just producing or something. It disappeared off streaming right after that.

Boring fact: My dad went to HS with Gil Gerard in Little Rock Ar. Safe to say it was must see TV at my house.
posted by Justin Case at 8:20 AM on May 2 [1 favorite]

George Clooney thought he had the rights and was pursuing it, but the Philip Francis Nowlan estate disagreed and there was a legal kerfuffle.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:35 AM on May 2 [1 favorite]

TSR put out an RPG based on Buck Rogers using a variation of AD&D rules

Kinda wonder why they didn't just repaint their Star Frontiers rules for that.
posted by hanov3r at 10:22 AM on May 2

As a child I crushed on Princess Ardala over Colonel Wilma Deering. Even then I liked bad girls. I knew she would hurt me.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 1:02 PM on May 2 [1 favorite]

There are many guffaws spurred by the effects in this, but the one that got me the most, over and over again, was how lousy and half-assed the lighting of the miniatures is.

We've seen this movie at MST Club, and the part I found funniest was the scantily clad girl they got to recline and writhe literally on top of the title.
posted by JHarris at 3:38 PM on May 2 [1 favorite]

Princess Ardala was the only reason we were allowed to have this on.

Best episode of the series is of course the one where the old pilots come out of retirement, led by Buster Crabbe, the old black & white Buck Rogers.
posted by biffa at 12:31 AM on May 3 [3 favorites]

Buck looked like someone's dad stuffed into a Lycra jumpsuit.

This guy's dad. Whose other dad is John Tesh. And whose mom is Connie Selleca.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 9:07 AM on May 3 [1 favorite]

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