Buck Rogers In The 25th Century resurrects the classic comic strip and serial character for the new age of space-themed television. Banking on the popularity of Star Wars and recent hit shows like Battlestar Galactica, this new Rogers starring Gil Gerard and Erin Gray tried to breathe fresh life into the character but came just too late for the show to last. With a feature film of the pilot episode and 32 episodes of the series, the sci-fi adventure is classic high-camp with a lot of heart and a vast array of guest stars. 9 discs covering the film and the two seasons, Buck Rogers In The 25th Century looks and sounds great. The film is in amazing shape with the series holding strong. Add in a great assortment of bonus features and you have a set worth adding to your classic television collection. Recommended.
Captain Buck Rodgers (Gil Gerard) blasts off into the future from the year 1987 aboard a state-of-the-art shuttle. When his ship malfunctions, Buck is hurled into the deep void of space frozen in time. When the diabolical Draconians find his shuttle 500 years later and thaw him out, they think they have the perfect patsy to send back to Earth and unwittingly show them the way through New Chicago's defense shield. But little did they know that Buck is always up for an adventure and ready to bring his old-world savvy and piloting skills to save his home planet.
Adventure? Excitement? Buck Rogers craves a lot of these things. After Star Wars blasted its way across movie screens dominating the box office and racking up massive dollars in merchandising and promotional tie-ins, the race was on to find the next big space adventure. A little late for the party, Buck Rogers In The 25th Century entered the scene when the strain of imitations taxed the attention span of audiences. Show creator Glen Larson already had a couple of entires in this field so he was a natural showrunner for a sci-fi adventure. Running on recycled sets, props, costumes, and even discarded spaceship designs from Larson's own Battlestar Galactica among other shows and films, Buck made his grand return decades removed from the classic Buster Crabbe serial adventures and comic strips to a new generation of science fiction fans.
The feature film movie version of the two-part pilot episode is the height of the show. There's really no getting around that. Originally the feature film wasn't in the cards, but producers and network executives got the smart idea that a theater run would be a great way to drum up easy marketing for the show. And the film was a modest success. It's a jaunty, campy tribute to classic science fiction doing its best to avoid Star Wars comparisons - even if the plucky robot Twiki looks like C-3PO cut off at the knees wearing a brass Little Lord Fauntleroy wig. It was a simple movie that was a modest success, and it actually provided a blueprint for how the show could work - long-form story.
The best episodes of Buck Rogers are the two-parter episodes The Plot to Kill a City and Flight of the War Witch and the longer movie-of-the-week feature-length episodes including the pilot and Planet of the Slave Girls. Several episodes throughout the run would make callbacks to key events of the pilot/film or previous episodes to the point they were practically two-parters in of themselves. The writing and characters for these episodes felt like they had momentum and a dramatic drive. The one-offs, of which there are many, are pretty entertaining but you can feel them filling time. With so many other science fiction shows essentially doing the same thing, there was little to make a lot of these episodes feel unique. Many of these shows were even using the same stable of guest spot actors so having people like Henry Silva, William Sylvester, Roddy McDowall, or Jack Palance pop up wasn't even unique. That said, Buster Crabbe appearing as the veteran space warrior "Gordon," in a hand-off sort of cameo was a great touch and a classy nod to the classics.
Over the years I've picked through the series a couple times now and I'm of the feeling that had the series focused on fewer overall episodes and more "feature-style" storytelling in the form of two-parter episodes it could have lasted longer than the two seasons it enjoyed. When the show is great - it's really good. When it's rough, you start to roll your eyes at the level of high-camp on screen not seen since Batman was on television. It doesn't help that half of Batman's rogues gallery made guest spots.
But warts and all, this is a fun show with a lot of heart. At the head of the ship is Gil Gerard. Likable and suave, his Buck Rogers is one part Han Solo one part resident golf club pro. He's got heart and swagger and isn't afraid to do the right thing and jump into action. But at the same time, this Buck Rogers has the air of a man who owned a lot of polyester pants with a running martini tab. You love watching him get into trouble and figure out how to save the day. Which he does without fail - every episode. Second to Gerard is a great turn from Erin Gray as Colonel Wilma Deering. A warrior and commander of Earth's defenses, she's smart, sexy, and lethal without ever being useless. Yes, this was made in the era where Buck always had to find a way to save the day, her character is never written in a way to be annoying or dead weight. Toss in Tim O'Connor as Dr. Huer, Felix Silla inside the costume with the voice of Mel Blanc for Twiki and the voice of Eric Server as Twiki's computer bling Dr. Theopolis, and you have a pretty damn fun show.
While I have a lot of love for Buck Rogers In The 25th Century - I freely admit a lot of that comes from being a junky for camp science fiction and serials. This show entertains me because it doesn't take itself seriously. It never tries to be smarter than it is. You can absolutely feel this show being targeted for families with kids turning on their televisions in the primetime hours. If you don't mind silly, if you don't mind some very convenient plotting, and if you don't mind your space adventure serve up with a big slab of ham, the feature film and series is a great watch.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Buck Rogers In The 25th Century The Complete Collection arrives on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber Studio Classics in a 9-Disc Blu-ray set. The feature film, Season One, and Season Two all get their own cases, a 5-disc case for Season One and a 3-Disc case for Season Two. Each disc is a Region A BD-50 disc. All three cases are housed in a paperboard slipcase with new custom artwork. Each disc loads to a static image main menu with traditional navigation options.
Buck Rogers In The 25th Century The Complete Collection is an adventure of two aspect ratios - 1.85:1 for the feature film version of the pilot episode and 1.33:1 standard television ratio for the season episodes. Different elements were sourced for these transfers so the feature film notably looks the best while the television series is in pretty damn good shape on its own but still shows signs of some age-related blemishes.
The 1.85:1 1080p transfer for the feature film was reportedly sourced from a new 2K master and looks pretty damn terrific. This was actually the first movie I bought on Laserdisc when I was building my collection just over 10 years ago now and the disc was so laser rot-riddled it was barely watchable. So obviously this is a nice upgrade from that disc! Most importantly it's a welcome upgrade over previous DVD outings offering an appreciable improvement in detail, a natural grain structure, along with strong inky black levels. Optical visual effects still hold up well, but on occasion, they can appear overly soft and/or the film grain can thicken. That's a cooked in artifact of the process and can't really be fixed, but it's more apparent with the added resolution. Some speckling and small scratches remain but nothing too distracting, and really only at their worst during special effects shots. Costuming and sets look great and the bold colors of this show really pop nicely. 4.5/5
The television series generally looks pretty great all-around bringing the 1.33:1 1080p imagery to life. The improvement in details is the first big thing I took away - and not always in a good way. The show was notoriously cheap so there are a lot of costumes and sets where you can practically see the glue holding things together. Closeups of Buck and Wilma's and other space fighter helmets and you can clearly see they used a basic biker helmet and hot-glued various bric-a-brac accessories onto them. But that's all a part of this show's charm! To that end, the masters used are essentially the same HD broadcast masters that have appeared on various networks over the last couple of years. Watching the pilot movie episode alongside its restored feature film version you can see the differences with the film looking much sharper with strong definition.
Black levels are a bit thicker and can get awful close to crushing. Dirt and speckling are apparent through most episodes - but not overly severe. Occasionally some staining pops up or a small scratch. The optical effects again are a bit dodgy in places with a rough grain presence - but do still look pretty good. I'm trying not to immediately compare the film to the show because the film had a larger post-production budget, they are separate entities in that way. So without the same restoration effort, these episodes can range in visual quality from damn good to pretty decent. Depending on the episode in question, I'd rank it between a strong 3.5/5 or a very respectable 4/5. Not perfect, but without a big cash investment at the studio level, it's not going to get better than this and what we have here is pretty damn good.
Both the film - and all of the episodes in the series for Buck Rogers In The 25th Century The Complete Collection comes packed with a DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio mix. The feature film and the pilot episode had more "finishing" to them so they sound the best of the pack. The feature film even gets lyrics for its "Awakening" theme song for the silly James Bond-inspired spinning sexy space ladies during the credits. Action beats for the film version feel a bit more open and dynamic allowing for the space battles to feel much more engaging. When Buck is exploring the wastelands of Old Chicago there's an appreciable "open" quality to the mixing that makes it feel vast and desolate that isn't as obvious in the mixing for the television series. Throughout the film, dialogue is clean and clear without issues and levels are spot on without any age-related troubles. 4/5
For a show that was made on a relatively modest budget, I give a lot of credit to the sound design for Buck Rogers. Sound effects for the space battles are pretty solid giving you plenty of imaging as ships swoosh across the screen firing their laser blasters. Dialog is clean and clear without issue, but it's much more obvious when dialog had to be dubbed in post as it sounds notably flatter and artificial. Some of the bigger room locations with multiple extras has the dimensionality of an elaborately dressed high-school prom. The sound just feels very boxy and enclosed and always with oddly high ceilings to give an extra echo quality. Again action scenes work well and any laser blasts or fisticuffs comes through nicely. No serious age-related issues exist that I could pinpoint. For a show with some modest resources, especially into the second season, this show sounds pretty great. 3.5/5
When it comes to classic television and/or science fiction movies - I'm not much of a beggar in the bonus features department. I'm usually just happy to have the series on disc in good quality. Kino Lorber Studio Classics has been great about adding quality bonus features to their releases over the last couple years and for Buck Rogers In The 25th Century, they certainly went above and beyond. You have new audio commentaries for the film, and for ten episodes of the show with TV/Film Historian Jankiewicz - author of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century: A TV Companion, with some new cast interviews from Erin Gray and Thom Christopher. Apparently, they did try to get some participation from Gil Gerard but plans didn't work out.
Feature Film Bonus Features
Season One Bonus Features
Season Two Bonus Features
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century The Complete Collection may not be the type of space adventure and excitement for everyone - but for classic television fans and lovers of the old school campy high-concept science fiction, this is a great ride. I watched old reruns as a kid and would check out the DVDs while I worked early mornings at Hollywood Video and had the run of the store. This was a great reconnect and a fun show that just brings joy. Sure, it's goofy as hell but it tried to bring the bigger than life adventures to television screens in a compelling way. And for the most part, it succeeded. Sadly its second season was cut short, but with the movie and the 32 main series episodes, you have hours of excellent entertainment value.
Kino Lorber Studio Classics brings Buck Rogers in the 25th Century The Complete Collection into the future with an excellent Blu-ray release. The Feature Film looks better than ever and the series easily bests any previous home video release along with some great new bonus features including audio commentaries and new cast interviews! If you're a fan or know someone who loves this show - it's a terrific gift. Recommended.