I used to watch this show regularly when I was eleven, and definitely saw this movie many times in theaters. I didn’t realize until later that this must have played a large part in my taste in fellas, as everyone here is always walking around in skin-tight white outfits, Buck with his shirt open and hairy chest on display, and general air of interstellar horniness. So I have to tell you right up front that this review will be anything but objective, as watching this movie was like a return to a certain period of my adolescence, which I can’t recall being so great at the time, but seems like a blissfully carefree period in retrospect. This review is the Remembrance of Things Past of crappy sci-fi movie reviews! If only I had some absinthe…
This movie was released in theaters, then started as a show on TV. We open with a voice over telling us that astronaut William “Buck” Rogers was caught in a meteor shower and frozen, drifting through space. While this is happening the screen is divided into rounded panels that, well, are cool! I could write a whole retrospective of the credits sequences of 70s sci-fi shows… this, the Six Million Dollar Man, Space: 1999, Lost in Space… they were all super-cool! Or so they seem to me.
Anyway, I was surprised that for the big opening film we weren’t going to have a recreation of Buck’s big accident, but not really. So there’s this big shower of sparks that freezes Buck [who is, mysteriously, on this mission all by his lonesome], and he wakes up 500 years later. But as he sleeps, he dreams! And in his dream he sees a bunch of scantily-clad women, including the female cast of this film, splayed and feeling all sensual on these illuminated white letters of his name. They come up and kiss the sleeping Buck, and toward the end he wakes and rolls on top of them. This whole attempt to position Buck as the James Bond of space was lost on my innocent little mind at the time, and seems entirely inappropriate for young male audiences now! Of special note is the posing of Erin Gray, the film’s heroine Wilma Deering, as and she gets a special, extra-big hair toss to show that even though she’s a good, respectable woman [as opposed to the blatantly horny Princess Ardala], she can sensually toss her hair with the best of them! I have written in my notes: “Erin Gray! Degrading!” And let us NOT fail to mention the SONG [which I had totally forgotten], sung by what sounds like the producer’s high school theater-major son, which describes Buck’s inability to sort out what is fantasy, and what is real. The sheer amount of different lusty babes splayed out in Buck’s fantasy was a little shocking! I guess he’s just a horny, horny astronaut.
Then, around 5 minutes in, comes a musical cue that truly had me rolling in hysterics. We’re seeing Buck’s space shuttle floating along, then suddenly cut to Princess Ardala’s warship, which is supposed to recall Darth Vader’s extra-big star destroyer. The music changes to what is supposed to recall the Darth Vader theme, but is just a series of ominous chords: imagine a kid banging on the low end of a piano. So it’s all “doo-do-doo-do-DUN! DUN! DUN! DUN!” It’s hard to express in words. Ardala’s second in command, this common TV actor who is presented here with truly unfortunate bangs, sends out the ships to tow Buck in. Now is when we notice the truly bargain-bin special effects, so poor that one is shocked this movie was ever released theatrically. They bring Buck in and defrost him.
Commander Bangs alerts the scantily-clad Princess Ardala, who is being waited on by a female coterie with prominent cleavage, to Buck’s presence, and she immediately seems to think of him as a sexual partner. They meet him, and he’s all happy-go-lucky, except that he has a headache, so they inject him with this drug—and he gets HIGH! He starts laughing and laughing. They are worried that he’s a spy—you see, they’re on their way to Earth for a peace agreement, but actually have a ton of weapons and plot to enslave the planet—or something. They load the still-high Buck back on his ship and launch him toward Earth, figuring if they incinerate him, well, then maybe he wasn’t a spy after all.
I KNOW that my budding sexuality was indelibly influenced by the hulking Duke Butler as Tiger-Man, the bald, muscled, mustachioed henchman of Princess Ardala. Obviously what I need now is a boyfriend named Duke. Or Buck. Or even Tiger-Man. "Oh, I don't know, Tiger-Man, let's just stay in tonight and order pizza." That's how it would go.
So Buck is hurtling toward Earth, who send out their fighter pilots to intercept him, commanded by Wilma Deering, the sensuous hair-tosser from earlier. They decide to lead him in, rather than let him be incinerated by Earth's shield, and he pilots his space shuttle with a maneuverability that is just physically not possible for such a craft. He is taken to New Chicago, this big glorious sci-fi city visualized in several oft-repeated matte paintings. It seems that Earth suffered some sort of holocaust, and now the only thing left is this big city surrounded by desert wasteland. Deering orders Buck to follow her, and watch the horny double-entendre face he makes [around 19:07] after replying "I'll be right on your tail." Unfazed by all the unfamiliar spaceships, vast utopian city and enormous spaceship hangar, he tries to pick Wilma up immediately upon landing! This dude sure doesn't let a little 500-year sleep slow him down—in fact, it apparently gave him five centuries worth of blueballs!
So they hold him in the first of many sets that are built via giant white plastic Lego-type blocks that they can rearrange to make a different set, and introduce Dr. Huer, a friendly scientist, and Twiki, small silver robot with undeniable penis-head, who is introduced with whimsical music such as usually accompanies footage of bumbling baby pandas on Disney nature shows. Twiki often says "Bidi-bidi-bidi," and is soon making "comically" sarcastic comments or double-entendres. Around Twiki's neck is Dr. Theopolous [he's Greek?] this round talking cake baking pan with lights inside. His first comment to Buck is on how very handsome Buck is. It's a little hilarious to see poor Gil Gerard having a conversation with a cake pan, but it's somewhat ingenious to have this brilliantly intelligent robot be a, you know, cake pan.
But Wilma doesn't believe Buck isn't a spy, so she insists that she must spend some time with him. They go to various 1979 malls and hotels that are supposed to look "futuristic," where he tells her that Ardala's ship is armed. Then he goes outside the city walls to find out what happened to the old Earth, and sees the ruined city of Chicago, where a bunch of sandpeople-inspired mutants come after them. Buck just wanders around, even after being informed that it's not him the mutants want, but the robots. Buck doesn't care! He just wanders around with blatant disregard for his robot pals until he finds his own parent's grave. Then Wilma and company show up to rescue him.
Then Buck and Wilma go out to meet Ardala's ship to snoop around and see if she is in fact armed. Turns out Ardala is actually the source of the "pirates" that are supposedly threatening Earth, and they launch an attack. Buck, who is supposedly still under suspicion, is given command of a fighter, which he is told has computers that will fight for him. Well, I guess their servers are down, because their computers let all the Earth people get slaughtered without so much as firing back or taking evasive action. Poor, rigid Wilma is still for giving the computer a chance, even after four of her colleagues are killed, but luckily Buck is there with his real, non-computer-based dogfight skills! Every single shot of a spaceship was a massive trot down memory lane for me, as the movie and subsequent TV series re-used each of these shots multiple, MULTIPLE times.
So upon return to the ship, Princess Ardala wants to throw a banquet in Buck's honor. We see that Wilma HAS made sure to pack her lip gloss for the voyage, and once more Theopolous congratulates Buck on how great he looks. Is this cake pan gay? Anyway, this sequence features one of my FAVORITE aspects of 70s sci-fi, which is an imagining of the MUSIC OF THE FUTURE! Which sounds an awful lot like the shitty synth music of the past. They're playing this Mannheim Steamroller-type shit when Buck decides he needs to rock out, and asks the synth player to "just let himself go." On the third try, the guy suddenly becomes a synth-funk wizard, and Buck starts shakin' it! Ardala asks what he's doing, and he replies "it's called getting down," and asks if it frightens her. Please don't miss Buck's little lip-purse as he does a horny thrust! Even Twiki gets into the groove, saying "Groovy! Get down!" as he shakes it, and you're like: "Where did he learn this language?" Regardless, the utter ridiculousness of this clip has made it a permanent fixture on YouTube, often with modern dance songs layed over the dance part. A simple search for "Buck Rogers" will surely find it in the top results.
SPOILERS > > >
Toward the end of the dance [which DOES go on], Kane glares at Ardala's slutty, non-princess-like behavior from in front of the drop-ceilings of the future. Buck has arranged to meet Ardala on her special midnight shuttle, but then Wilma, her lusts enflamed by Buck's hip-thrusting disco moves, essentially throws herself at him. You just gotta love Wilma in her full military uniform with TOTAL Breck-girl big wavy hair. But Buck has to refuse her for Ardala, and when she finds out he's gone she's convinced he's a spy. She almost opened up her sugar walls to a spy! Anyway, on the Princesses ship [DUN! DUN! DUN!] Ardala says she needs "a man, a REAL man" to rule by her side, and offers Buck the position. Buck slips her some drugs. Please note that Buck knows exactly where the light switches are, even though he's never been in her room before and is unfamiliar with the light switches of the 25th century. God, the WHOLE THING is full of such shoddiness. So Buck escapes to look around, shooting Tiger-Man with a gun that freezes him—you'll see the actor just trying and failing to stay very still. Soon after Kane is barking orders in the hangar bay and you'll see a ship behind him that is obviously just painted on a board!
So Buck seemingly spends the last half-hour of the film putting bombs in the tailpipes of Ardala's ships, which seems like a somewhat laborious and time-consuming process, so it sure is lucky that all of the various bad guys milling about just let him go about his business. Outside another dogfight is going on, largely comprised of the exact same footage we saw earlier, just shuffled into a different order. It's clear that they just ordered a bunch of space fight footage and simply re-arranged it for each different fight. You can also notice that they flip certain shots upside-down to make a new "shot." Anyway, Buck's still toiling away with the bombs when Tiger-Man shows up to bother him and—it's a TOTALLY DIFFERENT TIGER-MAN! The earlier one was tall and relatively slim, this one is squat and wide. But you know what, I'd take 'em both. Like Grace Jones says, I don't need no extra help, I'm already too much for just one Tiger-Man.
So thanks to Buck's time-intensive labors, the evil ships blow up soon after launch, and once she finds out Buck was behind this, Wilma's affections are renewed. They have attacked Ardala's ship, then she flies in to the burning hangar to rescue him and Twiki and the cake pan, and the ship blows up in the absolute cheapest series of superimposed explosions ever. Then Wilma once more offers her love to Buck, saying he'll find out she's "not all business." But… the way she says it, it's as though she were somehow promised to him by some unspoken agreement and feels that she made a serious breach of protocol by not leaping into bed with him from the start. That is to say, she's sort of apologizing and, for what? We have a reprise of the title song, sung by Kip Lennon and written by producer Glenn Larson, who also did the original Battlestar Galactica and Knight Rider. A little research informs me that Kipp Lennon is the lead singer for a group called Venice, has contributed voices for the Simpsons, and released one solo album, entitled Boom Boom Party.
< < < SPOILERS END
I watched this in two parts, having fallen dead asleep after the thrilling excitement of the disco party, and, as often happens, the thrill was totally gone by the second part. The problem them becomes knowing whether the first part was actually better, or if it just seemed that way because it was new. I think it's a combination of both. The whole thing is obviously crap, just CRAP [and now I have 30 hours of it, as I bought the DVD set of the entire series], but the first half has the only interesting elements, which are the introduction of the whole future Earth, Buck's waking up and meeting the new people, etc. I read a little about this movie in the meantime and found that the reason it looks like it's too crappy to be released in theaters is that it was actually made for TV, then no network bought it, then they released it in theaters, and once it did reasonably well, they brought it back to TV.
If you watched this while young, I would say rent the movie, because it will probably wear out its welcome by 50 minutes in. If you've never seen it, you probably don't need to, unless you're really interested in the crappy, crappy sci-fi of the late 70s. Erin Gray continues to act today. Pamela Hensley [Ardala] was also in Rollerball, and a bunch of other TV stuff. Gil Gerard didn't do much of anything afterward, but recently had a reality show on Discovery Health about having gastric bypass surgery after his weight reached 350 pounds.
I wouldn't, unless you used to love the show when you were younger, and even so, rent before buying.