Gil Gerard, Erin Gray, Tim O'Connor, Pamela Hensley, Henry Silva, Felix Silla, Duke Butler, Joseph Wiseman
Glen A. Larson, Philip Francis Nowlan (characters), Leslie Stevens
Blast off with every groundbreaking episode of the action-packed sci-fi adventure, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century! Join legendary intergalactic crimefighters William “Buck” Rogers (Gil Gerard) and Colonel Wilma Deering (Erin Gray) as they lead the crew of the starship Searcher against a galaxy of evil from the past, present and faraway future. This must-own five-disc collection presents the entire Buck Rogers series and original theatrical pilot on DVD for the first time ever. Thrill to the epic sci-fi hit that the Associated Press called “razzle-dazzle good fun.”
English Dolby 2.0
Runtime: 1800 min.
Release Date: 11/16/2004
PURCHASE @ AMAZON.COM
Mitsubishi WS65315 65" TV; Pioneer VSXD409 Home Theater Receiver; Sony DVP NC665P 5 Disc DVD player; KLH Home Theater Speakers
Buck Rogers In The 25th Century: The Complete Series (1979)
Reviewed by Brian Ludovico (December 2, 2004)
How did I know I’d reached the threshold of “too much Buck Rogers in one weekend”? It was pretty clear once I found myself inventing a back story for one of the minor characters: Kane, the Draconian.
After what seemed like the fifth Draconian attempt to conquer Earth had been foiled by Ardala’s schoolgirl gazing at the Buckster, I told my wife that I felt bad for Kane. I reasoned that he most certainly went to some exclusive Draconian military school, and achieved enough success there to be commissioned to a flagship that not only would patrol a portion of the universe, but would also carry Draconian royalty in Princess Ardala.
Unfortunately, he seems to have gotten stuck with the brattiest, most dense and immature of the Draconian daughters, and her obsession with Buck as a sexual partner is constantly screwing up their objective of taking over Earth. That means Kane is the guy who’s constantly calling King Draco and having to explain what went wrong, not to mention taking orders that he knows are bogus from someone in a sheer bikini with a bodyguard named “Tiger Man” or “Panther Man,” depending on the episode. I started wondering how many times he’d put in for a transfer to another ship, only to be rebuffed by high command.
It has to be tough to be Kane. I’m sure all the soldiers on board laughed at him behind his back too, as he was basically castrated of all authority whenever the bratty princess was around (and don’t get me started on the messages about women in power that she sends). It was at this assertion that my wife flatly refused to watch one more minute of Buck Rogers as long as she lived, and stormed out, laughing all the way, to start spreading Christmas decorations through our house.
As the melodramatic voice over will inform the viewer before every single episode, Buck Rogers (Gil Gerard) was the pilot on the “last of NASA’s deep space probes,” launched in the distant year 1987. Something went wrong, and Buck’s ship was launched into an orbit a thousand times greater than planned, returning him to earth, five hundred years later. Of course, since it was produced in the late seventies, the technology now seems pretty ridiculous. Everything is analogue controlled, communication devices are three times the size of cell phones, circuitry is oversized, fighter control interfaces are less advanced than a Super Nintendo game, and computer panels are littered with the famous anonymous flashing lights, which in the Sixties and Seventies meant “technology”. Now, it looks like spaceships of the future are running on Lite Brites.
Granted, this was all to be expected, as I’m sure our visions of the future will be laughable 25 years from now. What makes Buck Rogers so goofy is the “70’s” feel to the styles and the social life. Forget the feathered hairdos, proliferation of lycra outfits, awful music…did the producers really think that a proper diplomatic welcome dinner, in the 25th century, would feature choreographed rollerskaters and disco music? Moreover, if you were the leader of an alien race looking to invade earth, wouldn’t being welcomed with rollerdancers only encourage your invasion? Seriously, I’d excuse myself to use the space john, ring up my troops on my eight pound sub space communicator, and have an offensive in progress before the pasta course.
Strangely, there are two distinctly different versions of Buck Rogers, as anyone who watched the show, even as a five or six year old, will remember. The first version starts with the theatrical pilot, originally released in British cinemas and eventually expanded into a two-part premiere episode. As necessary, it introduces Buck to the 25th century and puts him in cahoots with the Defense Directorate, which is apparently a military crew (ten pilots, it seems) who protect Earth from all comers. It’s here that he meets Colonel Wilma Deering (Erin Gray) and they establish a friendship that might be more at some point. She will challenge Buck early on and sort of keep him in line. He also meets Dr. Heur (Timothy O’Connor), whose role as the head of the defense directorate basically comes down to assigning Buck and Wilma to fix every problem he can think of.
Basically, the plots of the first season can almost all be classified as “Buck goes to World X, Finds Damsel Under Thumb of Tyrant, Performs Improbable Rescue and Accomplishes Mission, ends in Smiling Freeze Frame.” Apparently, in the future, women will always have a bare midriff (except for Wilma), and no one – and I mean no one - wears underwear. Sounds great, right? Lycra-covered Colonel Deering is certainly hot, but there are far too many instances where Buck’s hog is on display for the galaxy to see.
As represented by the first 20 episodes, this season has a lot of good episodes, highlighted by but not limited to Space Vampire, Plot to Kill a City, and Flight of the War Witch, as well as a few bad ones (A Blast for the Past, Cosmic Whiz Kid, Cruise Ship to the Stars). Thankfully, the former outnumbers the latter. The big question for me from season one is why would anyone want to conquer Earth? By all accounts, it’s got no natural resources, it’s got an unlivable atmosphere, there’s a heavy radiation problem, Terrans even have to import synthetic food discs to eat…yet for some reason, it’s constantly under threat of assault. This would be like threatening to occupy Antarctica.
Sadly, something must have happened at the end of the first season, maybe some massive decline in ratings or some weird response from a focus group, because Buck Rogers undergoes a change as drastic as Saved by the Bell post-Ms. Bliss. Sure, Buck, Wilma and Twiki are still here, like the Zack, Lisa and Screech of the 25th century, but that’s about it.
The first thing we notice is that we’re no longer on Earth. We’re in the spaceship Searcher, which I suppose is Bayside High to Earth’s Kennedy Middle School. Furthermore, good old Dr. Heur is gone, replaced by surly Admiral Asimov…because it’s science fiction, get it? Twiki no longer speaks with the familiar voice of Mel Blanc, instead he’s some fruity voiced jokester. Wilma is still called Colonel Deering, but basically she’s reduced answering interstellar phones, doing ensign work and wearing dumpy clothes, save for her military issue high heels. In the last episode, she’s actually a stewardess! What happened to the hardcore warrior from the first episode?
Buck seems a lot less charismatic…in fact, he’s actually kind of a dick. Parts of the show’s core concept, the lack of any information pertinent to the 20th century, for example, run completely opposite of the original season. Now, everything’s in the ‘archives.’ What’s more is that no one even attempts to explain what happened. It’s like Heur never even existed. Strange, since a “genesis” type of episode would have been such an easy 47 minutes.
The two highlights that stand out are both in the last five minutes of the final two episodes. The shows usually ended with a light hearted romp of laughter after a character made a bad joke or something, and the camera pans on the revelers to show how much fun they’re having. Both of the last two episodes, when the camera pans on Hawk, Thom Christopher looks absolutely pissed to have been involved. He’s not even trying to appear like he’s enjoying himself. You can almost hear him thinking “This show is in the tank…I’m wearing black stretch pants and a feather helmet…I am going to kill my agent.”
While the second season is not without its charms, like the new characters Hawk, who’s a lot cooler than Buck, and Dr. Goodfellow, it’s also plagued with problems. Season two episodes all have the same narrative spine, much like season one, only this time it’s “Strange Planet, One Survivor, Buck Solves Problem.” Unfortunately, it’s obvious that producers were starting to pull away from show financially: every planet looks like Culver City, California. The allure of strange terrains is one of science fiction’s best qualities…a vineyard that grows silver grapes is not strange or alluring.
There’s no sense of dread or even a mild threat, since for most of the episodes, if Buck and co. can’t solve the problem, they can get on their ship and split with no real consequence. Season two also has a lot more bad episodes (Golden Man, Mask of the Saurians, Dorian Secret, The Satyr, The Crystals) with plots lifted wholesale from other better shows - like Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica and The Prisoner - than it does good ones, which are limited to Time of the Hawk and half of Oasis.
Buck Rogers is a reasonably diverting program for its time, but not something to run out and get if you aren’t already a fan. The epic series runs as follows:
- Awakening In the original theatrical pilot, a mysterious meteor shower in 1987 sends astronaut William “Buck” Rogers and his spacecraft off-orbit. He doesn’t awaken from the resulting suspended animation until an alien diplomatic vessel, Draconia, and the deceptively beautiful Princess Ardala intercepts him in the year 2491.
- Planet of the Slave Girls It’s Buck to the rescue of the entire planet when Earth’s Defense Squadron becomes incapacitated after eating poisoned food discs from a shady slave trader.
This episode is particularly fun because it not only features the overstated zeal of Mr. Jack Palance, but also the fey goofiness of Roddy McDowell. We also experience the second ham fisted allegorical statements that Buck Rogers will try to make on non-American cultures, this one dealing with the Middle East and the world’s oil supplies (Ardala’s Draconians are thinly veiled Japanese).
- Vegas in Space Sin never looked so good when Buck is sent to the gambling city of Sinaloa to rescue a kidnapped young women from the city’s wicked ruler, Velosi.
Cesar Romero is the first of three former Batman villains to show up in the series, which is a plus, but naming a gambling resort “Sinaloa” is a little unimaginative, isn’t it?
- The Plot to Kill a City, Part 1 When a dangerous interstellar assassin gang declares war on the city of New Chicago, Buck’s in a race against time to find their next target before he becomes one himself.
- The Plot to Kill a City, Part 2 Buck goes deep undercover as an interstellar killer in order to stop an assassin group from detonating New Chicago’s matter/antimatter energy plant.
These two episodes are generally pretty strong from a plot standpoint, and there’s the added bonus of Frank Gorshin, but Buck spends most of the ninety minutes dressed like he’s going to a Rainbow Nation parade. The other weird thing is that Seton Kellogg, Gorshin’s character, cavorts with a bunch of other supervillains. One has telekinetic powers, another can alter his density, another can sense people…Kellogg’s powers are “logistics.” Logistics? How does that make one a supervillain?
- Return of the Fighting 69th Before Buck’s arrival in the 25th century, Wilma had been hot on the trail of two interstellar gunrunners, and now, they’re back with a stolen freighter full of chemical weapons ready to contaminate Earth’s atmosphere.
- Unchained Woman Buck infiltrates a prison to rescue Jen Burton, a woman wrongly convicted for a murder her boyfriend committed.
The only notable thing about this episode is that the no underwear rule apparently extends even to the prison system, as evidenced by a young Jamie Lee Curtis.
- Planet of the Amazon Women Buck’s up for auction after falling for a trap on the planet of Santia, and the highest bidder is no other than Ariela, the Prime Minister’s daughter.
This episode demonstrates one of the many times that Buck Rogers will make some social commentary that the viewer sees coming from a mile away, and thereby comes off as sanctimonious and annoying. Women can be strong and feminine too? Thanks for teaching us, Buck. Don’t try to make a social commentary when (1) no one is wearing underwear and (2) one of your main characters is a three foot tall silver phallus.
- Cosmic Whiz Kid When Hieronymous Fox, an 11-year old child ruler of the plant Genesia, is kidnapped by the Sinister Roderick Zale, Buck and Wilma attempt to rescue the genius boy as the future of Genesia hangs in the balance.
- Escape from Wedded Bliss It’s a shotgun wedding with the bride pointing the gun at planet Earth when Princess Ardala decides that Buck is the most genetically perfect male in the Galaxy.
- Cruise Ship to the Stars It’s murder and romance on the high seas when Buck, Wilma and Twiki board the ship Lyran Queen just before a beauty queen is nearly kidnapped by a mysterious woman with deadly superpowers.
The best thing about this episode? Without a doubt, the dance club scenes, which feature some weird rope action and a dance where you have to keep one hand on the post at all times. Who thought this stuff up?
- Space Vampire Buck and Wilma must confront the treacherous Vorvon, who sneaks up on his victims and sucks their souls, when they believe him to be responsible for series of deaths on Space Station Theta.
- Happy Birthday, Buck On Buck Roger’s 534th birthday, a surprise party goes awry when the birthday boy must battle an assassin with a deadly vendetta against Dr. Huer.
- A Blast from the Past It’s mind over matter when Buck agrees to subject himself to a mind probe in order to find out who is responsible for the mysterious objects being transported into the Defense Directorate’s building.
They waited for ten whole episodes to have a “best of” clip show? Talk about arrogant. And if all these images are from Buck’s mind probe, why does he remember things that he wasn’t there for? And why does he remember looking at his own face so much?
- Ardala Returns Princess Ardala is back and badder than ever with another plot to ensnare Buck – and this time, she lures him aboard a simulated spaceship just like the one he left Earth from in 1987.
It seems like Ardala swings by every couple of weeks with a new ploy to ensnare Buck...poor Kane.
- Twiki is Missing The evil ruler of a mining colony kidnaps Twiki, and when Buck goes to rescue him, he brings to light something that could also destroy the ten-ton asteroid that is on a collision course with Earth.
Check out Twiki’s internal circuitry…it’s about as futuristic as my alarm clock.
- Olympiad When the greatest athletes in the universe gather for the 2492 Olympics, Buck is drawn into a political game of intrigue with an athlete trying to defect to Earth.
This episode proves one thing beyond a doubt: in 500 years, the Olympics will still be lame.
- A Dream of Jennifer Buck is haunted by the appearance of a young woman who bears more than a striking resemblance to Jennifer, the woman he left behind when he was propelled into the 25th century.
This episode might have had a little more weight if we’d heard Buck mention Jennifer at some earlier juncture.
- Space Rockers It’s a case of music and mayhem when Buck attempts to stop a plan to control the minds of that galaxy’s youth through subliminal messages in rock music.
This is the worst episode of season one…it feature musicians who look like the Teletubbies, music that sounds like drills at various pitches, Bull from Night Court and that guy from Dirty Dancing, not to mention the most inane plot of the year.
- Buck’s Duel to the Death Buck leads a band of men in the dangerous fight to free a peaceful planet from the clutches of the Traybor, an evil alien warlord.
- Flight of the War Witch A space warp mysteriously traps Buck in another universe where the planet Pendar is under attack by a sinister war witch, Zarina.
I liked this episode a lot, because it finally gave my man Kane a little time to shine as a military leader, and features the third and final former Batman villain, Julie Newmar chewing up scenery as the title character.
- Time of the Hawk Buck, Wilma and Twiki take the starship Searcher on a dangerous mission to find the last tribes of Earth – those who fled to the stars after a nuclear holocaust nearly destroyed the planet.
Good thing the printed text summary tells us this, because the show certainly doesn’t. Oh, and Hawk (Thom Christopher) totally kicks ass as a sidekick.
- Journey to Oasis Buck heads a mission to escort Ambassador Duvoe to a peace conference that could avert a horrible galactic war, but before talks can begin, their shuttle is caught en route in an electric storm and crash lands in the desert.
- The Guardians On a remote planet, Buck and Hawk find a dying old man who entrusts them with a glowing green box that causes delusions in the mind of the crew.
- Mask of the Saurians The Saurians, disguised as humans, infiltrate the Searcher and a space station, and only Buck can perceive their true, treacherous, identities.
- The Golden Man The Searcher collides with an asteroid while rescuing a gold skinned boy from an escape pod, and Buck must decide whether to help the boy free his companions catured on a world below.
This one is just plain creepy; Relcos looks like he just came out of a go-go cage at Studio 54, and has a very strange dynamic with the younger goldie. It’s also about the fourth time since the second season began that we see the “old tyme town” set being used, and even the actors like tired of it. .
- The Crystals Buck, Wilma and Hawk explore a strange planet for energy giving crystals and discover a mysterious young woman with amnesia and a violent mummy like creature who may be more than they seem.
How many times did the crew of The Enterprise search a strange planet for power crystals?
- The Satyr Buck and Twiki try to rescue a young widow and her son, the last survivors colony decimate by a plague, from a goat man named Pangor.
The villain in this episode plays the pan flute as his attack signal. Young television writers, take heed: when trying to create sense of dread and doom, don’t try to do it with a pan flute.
- Shgoratchx! Buck explores a derelict spaceship discovered by the Searcher, finding that it is filled with solar bombs and is staffed by seven little men.
The title of this episode screams of the writer being so fed up with his own creation that he just slammed his hands on the keyboard and said “Let’s just call it that. It makes just as much sense as the rest of this script.”
- The Hand of Goral The lone survivor of a crashed ship somehow influences the crew of the Searcher to become a version of their worst selves, and Buck cannot trust Wilma of Hawk to help him find out why.
- Testament of a Traitor When a newly discovered videotape from the from the 20th century implicates Buck in the nuclear holocaust that nearly destroyed the Earth, Commission Bergstrom convenes a war crimes trial, seeking the death penalty.
Cool idea, but the admissibility of the mind probe evidence seems to be pretty sketchy from a legal standpoint. Again, I watched a lot of Buck Rogers this weekend.
- The Dorian Secret When Buck and Hawk are sent to transport the refugees of a planetary disaster to a new home, Buck rescues a young Dorian woman who may be a dangerous murderess.
This episode finishes off the series’ final “peter out,” and made me wish that someone had told the show it was being canned, so they could have a proper send off. By the time this episode came around, though, there really wasn’t anywhere to go other than crash the Searcher into a star or something.
The DVD Grades: Picture C-/ Audio C/ Bonus F
Buck Rogers appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on these single-sided, double-layered DVDs; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. If Universal invested any money into a restorative effort on this picture, it certainly doesn’t show.
Much like the episodes themselves, the quality is frustratingly inconsistent. I’m not asking for a reference quality picture, don’t get me wrong; I fully expected to see the tinge of granularity that hangs over the entire presentation, and even gave some leniency to the smaller instances of print damage.
Unfortunately, the set isn’t limited to these problems, as we see several occurrences of color fluctuation, particularly in the middle episodes of the show. Those colors are decidedly seventies, too, with an inordinate amount of browns, oranges, and yellows that just look terrible, not because of the DVD, but because of the style sensibility of the time.
Black depths are reasonable, only really tested on Hawk’s costume, and overall detail is decent. Minor print damage is understandable, but Buck Rogers is plagued with vertical streaking, hairs, dirt, and any other visual bric-a-brac imaginable. Resolution is okay, not razor sharp, pretty much what one would expect from a niche market-friendly, late seventies TV show. On the whole, I was pretty disappointed by the video quality here, as it seems thrown together and cheap. Menus are not animated, save for the intro to the main menu.
Much like the video, the audio is pretty bland, and speaks to Universal’s assessment of the market for the set. Buck Rogers is presented in a 2.0 monaural format that just sort of lies there, basically because Universal accurately figures that people who are interested in buying a five disc set of Buck Rogers have already made up their minds to do so and won’t be swayed by a lazy audio track.
That said, would it have been too much to ask to get this mastered into stereo at least? From a clarity standpoint, the sound is fair to middling, with infrequent occasions of analogue pops or hisses, and the “futuristic” music, mainly defined by horrifying synthesizer noise (as in the terrible Space Rockers episode) is a bit on the tinny side. We’ve also got a case of “too clear for its own good” here, as the extensive use of studio-recorded, ADR-looped dialogue sticks out like a sore thumb, thanks to the digital clarity afforded by the medium. Otherwise, this presentation is average at best.
Perhaps the biggest Buck disappointment is that the set is completely and utterly devoid of any bonus material of any kind. Not a single interview (guess it’s tough to pry Gil Gerard or Erin Gray off of the convention circuit), no commentaries (I’d have liked a Crichton robo-commentary or, even better, Kane in character!), no retrospective featurette on the rise and fall of the program from some TV critic, no commercials…nothing, not even a cast and crew bio section. Bad job. I’d have given an F- if I could.
I was pretty excited to hear that Buck Rogers in the 25th Century was going to be released in a single set that ran from start to finish, mainly because I remembered how awesome I thought the show was as a youth. Much like everyone else who’s interested in this set, I made up my mind to acquire it pretty quickly. While it certainly shows that sometimes nostalgia beats reality, I am glad to own The Complete Epic Series. I’m sure pre-established fans will feel much the same way. Universal’s presentation, though packaged nicely, has no illusions of capturing a new audience, though, omitting any value-add material and happy just to take the money - a significant chunk at that - from a single consumer base. If you already know you’re a Buck Rogers fan, then this set is certainly enough to satisfy. Otherwise, disregard and move on.
Viewer Film Ratings: 4.75 Stars|| Number of Votes: 8|