in the 25th Century
Glen A. Larson
March 30, 1979
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century is a 1979 American science fiction film directed by Daniel Haller. Starring Gil Gerard in the title role, it was produced by Glen A. Larson who co-wrote the screenplay with Leslie Stevens, based on the character Buck Rogers which was created by Philip Francis Nowlan in 1928.
In 1987, NASA astronaut Captain William "Buck" Rogers is piloting the space shuttle Ranger 3 when he flies into an unexpected space phenomenon and is frozen for 504 years. In the year 2491, his shuttle is found drifting in space by the alien ship Draconia, which is headed to Earth for a trade conference, under the command of Princess Ardala and her aide de camp, Kane, a former native of Earth. Rogers is revived from his cryogenic sleep. Princess Ardala is visibly attracted to Buck, but Buck rebuffs the Princess and is put back on his shuttle and sent towards Earth.
It turns out though the Draconians are actually planning to conquer the Earth through staged pirate attacks on Earth's shipping fleet, forcing Earth to seek a treaty with the Draconians and unwittingly opening up their defenses to the invaders. They plant a homing beacon aboard Roger's shuttle to track a way past Earth's planet-wide defense shield. Buck lands in New Chicago and is immediately taken into custody by Colonel Wilma Deering of Earth's military forces. He is interrogated and learns that Earth has been rebuilt over the centuries in his absence following a nuclear holocaust, and now the only thing left is this big city surrounded by desert wasteland. Over the course of his time in detention, Buck makes the acquaintance of Dr. Elias Huer, the leader of Earth's Defense Directorate, the AI computer Dr. Theopolis, and the robot drone Twiki.
While recounting his encounter with the Draconians, Buck notices several discrepancies and suspects that the Draconians must be armed, contrary to the terms of the trade meeting. Against advice, Buck ventures outside the city to the ruins of old Chicago in an attempt to see that what he has been told is real, eventually finding his own parents' grave and having to be rescued by Wilma and her troops from the mutants inhabiting the ruins. Following Buck's return to the Inner City, the Draconian tracking device is found aboard his ship, and the authorities accuse Buck of espionage. Buck claims the Draconians set him up, and eventually Wilma persuades Dr. Huer to test Buck's claims by requesting a meeting with Princess Ardala and Kane aboard the Draconia. The Draconian marauders attack their flagship as a diversion, but Buck manages to destroy them single-handedly, thus earning Wilma's respect.
At the official diplomatic reception, Ardala, who is still attracted to Buck, invites him back to the Draconia, but Buck merely goes along to find out the truth behind the Draconians. On the ship, Ardala says she needs "a man, a REAL man" to rule by her side and offers Buck the position. After drugging Ardala, Buck explores the ship and discovers their plans to attack Earth, which is imminent. Dr. Theopolis and Twiki, who have followed Buck aboard, eventually meet up with him and alert Earth to the Draconian threat. Wilma immediately scrambles Earth's starfighters and attacks the Draconia, while Buck sabotages the Draconian bomber fleet prepared to attack Earth and fights off Ardala's bodyguard, Tigerman. During the battle, the Draconia is critically damaged, but Buck, Theopolis and Twiki are rescued by Wilma before the ship explodes. Ardala and Kane also escape the destruction of the Draconia destruction in a shuttlecraft, while Kane vows to return and to take his revenge on Rogers.
- Gil Gerard as Captain William "Buck" Rogers
- Erin Gray as Colonel Wilma Deering
- Tim O'Connor as Dr. Elias Huer
- Pamela Hensley as Princess Ardala
- Henry Silva as Kane
- Howard F. Flynn as Voice of Dr. Theopolis
- Felix Silla as Twiki
- Mel Blanc as Voice of Twiki
- Duke Butler as Tigerman
- Joseph Wiseman as Emperor Draco
When the movie was broadcast on network TV in 1979 as “Awakening” of the TV series, a few changes were made:
- The original, sensual opening credits sequence was replaced with a starfield background. The narration was altered and the song removed.
- The first appearance of Wilma’s trademark catsuit.
- Some of Buck Rogers’s more suggestive comments to Wilma Deering were cut.
- Tigerman’s death was removed. This allowed the character to return in later episodes.
- The TV version of the film (“Awakening”) features scenes in Buck’s 25th century apartment that was not seen in the theatrical version. The epilogue dialogue / setup for the TV series also takes place here.
- New scenes were added that showed Buck’s apartment.
- The idea that Buck would work for Dr. Huer and New Chicago.
- Several scenes were added, this included an epilogue for the TV series that provided background.
- Some dialogue was altered to avoid double meanings.
- Twiki’s line “I’m freezing my ball-bearings off!” in the theatrical version is replaced with “My micro-discs are turning blue!” in the TV version.
- The 1979 UK theatrical release of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century had several scenes removed to obtain an “A” classification.
- In the theatrical version, “Weatherly”, a pilot killed in the pirate raid, is female. In the TV version, footage of a male pilot is used.
- The movie was reedited into a 2 parter for syndication.
- The TV episode version of this film changed from William Conrad to Vic Perrin during scenes involving the Draconia announcer. Only 1 line of Conrad’s original voice work as the Draconia announcer was left in.
Inspired by the massive success of Star Wars two years earlier, Universal began developing Buck Rogers for television, spearheaded by Glen A. Larson who had a production deal with the studio. Initially, Larson and Universal had planned on making a series of Buck Rogers TV movies for NBC. Production began in 1978, however, the pilot for Larson's other sci-fi series, Battlestar Galactica (1978), had been released theatrically in some countries and in key locations in North America, and had done well at the box office. Universal then opted to release the first Buck Rogers TV movie theatrically on March 30, 1979. The movie grossed over $21 million in North America and was later released internationally, which led NBC to commission a weekly series, which began on September 20, 1979 with a slightly modified version of the theatrical release that deleted some scenes, added others intended to link to the ongoing series, revised the fate of one character killed off in the original so that he survived (Tiger Man), and replaced the suggestive opening credit sequence with a more generic version.
The movie was originally slated for release for September 1978. There were several start dates for filming but it was repeatedly delayed due to casting problems. The movie was eventually released in March 1979.
Several shots in the film were filmed at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles, California. Several other stock shots portraying futuristic buildings on Earth are that of remaining pavilions on the site of Expo 67, including the British and French national pavilion (now open as the Montreal Casino). These shots were also included in the 1979 Battlestar Galactica episode "Greetings from Earth", in which they were said to be a city on the planet Paradeen (though in production around the same time, the episode aired a month prior to the release of the Buck Rogers film). Buck's NASA shuttle, Ranger 3, was itself a prop that had been seen in this same episode where it was used as Michael's Lunar-7 shuttle though painted a different color.
Princess Ardala's father, Emperor Draco (played by Joseph Wiseman), originally had several scenes in the movie but most of these were deleted. His only remaining scene was as a holographic image talking to Kane at the movie's ending. Despite this brief appearance, images of Draco appeared prominently in various Buck Rogers merchandise, and 12" and 3¾" Draco action figures were produced by the toy company Mego. Wiseman would later appear in the weekly television series, playing the character Morphus in the episode "Vegas in Space".
The movie's opening credits featured a song, "Suspension", sung by Kipp Lennon and co-written by Glen A. Larson. An instrumental version of the song was used as the main theme for the television series that followed, though the vocal version of the song was used again for the ending credits of the season one finale, "Flight of the War Witch".
The film has been released on video several times since the 1980s, and was released on DVD in the Buck Rogers in the 25th Century series boxed set released in 2004. This was in lieu of the television broadcast version (entitled "Awakening") which contained some different scenes. When the first season was issued again on DVD in 2012, the boxed set still contained the theatrical version of the film. However, the television version of the film was finally released on DVD as a bonus feature in a re-issued boxed set of Season Two in 2013.
- Houston, David (April 1979). "Buck Rogers Becomes The Movie". Starlog. Retrieved on June 30, 2019.
- Delson, James (September 1979). "Buck Rogers: The Inside Story An exclusive interview with Director Daniel Haller". Fantastic Films. Retrieved on June 30, 2019.
- Tyler, Joshua (March 15, 2012). "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century - The Complete Series". CinemaBlend. Retrieved on March 15, 2012.
- Canby, Vincent (March 30, 1979). "Screen: 'Buck Rogers' Glides on Automatic Pilot:'Millionaire's Row' Tour". The New York Times. Retrieved on March 14, 2012.
- Lambert, David (September 4, 2012). "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century - Release Date Flies Into the Future for 'Season 2' on DVD". TVShowsOnDVD.com. Archived from the original on September 6, 2012. Retrieved on September 8, 2012.