As I continue my travel through the Sci-Fi Chronicles book, I was given the opportunity to revisit the incarnation of Buck Rogers that I was most familiar with. Released as a theatrical feature in March of 1979 as well as a television pilot, which led to a two season run, from Glen Larson, the mind behind Battlestar Galactica, this camp, disco-drenched version of the pulp hero is still very dear to my heart, and is undeniably a lot of fun… even now.
Filled with starfighters, a sexy commanding officer, a beguiling alien princess and a pair of robots, this show had everything when I was young! Between the cinematic experience that was Star Wars, new space adventures with this, reruns of classic Star Trek, and Battlestar Galactica, space and adventure was everywhere, how could I not become a sci-fi kid?
Gil Gerard leads the cast as Buck, the lovely Erin Gray played Colonel Wilma Deering, Mel Blanc provided the voice for the robot, or drone as they were referred to in this series, Twiki, who was physically performed by Feilx Silla, Tim O’Connor was Dr. Huer, Henry Silva was the villainous Kane, and Pamela Hensley was the delightfully sexy Princess Ardala.
The pilot follows Buck’s launch in the far distant year 1987, but when his shuttle is knocked off course, he is plunged into a state of suspended animation until he is picked up and revived aboard the Draconia, Ardala’s ship in the far-flung year of 2491!!!
Ardala and company are on their way to earth under the guise of a trade agreement, offering protection to the people of Earth from pirates and raiders who are disrupting their trade. Unbeknownst to those on Earth, the pirates are actually the Draconian forces, whose designs are heavily influenced by Eastern cultures. Buck is sent on his way, and picked up by an Earth Defense Directorate flight, led by Deering, and he is under suspicion immediately, and is set to stand trial, despite his claims that Ardala is arriving armed and ready for bear, a violation of the agreement established with the Directorate.
He is aided in arguing his case, and exploring the ruined wastelands of earth, which is decimated but for a few protected inner cities, by Twiki, and his chest piece Dr. Theopolis. He is still found guilty, and slated for termination.
Deering gives him an opportunity to prove himself right, but things look dire for our hero, even when he takes a night off to try to bring disco back at a formal event, and gets down with Ardala. Still, by the end, he’s proven himself the hero, revealed the villains of the piece, and saved the day!
For the time, the effects were pretty great (though pretty early on, they started recycling shots to save money, just as they did on Galactica), but I’ve always loved the uniforms and the look of the ships, there are some gorgeous mattes and model work. And of course, you simply can’t beat the special effect that Gray had in her various uniforms, is it any wonder so many boys in the neighborhood had crushes on her?
And speaking of Gray, it’s a shame that the writers weren’t able to find the appropriate balance for her character, they seemed unable to reconcile the warrior with the feminine, which is too bad, as she’s still a great character idea.
Gerard plays the character with just the right amount of gusto and tongue in cheek, something that the series embraces, playing up the camp and stylized nature of the series. And while the pilot doesn’t always work theatrically, it does set up the concepts, characters and look of the series rather nicely. So much so that I may watch a few more eps yet…
Yes, it’s kitschy, cliché, and cheesy, but man, as a kid this was AWESOME!