The 70s sci-fi series gets a slick restoration and celebratory release
Blast off to the 25th century with Buck Rogers, one of the most popular sci-fi heroes of all time! When 20th-century astronaut William “Buck” Rogers (Gil Gerard) is awakened — 500 years after a deep-space disaster — to an Earth in recovery from nuclear war, he must join Colonel Wilma Deering (Erin Gray) to lead the crew of the starship Searcher against a galaxy of evil from the past, present and faraway future. Co-starring Felix Silla, Tim O’Connor and the legendary voice of Mel Blanc as Twiki.
Fueled by the Star Wars phenomenon guiding studios at the time, and having already launched the sci-fi series Battlestar Galactica, producer Glen A Larson sought to kick off a new chapter of space-based storytelling with his take on the 1920s newspaper serial created by Philip Francis Nowland. The titular star was a NASA pilot, one who while aboard a space shuttle encounters an unusual phenomenon, that freezes him. Revived 500 years later, he finds himself on an Earth he barely recognizes. One that has survived a global conflict (barely), and now stands united against the threat of the hostile aliens of the planet Draconia.
The set here from Kino Lorber reflects the studio’s changing predilections at the time. Originally launched as a feature film (restored here), the response was strong enough to push NBC to change the format to a weekly TV series, one which ran for two seasons. Together, they tell a ongoing story that riffs on the “fish out of water” trope, with Gil Gerard’s Captain William “Buck” Rogers as a man out of time. This future Earth, is in conflict with a barbarian race which gives the show the chance to work in space battles, while also dropping episodes dealing with diplomatic missions, scientific expeditions, rescue missions, and disco dancing. Second season launched the show into more of an exploration mode with a heavier tone to try and add a little more substance. Comedy comes from the aforementioned times-shift trope (anachronisms ahoy!), but also some social commentary, juxtaposing what has changed and what seems to stay the same after 500 years. We also get some humor and weirdness from bizarre characters and further comic relief in the form of a chirping robot sidekick.
The playful vibe is somewhat tempered by some aspects of the show not dating well, notably those pertaining to sex and politics. The show lacks the swagger of Star Wars, and even Battlestar Galactica, at times feeling more reminiscent of early Doctor Who, with a camp vibe, wobbly sets, and theatrical nature, that may put off some, but undoubtedly charm others. Some of the practical effects hold up surprisingly well, notably the miniature models and the superb matte paintings by artist Sid Dutton. Gerard is a little more forgettable than I remember, but a rewatch confirms that it’s the women who make a real mark. Erin Grey’s Colonel Wilma Dearing is tough and smart, akin to a proto-Starbuck (the Sackhoff one duh), without roughness of course, it is the 70s. Pamela Hensley clearly relishes in her role as Princess Ardala of the Draconians. Further sparkle comes from the staggering assortment of guest stars who pop up. Jamie Lee Curtis, Julie Newmar, Roddy McDowall,, Cesar Romero, Jack Palance, Gary Coleman, and Sid Haig, to name but a few recognizable faces who add further entertainment value to checking this series out.
The complete collection delivers 9 discs, including all 32 episodes of seasons one and two, and the theatrical feature that started it all off. The original feature film has some edits (presumably for time) from the two-part TV ‘pilot’. Transfers result from a new 2K scan of archival film elements and looks pretty solid. Detail of image is good, colors are vibrant, blacks and contrast have good depth too. There are moments of softness, a few artifacts, and the occasional audio crackle, but recalling the show from TV broadcast, this release gives it a new lease of life. Kino’s Blu-ray release also includes some nice extras, among them:
- Audio Commentary with Steve Mitchell and Nathaniel Thompson: for the feature film, the pair give good historical context for the sci-fi series, production insights, stories from on set, and more
- Radio Spots:
- 9-Minute Special Theatrical Preview:
- Theatrical Trailer:
- NEW Audio Commentaries for 11 Selected Episodes by Film/TV Historian Patrick Jankiewicz, Author of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century: A TV Companion:
- NEW Interview with Co-Star Erin Gray & Actor Thom Christopher (Hawk): In separate interviews, the pair talk about how they came to be on the show, the vision and changes to their characters, and the cultural legacy of Buck Rogers
The Bottom Line
Buck Rogers is undeniably a product of it’s age, looking a little rickety around the edges and lacking the depth you’d find in other shows of it’s ilk. For sci-fi fans who like their space adventures fun with a hint of camp, this is the show for you. Kids of the 80s will also enjoy this trip down memory lane, one made all the more pleasurable by the outstanding package Kino Lorber has put together.
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century is available via Kino Lorber from November 24th
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century — The Complete Collection is available via Kino Lorber from November 24th