Buck Rogers in the 25th Century
release year: 1979
genre: sci-fi movie (turned TV pilot)
viewing setting: home DVD 11/20/16 and home VHS, 6/28/04
synopsis: An astronaut from 1987 veers off-course, gets frozen, and returns to Earth 500 years later.
impressions: This was another staple of my youth, along with shows like Star Trek, Battlestar: Galactica, The Six Million Dollar Man, and so on. As expected, it hasn't aged well, but it's not that bad either. There was plenty of 1970s male chauvanism and innunendo, though you have to be on the lookout for it. I thought it was funny how Wilma Deering was all serious until she spotted Buck making the moves on Princess Ardala, and suddenly she's throwing herself at Buck! If he'd played his cards right, he could have been with them both in one night. Alas, there was the Earth to be saved, so he stuck to business. Still, you have to think the future looks bright for Buck after this episode: Col. Deering states that she wants to get to know him better, and in the fleeing enemy ship, Princess Ardala tells her evil councilor Kane that "you'll never be half the man Buck Rogers is." What a life! Other cheese: for some reason, all sci-fi movies and shows of this era felt the need for a silly, incapable robot sidekick of some sort...and thus we have Twiki, whose purpose is to carry around a talking supercomputer, say anachronistic lines, and fetch drinks for people. As far as real special effects go, some of the footage here was seen in Battlestar Galactica which isn't surprising since Glen Larson helmed both shows. The spaceships and other effects are dated now, but back then they were cool.
things to watch for: The dance scene, first for the silly 25th century dance moves and then for Buck forcing them to play terrible 70s disco-type music so he can boogie down. Also, the Earth fighter ships have the universe's least-effective "combat computers" since letting one of them fly your ship in a dogfight is pretty much a death sentence. Buck has to show the pilots that flying their ships manually is a better idea. Also, the Draconian command ship has got to be the universe's weakest flagship, since a few paltry hits from the Earth fighters cause a series of massive explosions and abandoning of ship. No wonder such a great, vast empire can't beat one little planet Earth.
something this movie has that no other movie has: A tiny humanoid robot that walks around exclaiming "BIDIBIDIBIDIBIDIBIDI"
acting: Gil Gerard is good as the out-of-place but wily/chauvanistic/heroic Buck Rogers. Erin Grey plays a character who goes from serious tough-girl to swooning for Buck. Pamela Hensley (who played James Caan's mistress in Rollerball) is sinuously sensuous as the quasi-evil Draconian princess. Tim O'Connor as Dr. Huer and Mel Blanc as the voice of a little disc-shaped supercomputer are both voices of reason who defend Buck. Henry Silva (who tried and failed to hunt the title character in Alligator and unwisely pissed off Steven Seagal in Above the Law) is the princess' evil councilor.
the "hey, isn't that...?" award: At the very end, Draco (king of all evil Draconians) appears via hologram, and it's Joseph Wiseman, who played Dr. No in that 1962 movie!
final word: Good but silly pilot for one of the standards of 1970s/1980s-era TV science fiction.
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