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Holy Cardinal and Five Star General of the Righteous Knighthood of Jabootu

1294 Posts

Posted - 08/13/2007 :  9:49:08 PM  Show Profile
And Jabootu spake to the weary traveler, the devoted follower, and sayeth, “O ye minion, in thy next review, thou shalt feel an urge to invoke the name of an animated undersea invertebrate. Thus sayeth Jabootu.”

Um, okay, two things, O Dark God of Bad Movies. First, I’m Brad Hampton, not Simon Peter. And you ain’t Jesus Christ; you’re a wooden ornament on Rock Hudson’s living room wall. Second, I throw out cartoon references all the time, and Spongebob Squarepants is one of my favorites (I can’t help it; the little yellow doofus makes me laugh), so what’s the—

“Silence!” yelleth Jabootu. “Verily, I say unto thee, thou shalt give mention to a little yellow doofus who maketh thee laugh three times before thy next review is finished.”

Okay, whatever you say. So, what’s on the docket for tonight? Let’s see.... Buck Rogers In The 25th Cent

Oh, YES!!! YES!!! YES!!! Spank me like a schoolboy, YES!!! Oh, YES!!! Plop me in a diner and call me Meg Ryan! YES!!! YES!!!

And Jabootu sayeth, “Wouldst thou like a room?”

Hold on, I’m almost done. YES!!! YES!!! Hoo boy! Whoa. I don’t smoke, but I feel like I need a cigarette after that.

Now, if I can just get the first of many hot dates with that cute lady I see at work from time to time, with the dark hair and the warm smile, I will be a truly happy man—

And Jabootu said, “She’s married, Brad.”


Story of my life: the best girls are all taken. Ah, well, gimme the movie, and I’ll console myself with the knowledge that it’s gonna be fun ripping this puppy apart.

I considered writing a review of the season finale, “Flight of the War Witch.” I’ll have that one along in time. But why not start at the beginning? That’s where most good stories start, right? (I won’t bring up Memento if you won’t.) While the movie/pilot actually has some interesting ideas in it, its makers botch them well enough for this sucker to drop back into the Jabootu tank. Besides, it’s interesting to look at what might have been, especially for this show.

For the record, the movie and TV series are my only foray into the Buck Rogers universe. I know a little bit about the old novels, radio shows, and serials, but not much, and I’ve never seen/heard/read them. A lot of what this show does might apply to them as well, but they weren’t made in an era where science fiction could be considered high art, or in an era when people had seen 2001 or Star Wars.

Also, before getting into the review, let me point out that Andrew Borntreger has a review of Buck Rogers on his site. He has very graciously allowed me to post the link — http://www.badmovies.org/movies/buckrogers/index.html — so that I can have some visual aids with this review (my expertise, and equipment, in capturing video and audio are, shall we say, lacking). Since there are a couple of moments in this movie that words cannot do justice to (and one moment you have to see to believe), I’m gonna do something a little unusual. Right-click (or hold the mouse button down if you’re on a Mac) on the link and open the link in a separate window. Whenever I want to direct you to an audio clip or pic or vidcap, I’ll give a heads-up. How about CHECK IT OUT, done just like that, in bold letters.

By the way, Andrew’s review is a lot more succinct than mine will be, and he’s probably a better writer. But I think you’ll find plenty to like in my version of the review. I suspect it’ll be a marathon (but hey, at least we’re gonna have some FUN), but you should find that this review is funny, witty, insightful, and intelligent. It will be like nothing you’ve ever read. (Pssst: if you’ve ever read anything I wrote in this forum, well, same sh!t).

But I do appreciate Mr. Borntreger giving me his blessing in so crassly latching onto his site. If you haven’t seen badmovies.org, you don’t know what you’re missing. Thanks again, Andrew.

Now that this long-winded intro is done....

These Future Events Shall Affect You In The Future

The first credit — “A Glen A. Larson Production” — is a harbinger of things to come. Larson was pretty successful in TV in the late 70’s and early 80’s, with stuff like Battlestar Galactica, Knight Rider, Automan and the series this show spawned. But he was a product of his time, and his stuff didn’t age well at all. Add to that, Battlestar was such a blatant rip-off of Star Wars that George Lucas sued for copyright infringement (and I’m shocked Disney didn’t wipe the floor with him for stealing outright from Tron when he “created” Automan. The only series that Larson created that has aged well was Magnum P.I.... and Magnum had the advantage of getting an overhaul by Donald Bellisario before it went on the air, not to mention a main cast that was damn near perfect.

We hear transmissions of a rocket launch from Cape Canaveral, as we go into a split-screen sequence of a rocket launch. This split-screen technique lasts through the whole prologue, and it’s really clunky. Each time they cut to a new shot, it’s the same procedure: two screens show the same thing, while one shows a different shot. Not good, filmmakers. So we see stock footage of a rocket taking off, shots of a faux space shuttle orbiting Earth, Our Hero, Buck Rogers himself (Gil Gerard) at the controls, then something that, I think, was supposed to be a comet. It looked to me like a cheap knock-off of that exploding-star shot in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

During this sequence, William Conrad gives the following narration:

“In the year 1987, at the John F. Kennedy Space Center, NASA launched the last of America’s deep space probes. The payload perched on the nose cone of the massive rocket was a one-man exploration vessel, Ranger 3. Aboard this compact starship, a lone astronaut, William ‘Buck’ Rogers, was to experience cosmic forces beyond all comprehension, an awesome brush with death. In the wink of an eye, his life support systems were frozen by temperatures beyond imagination. Ranger 3 was blown out of its planned trajectory into an orbit a thousand times more vast, an orbit which was to return the ship full-circle to its point of origin — its Mother Earth — not in five months, but in five hundred years.”

At this point, we have the last of the three-screen shots. One of them is of the modified model of the space shuttle tumbling end over end; the other two are of “frozen” Buck. Buck looked like he’d been sprayed with the stuff my grandmother loved to use when floccing her Christmas tree. Don’t take my word for it; CHECK IT OUT.

Man, I could go all day on this opening narration alone. From the idea of setting the story in a time that would date the movie very quickly, to the patently bogus explanation.... Ugh! William Conrad’s voice carries its usual weight, but the lines he’s reading don’t hold up. At all. And there’s no need whatsoever for this prologue. Any audience member with half a brain will be able to pick up what’s going on in the first five minutes of the story proper. It’d be better to do it that way. Skip any explanations and give the audience a nod saying, “He’s been frozen for 500 years. Go with it.”

Ah, and now we come to the punchline. As we see Buck shuttle tumbling end over end, William Conrad continues his narration....

“For 500 years, Buck Rogers drifted through a world in which fantasy and reality merged into a timeless dream.” An abstract light pattern goes past, and we see the title zooming in.

And this is where the fun really begins. Turns out that the title is spelled out in big lights on the floor. And there’s Buck, sleeping on his side. He wakes up and lounges on his side as several women in tight jumpsuits, swimsuits, etc., sit and make eyes at him. A couple of them approach him and make come-on gestures. I’m not kidding, this is the title sequence. It’s kinda hard, at least for me, to describe this adequately. Something tells me I’ll say this again in the review. Anyway, two of the women trying to, uh, seduce Buck are a couple of his co-stars in tonight’s feature, Pamela Hensley and Erin Gray. Hey, at least they found a coupla ladies who are easy on the eyes. I’m sure they thought Gil Gerard would be the same kind of eye candy for the ladies. But looking at him now, while he was a good-looking guy, I can’t imagine anyone thinking he was the very definition of he-man masculinity.

Anyway, this title sequence could be mentioned in the same sentence as Maurice Binder and Saul Bass. As in, “Maurice Binder and Saul Bass would want to strangle the designer of these titles, just on general principle.” Binder would’ve been more offended: this sequence is a very low-rent ripoff of his famous openers for the James Bond movies.

And then, there’s... that song. Oh, ye gods and little fishes. CHECK IT OUT. There’s an audioclip on Mr. Borntreger’s site. Man, we’re four minutes in, and my eardrums are startin’ to bleed out.

While Daniel Haller is credited as director, remember that this was a TV pilot converted into a feature film (the DVD, which contains the theatrical version of the film, has it at Academy Aperture; there are some other dead giveaways about the nature of this flick I’ll mention later). The executive producer and co-writer is the man himself, Glen Larson. Not hard to figure out this was his baby, especially when you look at some of his other, uh, gifts to the world of television. I’m gonna go after Haller later on, though; he makes some gaffes even the most inexperienced journeyman director should laugh at. Oh, one more thing: the final credits will reveal who wrote this treacly piece of pseudo-pop playing in the credits. Larson. Again. The man’s talents know no bounds, eh?

The first five minutes could have been lopped off the movie, and no one would have noticed. But Buck Rogers runs a total of 89 minutes. Take out this embarrassing display, and take out three minutes for the final credits, and this movie barely breaks the 80-minute mark. Ah well, let’s get into the movie proper. (I know how long I’m rambling on, thank you. Told ya we were in for another marathon.)

And now, at last, we’re in the movie proper. So to speak. We see a giant spaceship hover into view (gee, wonder what they were trying to imitate here?), as a cheesy musical sting plays. The model of the ship looks pretty good. Unfortunately, we do a sweeping pan and camera move under the ship — and the starfield in the background stays rock steady. If ya can’t afford a motion-control system, guys, keep the camera moves as simple as possible. The ship scrambles three fighters to intercept the “hostile” craft they’ve detected. The fighter footage isn’t too bad, considering the time period and budget. I do wish they’d put some more thought on the interior of the fighter ships and their pilots’ costumes.

They take a pot shot at Ranger 3, and I imagine a 25th-Century fighter’s laser would do a lot more damage than they do here; they only leave a scratch and burn mark on Buck’s ship. Okay, okay, they did that in Star Trek II as well, but that movie made it clear there was a lot of internal damage to the Enterprise, and it was implied that Khan had intentionally fired on an area which would do damage but not destroy the ship altogether. Anyway, one of the pilots tells the others to hold their fire; he says he’s never seen a ship like this before. Hmmmmmm. He should’ve been clued in by the fact that this ship was tumbling lazily through space, clearly under no internal control. They decide to tow the thing back to their mother ship, using three tractor beams that look like a glowing green triangle. Again, the effect isn’t too bad.

I’ll get something out of the way right now. The model work on this movie isn’t bad at all. I might quibble with some details, but why bother? Considering that the movie’s total budget was, if memory serves, about a million five, it’s pretty good work. No complaints from me there. For now.

Buck is brought on board the ship and put on life support. The equipment looks fairly cheesy, especially the tubes with the track lighting in them, but it could be worse, I guess. One of the crew, a man in a black shirt (Henry Silva) leans over to check on the patient. When Buck starts breathing on his own, the man gives a little pause and says to himself, “He’s alive.” This would be pretty effective, except that I’d think he’d already know Our Hero was still kickin’. Hey, guy, look at the heart monitors, EEG, body temp gauges, etc. They do still have those 500 years into the future, right?

Cut to a beautiful young lady primping herself in a mirror. Say hello to Princess Ardala (Pamela Hensley). She’s in what is obviously a royal suite, being tended to by a couple of underdressed servant girls. Oh, there’s her bodyguard, a big bald man with a Fu Manchu mustache and tattoos here and there. Henry Silva comes in, and we learn his name: Kane. We never learn of his rank; personally, I think he’s a little young to be a general. Maybe he’s some sort of advisor to the princess. But he clearly is in command of this ship. Anyway, he gives her the details on the ship he encountered. Ardala and Kane go through some expo for the audience: freezing someone cryogenically for medical reasons is fairly commonplace in the 25th Century, but Kane is surprised to see it taking place on board a ship whose instrumentation was frozen in 1987. (snicker) Dontcha just love stuff like this? Ardala is clearly very arrogant, but she doesn’t come across as being too bright; Kane has to spell everything out for her. I know, it’s exposition for the audience, and maybe it was meant for Ardala to come across as being a little dense. But when your main villain is a little dense, well, your hero isn’t going to seem all that heroic, is he. And just to show how dense she is, she begins to wonder — immediately — how good a man from the 20th Century would be in the sack. Um, I’m no military planner or anything, but considering the plan you guys will reveal in the next few minutes, a roll in the hay shouldn’t be high on your list of priorities, Princess.

So she goes to meet Buck. Buck is still groggy, and he had a headache, so Ardala orders some medicine for him. Ardala and Kane’s reaction to Buck’s mention of aspirin and the United States isn’t great, but I’ve seen worse. There is a slight problem, though: they’re an alien race in the 25th Century... but they speak in 20th-Century English. Oops. I liked Gil Gerard’s acting in this scene. When Ardala identifies herself, he has a nice “Say what?” look on his face. I also liked his expression when he said, “You mean you guys aren’t from... We’re not on Earth?” Then he lies back, saying, “I’m definitely gonna need that aspirin.” They give him the medication, which knocks him for a loop. Buck gets all goofy, thinking he must be dreaming this whole thing. Then Kane tells him, “Bear in mind that you’re a captive of a dynasty that has conquered three-fourths of the universe.”

Aw, hell no. I was chucklin’ and grinnin’ for the rest of this scene. I love how some writers, Larson included, never bother to do the first bit of research before putting the paper in the typewriter. The universe?! Let’s see. The Milky Way galaxy has about 200 billion stars. Ruling one galaxy would be a tall order (though they somehow managed to do it in Star Wars). Now imagine thousands — strike that, millions — of those, each at least 100,000 light years from one another. And to top it all off, from what we’ll learn about the Draconians, I wouldn’t have faith in them to engineer a hostile takeover of Orion Pictures — fifteen years after it went bankrupt — much less conquer whole civilizations.

Oh, by the way, that’s the name of this alien race. They’re the Draconians (snicker), ruled by the emporer Draco (snerk snort), and their mothership is the "Draconia". (chortle snicker) I wouldn’t be surprised to learn they ate lunch at Draco’s Burger Bar or got their equipment from Crazy Drac’s Military Surplus and Women’s Lingerie Store.

Anyway, the scene ends with Kane rolling his eyes as he realizes they won’t be able to question Our Hero. They overdid it on the medication, and he’s completely out of it. I got the impression that Henry Silva didn’t enjoy working on this movie; he certainly doesn’t seem to put a lot of effort into his part. Too bad, since Kane might have been an interesting character.

Kane and Ardala do a walk-and-talk down a corridor. We see a couple of guards passing by. A relatively quick observation: the guards wear what appear to be Mongolian-type helmets and costumes. From what I’ve read, the original Buck Rogers books and radio plays had a strong anti-Asian bent, having its villains be thinly-disguised stand-ins for the Chinese or Japanese. The Asian-type costumes most of the Draconians wear is, surprisingly, a pretty good move. It makes a subtle reference to the original stories, but since most of the people on board the Draconia are white, with no noticeable accents, it avoids accusations of racism. (And even if one reads bias into the costumes, it’s nowhere near as blatant as some of the stereotypes in The Phantom Menace.) The uniforms, which show no overt nationality, give an exotic look. I didn’t really have a problem with the costumes... except for the helmets. They’re brown, not black, but other than that, they look suspiciously like a certain black-clad, wheezing, six-foot-five fallen Jedi....

So, we were with Kane and Ardala. The exposition here isn’t great, but it’s not too bad. Seems Kane is from Earth, originally. Nothing is made of this, unfortunately; it’ll get one more mention later on. Also, the USA ceased to exist as a nation not long after Buck went on his little voyage. Ardala believes Buck is who he says he is. Kane doesn’t. He thinks Buck is a spy sent by “the Federal Directorate of Earth.” Here’s where the exposition gets clunky and Our Villains all but talk to the camera. The backstory: after centuries of disasters, both natural and man-made (including nuclear war), Earth is precious few resources left. They have to trade with other planets to get by now. The Draconia is going to Earth to extend an olive branch for the Emporer and open up trade talks... supposedly. Also, Earth’s been under attack by “pirate” ships, putting a stranglehold on their trade. The Draconians want to help curb this.... supposedly. In truth, the pirate ships are Draconian ships in disguise, trying to scare Earth into agreeing to make a pact with Draco’s Darling Daughter. And when Earth opens its defenses up and lets the Draconia in.... Draconia will send their fighters and bombers out from hiding, carry out a full-scale attack, and take over the WORLD!!! MWA-HA-HA-HA!!! (Some of this will be revealed in a moment. I figured it saves time to get it all out at once.) Anyway, Kane’s worried Earth might suspect Our Villains’ motives. Ardala tells him to do whatever he thinks is necessary, then heads back to her suite, telling her bodyguard, “Come along, Tigerman.”

Tigerman?!?![/i] Oh, mommy!![/i]

Holy Cardinal and Five Star General of the Righteous Knighthood of Jabootu

1294 Posts

Posted - 08/13/2007 :  9:50:53 PM  Show Profile
Side trip here. For the record, I might have gone a little easier on the film if it had been shown on TV. After all, the pilot for The Incredible Hulk had its share of 70’s TV-isms, and a couple of gaping plot holes. But that was probably par for the course for a lot of TV shows around then. But I loved Hulk then, and I love it now. (Then again, Hulk, for all its problems, was written with a little intelligence.) Most series TV at the time just couldn’t compete with a full-blown movie. Movies generally have bigger budgets, and they have much more time to fine-tune their scripts before shooting. (If you’re thinking, this makes it even more infuriating that Hollywood churns out so much crap these days... Well, you’re right.) TV has one advantage over movies: they can tell long story arcs over time. But when it comes to a two-hour storyline, most TV movies can’t compete with the big screen. I can think of two exceptions offhand: Duel and the pilot for ER. But ER was originally written to be a feature film. And Duel was directed by some kid by the name of Spielberg.

The point to all this windbaggery is this: if you’re gonna put a TV movie on the big screen, make damn sure it’ll pass muster. I may give you a pass if you have a low budget and are honestly doing the best you can with what you’ve got. If you try and say you’re a big-screen movie, even when your show has clear evidence it was shot for the small screen, ya get no quarter. If you’re playin’ with the big boys, try to play like a big boy.

Buck is carried on a stretcher to his ship. This was pretty funny, getting an idea for the first time just how big Buck’s ship is. Ranger 3 is an obvious knock-off of the space shuttle.... but it’s thirty feet long at most. (chuckle) Buck makes a crack about wanting to remember these guys when he wakes up, in case we haven’t grasped the obvious: he thinks he’s dreaming. Oh, but he does notice several warships on the flight deck before he’s loaded back into his ship. I know Buck’s still supposed to be doped up, but Gil Gerard is pretty silly. Maybe it was supposed to be funny. Henry Silva does a pretty decent job acting like a guy who thinks he’s in control and is eager to get this jokester outta here.

So Buck, still grinnin’ and jokin’, preps his ship (!) and launches, shooting down a long tube that I suspect was stock footage taken from Battlestar Galactica. Oh, but when they show him leaving the Draconia, the portal he exits looks VERY different from the opening in the tube. Um, guys, you ever heard of this thing called continuity?

Kane and Ardala provide a little more expo. Earth is surrounded by a defense shield. Kane wants to test it. If Buck is who he says he is, he’ll crash and go splat when he hits the shield. But if he is a spy, he’ll be allowed back in. And Kane has had a beacon hidden on Buck’s ship, so they can find out about any holes in Earth’s defenses. Ya know, Kane came across to me as being fairly competent. But this plan is pretty lame. Kane, simplicity first. If you think he’s a spy, just kill ’im and be done with it.

But then the movie would be pretty short.

So Our Hero continues on his merry way to Earth, singing, “Chicago Chicago You’re My Kind of Town” and “Won’t You Come Home Bill Bailey” because, I suspect, those songs are public domain and the producers didn’t have to pay for the rights. Um, question. Did Buck fall asleep again then wake up? Doesn’t look like it. And if he’s awake, wouldn’t he suspect that what he’s been through was not part of his imagination. I’ve had some pretty realistic dreams before (including a pretty terrifying one last night), but the minute I woke up, I knew they weren’t real. He hits his radio button and tries to call Mission Control.

On Earth, we see several people in a traffic control station of some sort. The uniforms look a little cheesy, but not TOO bad. The room is also a little cheesy, but it could be worse. I may go easy on some of the cheese after all, as I suspect at times this show wanted to recall the feel of a Saturday-morning cliffhanger. Won’t go TOO easy, though. Anyway, they pick up Buck’s incoming transmissions, including singing, then calling for Mission Control, becoming agitated when he doesn’t get an answer. I thought their puzzled reactions to Buck’s messages were fairly effective. But remember that Buck is getting no incoming signals or telemetry of any kind. Again, wouldn’t that tip Our Hero off to the fact that something was very wrong? Buck’s starting to look seriously dense here.

An alarm rings: Buck’s heading right for the shield. The guy in charge of traffic control calls for a squadron of fighters to intercept Buck’s ship. We get a brief shot of a matte painting of a futuristic city, and the soundtrack plays an air raid siren. Then we see the fighters. They got up there awful fast, didn’t they? Maybe that cutaway to the city was meant to show a passage of time, but it didn’t really work (this trick of having ships get up into orbit in a few seconds will be done again, in real time, later on). The squad leader is one Colonel Wilma Deering (Erin Gray). Deering orders that the defense shield be lowered so they’ll have time to find out what Buck’s up to before he hits the thing and goes ka-blooey. The models of the fighter ships are pretty good, and all things considered, the matte work of fighters against starfields isn’t bad. For now, at least.

Buck sees the fighter ships and thinks these unusual craft are Russian planes(!); he even mutters to himself that he’ll end up landing in Red Square — despite the fact that he’s obviously heading straight for the Great Lakes area. Deering hails Buck and orders him to identify himself. Awfully convenient that these ships — built hundreds of years apart — carry the same radio frequency, yes? Anyway, Buck tries to be a smartass, and even goes as far as to make “Das Vidanya” quips to these guys! Deering tells Buck to shut his smart mouth and follow her directions to the letter. It’s the proper response for this goober. I’m beginning to wonder if that 500-year nappy-poo Buck took ate away a few million brain cells.

So, the fighter ships escort Buck over a blasted wasteland, finally approaching the city. Again, the mattes and the superimposed ships are pretty good. I’ll give the filmmakers credit: so far, at least, the visual effects have been pretty good, especially considering the time period and the budget. I wish I could say the same about the music. The score will be the same throughout the rest of the movie, more cheesy trumpet cues and Mickey-Mousing. But it’s particularly tiresome here: I imagined this scene with no music, and it worked a whole lot better. Also, the intercuts of the inside of the traffic control station are clearly the same shots of people milling around a big monitor. Bad form, filmmakers.

We see the ships come into a big hangar, but we don’t see the actual landing. Gonna give this a pass for the budget. Buck climbs out of his ship to see Deering and a few more pilots and guards striding toward him. In the background, there a little chuckle: the power cables snaking into the fighter craft have track lighting running their length! No wonder my pizza didn’t have extra cheese on it last week; I see where it went. Anyway, Buck starts making a couple of extremely lame passes at Wilma. Uh, okay, Buck, I’ll agree that Erin Gray is easy on the eyes in that tight flight suit. And one could assume you were a womanizing flyboy back in the day. But when you have her striding toward you with a bit of a swagger, surrounded by guards, and she has a hostile look in her eye — and a sidearm at her hip — it’s not a good time to play ladies’ man! I liked Deering’s response to Buck’s come-on lines: she tells the guards to “Take this barbarian to interrogation.” I didn’t really care for Erin Gray’s reading of the line. She didn’t quite get it right, didn’t make it cold enough, in my opinion. Oh, and we learn that Deering is in charge of Earth’s, uh, air force. Space force. Or whatever it’s called. This will present a problem before too long. Read on.

Now we see a matte shot of the city at night. Don’t know if they had matte paintings done for this movie or recycled them from Battlestar Galactica or another earlier movie or TV show. But I gotta admit, the painting is pretty nice. Sorta the typical painting you’d see in a Star Trek episode; that’s not a knock, I have no complaints.

We go into what I guess is a sort of doctor’s office. With just a desk and a couple of chairs for furniture. The glowing white walls look pretty good. Buck is in a bathrobe now, pacing the floor. And in walks a man who appears to be in his early sixties, in what looks like a souped-up version of a doctor’s uniform. He identifies himself as Dr. Huer (Tim O’Connor) and starts to fill Buck in on what’s going on. This scene — or at least this part of it — is the best scene in the whole movie. The technobabble actually works, it’s well timed and acted, and Dr. Huer comes across as a sympathetic ear. I liked the look on Gerard’s face as he started to piece things together, and I also liked his backing into a corner when he started to realize just how screwed he was. Still, Buck looks all the more stupid for not figuring some of this out on his own. I’d think he’d’ve been scared to death the minute he saw this futuristic city. Maybe he was in denial about the whole thing, but his expressions clearly show that he had no clue what had happened to him. Too bad, because, as I said before, this scene, in and of itself, was pretty good. (long pause) Until....

Huer tells Buck he’s going to bring in one Dr. Theophilus to explain things in detail. I felt myself tensing up, remembering what was coming next.

And then we see it. And we hear.... that sound. That awful sound. That eardrum-bursting, gut-churning sound that can make grown men cry and brave men run in terror. That Godforsaken, sickening, nauseating, jaw dropping, horrible, horrible sound!

“Bidi bidi bidi bidi bidi bidi.”

AAAAAAAUUUUUUUUGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHH!!! That’s right, ladies and gentlemen! Hide the kids! Wake the neighbors! Alert the media! And welcome to the Jabootu stage, that long-awaited, bad-joke-spouting, Porky-Pig-on-quaaludes-sounding, three-foot-tall tiny tin terror.... Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeere’s TWIKI!!!

Whew! How’s THAT for an intro. Oh, and if you’re not familiar with that pint-sized twerp, CHECK IT OUT. The badmovies site has a picture and audio clip of the little jerkosaurus.

What, more? Okay. When Twiki walks in, some “funny” music starts playing. Buck reacts as any reasonable man would — with a mixture of disgust and horror. Aw, come on, Buck. Don’t you know? Everything is chrome in the future! (And Jabootu said, “That’s one.”) This is one of the most obvious and shameless examples of Odious Comic Relief I’ve seen in a long time. Hell, Jar Jar Binks wasn’t this blatant! Gee, THANKS, Glen Larson. Bastardo.

Dr. Huer tells Buck Twiki will be his personal aide while he gets adjusted to life here. Then he introduces Dr. Theophilus. Theo is a circular box hung around Twiki’s chest, with a lighted “face” that flickers whenever he talks. Seriously, Theo looks like a cookie box stuffed with the innards of a Lite Brite. I heard one critic who described this prop as a “clock face,” and that’s a good analogy, too. Anyway, Huer tells Buck that Theo is a member of the “Computer Council,” which runs most of the day-to-day operations of the city. Theo is in charge of environmental control. Um, excuse me, but why is an environmental engineer acting as Buck’s caseworker? Wouldn’t a psychologist be more appropriate? When Theo speaks, it is always in calm voice with no inflection. It took me five seconds to pick up that Theo is another blatant rip-off, this time of HAL 9000 from 2001. I’ll wait for the appropriate moment to spell out just why this was a very bad decision on Larson’s part (if you haven’t already guessed). Anyway, Buck makes a snarky comment, which is a pretty normal response, if ya ask me. He doesn’t like the idea of answering to a talking wad of Christmas tree lights hung around a midget stuffed into a plastic suit spray-painted silver. Huer admonishes him that “Quads” like Theo have feelings too. Oh, how PC. Then he leaves Buck alone with these two, saying he’ll be back in 16 hours. Buck hits the ceiling at that last bit; again, I can’t say I blame him. Theo asks Buck to sit down. He tells Twiki to put him on the desk. Seeing this little Lite Brite sitting on the desk is even funnier than seeing him hanging around short-silver-and sickening’s neck. While Twiki goes to fix Buck a drink, Theo starts engaging in conversation. Wouldn’t ya know it: his first line is, “What an attractive man you are, Buck Rogers.” (snicker) Sorry, Theo, but Buck prefers the other gender, and besides, he don’t go for small metal contraptions. Seriously, that’s the tone this line takes; Quentin Crisp would laugh at it. Buck’s had enough, and he tells Theo straight out to just tell him what the hell’s going on. Well, give Theo a little credit; he does indeed tell all: you were frozen in your ship somehow, Buck, and you were in suspended animation for 504 years; this is the year 2491. We get a silly musical sting when Theo gives Buck this tidbit. Buck looks at Twiki, who has returned with a champagne glass filled with blue-green liquid, and says, “I’ll have that drink now.” Twiki does a bidi-bidi, then says, “L’chaim.”

L’chaim?!?! Oh, almighty Zarquon! Get used to this, folks. Twiki was apparently supposed to be just a walkaround guy to cart Theo wherever he was going; originally, he was only gonna do that bidi-bidi thing. But some genius decided to hire Mel Blanc as Twiki’s voice, and they figured, hey, we got Mel Blanc. Let’s have him reel off some one-liners for Twiki!

Some bad one-liners. Some very very very bad one-liners.

Let me pause and mention something. Clearly, Buck Rogers was cashing in the the Star Wars craze. Like most other rip-off attempts, it failed completely in seeing what made Star Wars work. For me, it was the attention to little details that made Star Wars stand out. Little things like Ben’s line about Obi-Wan Kenobi — ”Oh, he’s not dead.... Not yet.” — or “damsel in distress” Leia being a complete smart-ass and a crack shot. These things made Star Wars stand out. (Regrettably, these little details would fade away as the series progressed, and George Lucas would try to be a drunken surgeon and hack some details, such as Han being capable of shooting someone under the table, away from his “special” editions.) One such detail was the comic relief. See-Threepio and Artoo Detoo are an example of how to do it right. They have the three requirements for good comic relief: (1) they have distinct personalities (especially impressive for Artoo, who gives the impression he’s an over-caffeinated wiseass with no facial expressions and just beeps and whistles for dialogue), (2) they serve a function other than comic relief, and (3) oh yeah, they’re, you know, funny.

Compare Threepio and Artoo to Twiki and Theo. Throws it into sharp relief, don’t it?

Now Theo, Twiki, Huer, and Deering get together. Theo calls Buck “a wonderful man” and says he believes Buck to the letter. Deering is much more mistrustful, worrying that Buck may be a plant of some kind, sent there to “discredit” the treaty with Draconia. She demands to have some time with Buck so she can do some grilling of her own. Huer and Theo agree to it, and she leaves. Theo says he’s never seen Deering “so emotional about anything.” Huer adds, “Or anyone.” Joy. Now Colonel Deering has the hots for Buck.

Right now, Deering is being played as a tough-as-nails bitch. Her character will undergo changes in the movie, and I don’t like what she’ll morph into. But I can understand why the filmmakers changed her. Erin Gray can handle light comedy, if I remember right. But she’s lost when playing a brassy military type, as called for here. When watching her performance, I was wondering who she reminded me of. Then it hit me. Law and Order. Elizabeth Röhm. Same over-emoting, same deer-in-the-headlights look. I wouldn’t insult Gray by saying she’s near as bad as Röhm, but she was miscast in this part from the word go. (Imagine a young Sigourney Weaver in this part. Ah well.)

Edited by - BradH812 on 08/13/2007 9:52:01 PM
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Holy Cardinal and Five Star General of the Righteous Knighthood of Jabootu

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Posted - 08/13/2007 :  9:53:43 PM  Show Profile
The next scene has Deering and Buck walking along a sidewalk in the futuristic city. The problem with low budgets is that having only one or two matte paintings for a location, however good those paintings are, gets to be tiresome after a while. Also, when we get a closer shot of Buck and Wilma, with a large building in the background, it is clear that the filmmakers found a modern steel-and-glass building with an interesting design, shot from a low angle to hide the 1970’s cars and streets, and that was their shot. Eh. I’m not complaining, really. I’ve seen this stuff done before, and it works well enough.

Buck mentions that things feel more like a dream than a nightmare. Maybe that was meant to explain why he’s taking all of this so well, but it wasn’t enough, especially considering what he’s gonna say in a moment. He apologizes to Wilma for his earlier behavior, saying he was still out of it. Deering buys it, and I guess I do too, except he’ll reveal in a moment he wasn’t all that wonky. He then asks her about the “holocaust,” which I assume means a nuclear war. Deering refuses to tell him about it. Buck says he refuses to believe any of this happened until he sees something solid that tells him, once and for all, his parents and brothers and sisters (yes, that’s what he says, “brothers and sisters;” must’ve been a pretty big family) and the woman he loved (and we hear nothing more about her) are dead, he won’t accept it. Um, Buck, 500 years have gone by. They’re dead, my man. If this was shown as a sort of latent denial, it would’ve worked. But I don’t think Gil Gerard was up to playing a tricky part like that.

In the next scene, they go through a “futuristic” plaza that looks a lot like a hotel in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, that I stayed in about twenty years ago. Wilma does give Buck a little info: yep, some places have high levels of radiation, while others are blasted wastelands. Oh, and because most of the Earth is scorched to hell, Earth relies on trade with other planets. Here we get some expo about the pirate raids and the hoped-for treaty with Draconia I described earlier. I noticed that all of the extras, civilian or military, wear the same uniform. That may have been a subtle clue as to what life is like here. Much more likely, the costume designer got lazy. Anyway, Buck asks to see his ship.

Wilma leads Buck to the hangar, delivering a clunky expository line about the guards being surprised to see them there. Question: why didn’t the filmmakers just show this? It wasn’t the budget: that bit in the hotel, or whatever it was, lasted all of thirty seconds; they could’ve rewritten the scene to take place on the sidewalk, then used the money to pay for a small set and a couple of day actors. Bad form, filmmakers. Buck shows Wilma a long burn on one side of his ship, which Wilma says looks like someone fired on him. Buck tells her Earth shouldn’t trust the Draconians; he thinks they’re the ones who fired on him, meaning their mothership is armed, in violation of their agreement. Hmmmm. Seems to me he wasn’t so hung over after all when he made that pass at the Colonel. Anyhoo, Buck recommends that Earth give the Draconia a thorough inspection before the ship gets anywhere near us. Wilma counters that the Draconians would consider than an insult. Man, this show was ahead of its time in at least one way: they portrayed a foolish attempt to be politically correct more than twenty years before 9/11. The thing is, it’s painfully obvious that Buck is right! Anyone with a brain would listen to what Buck says and recommend to their higher-ups that we take Buck’s advice. Deering is portrayed as a high-ranking military officer; one would assume she has some level of competence. But she doesn’t show it here. Instead, she snidely reminds Buck he’s 500 years out of date. Buck throws it right back in her face and turns to leave. (Andrew’s site has an audioclip of his retort; it’s not great, but it’s not bad. CHECK IT OUT.) He’s planning to go to see the ruins of Chicago for himself. Wilma orders him not to, reminding him that he’s technically her prisoner, and pulling a gun on him. Buck calls her bluff, telling her to shoot.... and she can’t. Sheesh! High-ranking military? A cop on the beat would be fired for acting the way Wilma acts here. Hey, here’s an idea, Wilma: shoot him in the leg! Or see if your gun has a stun setting! Don’t most sci-fi ray guns have something like that?! Hey, if he insists on going to the ruins, how about putting an armed escort at his side?! You dingleberry.

The next day, Buck hikes to the outskirts of the ruined city (portrayed by a couple of good matte paintings). He has with him.... Aw, naw. Yep. Twiki and Theo. Actually, Theo volunteered to hang with Buck for this little hike. He warns Buck they can’t stay outside overnight, since it will drop well below freezing after dark. Theo affirms that he’s on Buck’s side:

Theo: No one forced me into your camp. I believed in you and I still do.
Twiki: Bidi bidi bidi.
Buck: What’d he say?
Theo: You don’t want to know.

I gotta admit, I got a good chuckle out of that. Savor it; it’s the first and last good Twiki joke in the whole picture.

They make their way into the ruins. Twiki does that bidi-bidi thing again, and again Theo refuses to translate: “You don’t want to know.” Um, Theo, if Twiki is bidi-bidi-ing a warning, I’d damn well want to know. Dorky clock face. Buck senses the same thing I did and tells Theo and Twiki to go back, but Theo refuses. Remember this.

Now they’re walking through the ruined city, after dark. Nope, no sub-zero temperatures to bother them. Continuity, Messrs. Larson and Haller. Look it up. As they pass by an alleyway, we see someone emerge from a doorway holding an axe. This was a nice bit; if you didn’t look carefully, you might miss it. Unfortunately, they don’t build suspense. Instead they cut to a close-up of a, um, I guess he’s a mutant of some sorts. Or an extra in bad make-up. Yep, cheesy musical sting. Then we see other mutants banging on windowsills, fire hydrants, etc., in rhythm as Buck and the Terrible Twosome make their way down the street. One thing this movie has done right, apart from the mattework and models, is the pacing. It’s moved at a nice clip, with a pretty good amount of stuff happening in the first half hour. Unfortunately, it moves too fast here. If this had been slowed down to draw out the suspense, this sequence could’ve been really good. Anyway, Twiki bidi-bidis again, and Theo does that “you don’t want to know” thing. Buck loses his temper (rightfully so) and demand that Theo cough it up. Theo says, “He thinks we are being watched.” Oh, golly gee whillikers, Twiki, do you really think so?! Bite-sized bonehead. Buck tries to reassure Twiki that it’s his imagination. Somehow, it doesn’t sound encouraging. After a few more quick shots of mutants banging sticks on walls — and a repeat of the shot of Buck and Company passing the alleyway — Theo reveals that the mutants are more interested in him and Twiki, since they can sell their parts on the black market. Uh, two things. First, what black market?! This ruin looks like its inhabitants are Stone Age types, with no market to speak of here, and they certainly would stand out in the newer city. Second, well done Theo! You just implied that Buck may not have been in serious danger... if you and Twiki hadn’t tagged along! So the only thing you accomplished by joining him on this trip was to put yourself, and possibly your charge, in harm’s way. THIS is an example of Earth’s leadership?! Buck recognizes where he is and picks up the pace. Twiki bidi-bidis and Theo replies, “I don’t know where he’s going; just follow him.”

Here we have a glaring example of just how poorly thought out Theo and Twiki are. The suit the actor playing Twiki had to wear is so restrictive that he could barely walk, meaning that Twiki can’t run in scenes that clearly call on him to be hauling ass. As for Theo, well, notice that Theo always talks in a calm soft-spoken voice, barely more than a whisper. Now, it’s obvious the filmmakers were trying to rip off HAL-9000; they even tried to hire Hal himself, Douglas Rain, for the part, per the IMDb. To his credit, Rain turned the offer down cold. The problem is, there are scenes where Theo’s slow delivery sucks all the pacing out, turning what might be a fast-paced scene into a snooze. Also, Theo never raises his voice, even to be heard over loud noises. Finally, lest we forget, Hal was a villain. By the time Keir Dullea started doing an electronic lobotomy on Hal, that cool, calm, never-agitated voice had gotten to be positively menacing.

Uh oh, here come the mutants! Yep, nothin’ says mutants like a bunch of guys in black pants and shirts wearing torn blue ski masks! Buck and Company make their way to a graveyard, which is, natch, surrounded by fog. Well, it’s surrounded by smoke coming out of dry ice machines stuck in the ground; you can’t see the machines, but you can clearly see where the smoke is coming out. Buck starts searching through the headstones. When Twiki bidi-bidis, Theo answers that he doesn’t know what Buck is doing(!), and he tries to keep Twiki calm. I know Twiki wasn’t supposed to be all that bright, but Theo, you’re not exactly an arc lamp yourself, are you. Anyway, after about thirty seconds of searching (intercut with shots of the “mutants” closing in), Buck is able to find a headstone naming his entire family. Theo tells Buck that they were lucky to even have a proper headstone, considering the destructin that went on when World War III started. I’d say they were even luckier the headstone is in near-pristine condition 500 years later. Gil Gerard does an okay job of acting here, and he gives a line that, in my opinion, should’ve been explored much more: “I wish I’d been with them.” Theo quietly tells Buck there’s nothing he can do, and he can’t go back. For once, Theo makes some sort of sense. Again, I think this should have been the nail to hang the rest of the story on. I’ll go into this more in the Afterthoughts section. Too bad Glen Larson and co-writer Leslie Stevens didn’t have the courage to follow through with this. Uh oh, while I was ruminatin’, them mutants done caught up with Buck and the Gruesome Twosome, in a wooded area. Say, did you notice that the ruins aren’t in sight anymore? Buck starts puttin’ the martial arts moves on these guys. Seriously! The mutants don’t seem all that dangerous; their attacks are exceedingly slow. Considering they don’t, say, keep Buck occupied while making off with Theo and Twiki, I’d say they’re no smarter than any other characters we’ve seen so far.

Oh goody! The cavalry’s arrived. Several Earth Defense troops pull up in an armored carrier outfitted with a sort of laser machine gun. They chase all the mutants outta there then do an on-foot sweep of the area. I liked the swagger that Deering had when she strode out toward Buck. Waitaminte, Wilma Deering is leading these troops? I thought she was a pilot. That’s the thing about this show: it assigns whatever title to its characters it sees feet as it goes along. There’s a word for this: sloppy. Oh, and it reminds me: why the hell didn’t these guys just send someone with a rifle into the ruins with Buck?! Ah well. Buck tells Deering her decision to come in, guns blazing, was “Very ballsy.” Then there’s a jump-cut to a wider shot of Buck and Theontwiki, revealing the “ballsy” comment was shot later on after they decide to port this thing over to the theaters. Deering demands that Buck get his ass in the carrier and let them take him back. Buck gets all uppity, basically telling her to stick her ride where the sun don’t shine. This is a hint of things to come; later in the series, Buck would become insufferably smug. Actually, this wouldn’t be a bad way to show that Buck has had about enough of the 25th Century. Only problem is, it’s kinda rude for him to talk back to someone who just saved his life. He finally dares Wilma to shoot. Wilma looks at one of her troops, and the troop shoots Buck, knocking him out. Again, a military officer like Wilma should’ve had the stones to do this herself, especially considering it doesn’t actually hurt Buck, just stun him. Wimp.

Sometime later (I assume it’s the next day), Wilma is summoned to Huer’s office. Oh, good: Twiki and Theo are there too. Seems they found that little transmitter that Kane had planted on Buck’s ship. Sigh. Kane’s plan may not have been bad, but you’d think he’d tell his subordinates to make sure no one could find the thing. Of course, that “transmitter” is pretty big. It looks like they pulled a mock-up of a circuit board from a kid’s twenty dollar imitation of computer, and that was their transmitter. Say, why does Huer have it in his office, anyway? Wouldn’t it be in a lab somewhere where analysts could pore over it? Well, not in this. I noticed when he picked up the “transmitter,” it was sitting on top of a large Bible encased in plexiglass. I’d wonder what the filmmakers were trying to say with this — pro-religion? anti-religion? — but I suspect they had no idea either. Anyhoo, Theo’s the only one who believes Buck now; everyone else, including Huer and Wilma, thinks Buck’s working for the pirates, giving them a snapshot of Earth defenses. Jeez, what a bunch of dorks. The problem with this is, the movie has made clear that every bit of evidence Huer and Co. have found has told them that Buck’s telling the truth! This would make them suspicious of him, sure, but someone other than Theo would be saying, “Hold on, time out.” And here, Theo actually makes some sense: he reminds Huer and Wilma that, oh yeah, Buck gave detailed descriptions of the Draconian ship, indicating he ain’t no pirate (Earth believes that the Dracionians and the pirates are bitter enemies).

At long last, we go back to the Draconia. Ardala’s taking a swim, and it’s plain that she’s swimming nekkid. Sorry, guys, remember, this was done as a TV show, so no ya don’t see nothin’. Kane comes in to tell her what’s been goin’ on with our Buck. Ardala reads off some exposition (and she may as well have been holding a sign saying it was expo, it’s so blatant), but it’s nothing the audience doesn’t know by now. Kane’s a little disappointed is little on-board camera was found (gee, ya think?), but it’s nothing serious. He figures now that Earth will not trust Our Hero. Earth will try and convict Buck, and the Draconia will sail right into the city and claim victory. The thing is, at this point, Kane is right. Considering the bunch of clowns Buck is dealing with, Kane’s plan isn’t all that bad. He may not be a great planner, but Kane is now the only one in this movie who hasn’t shown some form of gross incompetence.

Buck is back in that office with the glowing white walls, which is now serving as a very large cell for him. (Uh, filmmakers, isn’t a jail cell supposed to be SMALL?) Theo tries to reassure Buck, telling Buck he’ll be his defense council. Wow. Psychological caseworker, environmental tech, and defense attorney. Theo’s a jack of all trades, master of none, hey? And I’d be scared as hell with a defense attorney whose voice barely rises above a whisper. Methinks this Lite Brite won’t be keeping F. Lee Bailey awake at night. Buck says it’s good to have at least one friend. Twiki bidi bidis, and Buck amends his statement: two friends. I noticed here that Buck has worn the same flight suit throughout the picture. Uh, wouldn’t that thing be starting to get a little ripe by now?

And now we’re at Buck’s trial. The presiding judges, jury, and prosecutor are.... a bunch of clock faces set on pedestals and tables! I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if Buck put down his clarinet, curled up into a fetal ball on the floor, and started yelling, “FUUUUUUUUTUUUUURRRRRE!!! FUUUUUUUUTUUUUURRRRRE!!!” (And Jabootu said, ”Steeeeeeerike TWO!!!”) Seriously, this is creepy. We learn very little about 25th Century society, but we do see their idea of justice: haul in a defendant in front of a bunch of round Lite Brites who act like hanging judges, throw him in the pool, and tell him to swim. (shudder) As expected, Theo’s argument is less than impressive, made even worse by his soft-spoken delivery. Oh, and he mentions that Buck’s name doesn’t appear in any record because there are no historical records dating from before World War III. I could list all the problems with this statement, but it would take up way too much space. Buck is given a chance to speak, and he parrots Theo’s closing statement almost word for word. Good one, there, Buck, next time try thinking and speaking for yourself. (Hey! Would this be called The Twiki Defense? Ha! I kill me!) When Buck sits down, Theo tells him he should have nothing to worry about. I had to chuckle at this. Even if the Computer Council DIDN’T seem to be predisposed to putting Buck away, Theo’s argument was pathetic. He could get with Mater from Cars and open up a law firm; their skills as attorneys are about equal.

And now we have the verdict. Guilty. And then we have the sentence: Buck’s gonna be executed, immediately. Bum bum BUM! Well, I’m surprising no one by saying it won’t go through. The film’s only about halfway over at this point.

Wilma visits Buck in his cell. The dialogue here isn’t too bad, but again, Erin Gray isn’t very convincing as a hard-boiled commander. Also, Gil Gerard is taking on a little more of that smugness I described earlier. I thought it was refreshing that Buck isn’t saying a word in protest to his upcoming execution. He spells it out for Deering: they’re not gonna have a chance to off him; the Draconians will be in charge in a few days. Actually, I thought of another reason, which is never brought up: if I were plunked down in a world like this, knowing my family and friends were gone forever, I’m not sure I’d want to live. Maybe that’s wrong, but it’s disappointing that the movie never even mentions that, other than Buck’s single line at the graveyard.

Anyway, Wilma asks Buck if he still believes Ardala’s crew is planning on storming the castle. Buck says he can prove it. So Wilma offers to give him a ride to the Draconia. Wow, I hope if I’m ever tried and convicted, I can get a stay of execution that easily! And again, this could have worked, if the filmmakers made a little more effort.

As much as I’ve been slamming this show, the basic plotline is actually pretty good. I like the fish-out-of-water angle, the espionage angle, the future that looks good on the surface, but a lot grimmer when you scratch the surface. The problem is, the execution is lousy. It feels like Glen Larson laid down the groundwork, then coasted, doing as little as possible with the fine points. And good detail is what makes a good show. (You could say that about most of Larson’s TV shows. And I’m reminded of Magnum P.I. once again. Larson had a basic plot, and then Donald Bellisario did all the detail work — including the chemistry between the leads, Magnum’s tendency to have two left feet, and his history as a Vietnam vet — that made it special.)

Edited by - BradH812 on 08/13/2007 10:32:42 PM
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Holy Cardinal and Five Star General of the Righteous Knighthood of Jabootu

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Posted - 08/13/2007 :  9:55:32 PM  Show Profile
So, they fly on out in one-man fighter ships. That’s right, Buck is flying a craft he’s never been in before. They explain it away by having Deering warn him not to try to do any flying on his own: she says if any pirates attack, the flight computer can maneuver better than he could. Remember this. Anyway, another pilot says he can see the Draconia from here. Deering remarks that it must be enormous. Um, guys, 20th-Century radar could pick up objects this size from long distances. Why in the hell are you surprised that the flagship is so big?? Ah. There it is. Complete with over-the-top musical sting!

Ardala and Kane are puzzled why these guys are coming in, but they’re not too worried. They have plenty of time to hide any evidence that they’re armed. Ardala decides to throw in a little something extra: she orders the “pirate” ships to go out and be ready to give Our Heroes a special welcome.

The fighters come in and land in the docking bay, and Kane says, “Welcome aboard the flagship Draconia, envoy of Draco, conqueror of space.” Yeah, Kane, great thing to say on a diplomatic mission. You gotta love Ardala’s costume here. Like most of her other wardrobe, it shows off her fine physique quite nicely. But the headdress.... What is it about science fiction shows anyway? Why is it that they make futuristic fashions so damn goofy? Keep in mind, I’m not exactly Tommy Hilfiger. But I think I’d have enough sense to tell Ardala not to wear something with a stiff collar a foot wide! Seriously, it looks like someone glued some costume jewelry onto one of those things you put on a dog after it’s had an operation! Ardala’s hair is splayed out over this thing. She’s lucky she doesn’t have to, say, rub her eye or brush her hair back. (snicker) Wilmas identifies herself as “Commander of the Third Force of the Earth Directorate.” Whatever that means. Ardala gets all coy, saying she’s never seen Buck before. Buck goes right in, starting to make accusations. Um, yeah, right, Buck, I think you might have gotten farther if you’d used a little more subtlety. Then again, looking at that ridiculous thing Ardala has on her head, subtlety is not a priority In this movie. To her credit, Wilma plays politics, making an excuse for being there. Not very believable, but better than what Buck was trying.

Uh oh, here come da pirates! The Draconians go into “defensive positions” while the people of Earth get back in their fighters. Kane blesses Wilma out for “leading the pirates to them.” Not great, but it’s a decent bit of spin on Kane’s part. Again, he’s the sole person in this movie who has consistently shown he’s not a moron.

So now it’s time for the first space battle. Time to rip off Star Wars again. Okay, they did one kinda cool thing that Star Wars didn’t do: they show female pilots, something that Star Wars didn’t have until (blech) The Phantom Menace. And this movie has the guts to show a female pilot getting killed in action. (Now if only it had been someone we actually CARED about, rather than a walk-on.) Everything else about this battle scene is a bust. You feel like the FX people were going through the motions. The Earth fighters take a beating, while Buck keeps yelling at them to stop trusting their computers and fly manually. Yeah, that’s right, Buck is one of the pilots. I buy Buck knowing that the computers are screwing up. I do NOT buy him flying this thing like a pro. Oh, and I counted three times Wilma refers to him by his full name. What is he, a 25th Century Charlie Brown?? Anyway, Buck finally convinces Wilma to fly manual, then he comes in and offs the pirates and saves the day. That’s right, a pilot who has NO experience flying this kind of craft maneuvers it like a pro and takes out four pilots who have been trained and have experience flying their ships. Can you say Battlefield Earth?? I knew ya could.

Remember I was talking about the little details in Star Wars? Here’s another one. The battles in Star Wars had a flow to them. Lucas knew how to stage a dogfight, or at least he knew to hire FX people who knew their stuff. One shot led naturally to the next; you were excited by the action, and you knew what was going on from shot to shot. Here, the action feels cobbled together, like the people doing one effects shot did not consult with the people doing the next shot. Also, in Star Wars, when they showed the pilots in their ships, they made sure to, say, rock the set a little, meld the back projection with the foreground well, etc. Here, when we see the pilots in their ships, it’s obviously a set. One back projection scene CLEARLY showed wrinkles in the screen. Sloppy. Very sloppy.

So now, Buck and Wilma are the last ones alive. No, they don’t go back to the Draconia. Say, wasn’t that the whole point of this trip? To inspect that flagship? Dummies. No, they head back to Earth. We get a repeat of the crewmen in the traffic control station, then a shot of the hangar.... and it’s a repeat of Buck bring the Ranger 3 in, NOT a shot of two fighter ships coming in.

Very very sloppy. Remember how I said this had a good storyline, but bad implementation? Well, the good storyline part is fading fast. This thing’s startin’ to go to hell in a handbasket.

Back on the ground, Theo comes to Wilma and informs her Ardala wants to thank Buck personally for “single-handedly saving her unarmed ship from renegage pirates.” Yes, that’s a quote. Wilma is ticked off by this, asking, what is she, chopped liver? Problem is, Theo’s right. Wilma didn’t do nothin’ up there. Okay, it’s understandable that her ego’s been bruised, but Wilma is acting like a petulant brat here.

There’s a quick moment between Ardala and Kane where Ardala says, “Tomorrow I conquer Earth.” Kane responds, “Tomorrow, we conquer Earth, your Highness.” Henry Silva doesn’t put much effort into his performance, but still, the movie does threaten to come to life whenever Kane’s on screen. And now they get in a shuttle and bop on down to Earth.

The people of Earth throw a party to welcome the Princess and her entourage. Buck gets himself all spiffed up. I gotta agree with Theo; the change in costume doesn’t look half bad on Buck. It’s good to see him finally out of that flight suit. Buck is uncomfortable, knowing that most of the people at the part will still think he’s a spy. Strange thing, that; I thought Buck’s performance during the “pirate” raid would’ve gone a long way toward clearing his name. Anyway, when he hears that Ardala requested that he be there, he starts forming a plan. He tells Theo that he feels a headache coming on and asks for some medicine. Actually, this is believeable; I’d be hurtin’ too if my aides were Twiki and Theo.

Ardala comes into the banquet hall, flanked by Kane and Tigerman (snicker). And again, my thoughts on 25th-Century fashion come back. Hey, Kane, Art Bell called; he wants you to stop raiding his wardrobe. (Seriously, a sequined shirt and a necklace? Ewwww!) As for Ardala.... Well, I don’t likes the headwear; it looks like something Liberace might’ve worn if he wanted to dress as a Viking. Below the forehead, though.... Sigh. Now, I know that a string bikini and a cape don’t exactly make a realistic costume for a diplomatic banquet. But realism wasn’t on the filmmakers’ minds here. No, they wanted to give the horny adolescents, of all ages, a little eye candy to ogle. Gotta admit, it’s effective. I haven’t seen any recent pics of Pamela Hensley, and therefore have no idea what she looks like now. But back in 1979, well, damn. Dr. Huer announces her arrival. Ardala reads out a prepared greeting statement, then Huer says, “Let the celebration begin.”

Oh good Lord.

You never see pop culture being depicted in sci-fi. You never see people in the future, say, watching TV or a movie, or listening to the radio. And with good reason. Fifty years ago, no one could have predicted, for example, techno trance, gangsta rap, computer animation, reality TV, the internet, or guys sitting around writing long-winded reviews of bad movies for an internet site. Now multiply that by ten. That’s why when you see people listening to music, it’s either classical or jazz or blues. It’s not much of a stretch to believe, say, Miles Davis, or the Four Tops, will get an occasional spin far into the future, let alone Bach or Mozart. Lest we forget, an album of performances of 800-year-old Gregorian chant was hitting the charts about twelve years back. (There’s another example of how Star Wars got it right: they showed a non-humanoid band playing a conventional — and very catchy — jazz number.) Now try imagining music of the future. In five years — nay, more likely five seconds — your idea will be dated as hell. Okay, if the musicianship is good, it’s not a problem. The music will take on a cool retro vibe, like Vangelis or Wendy Carlos at their best. But when it’s not good.... we get what we see here. UGH!!!

Oh, as for the, uh, dancing.... I admit my dancing makes Elaine from Seinfeld look like Ginger Rogers. But even I know that mixing The Robot with an Achy-Breaky type line dance is a bad idea. And passing Christmas tree ornaments back and forth is an even worse idea. (Snicker snicker) I started giggling as this scene went on, and you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Twiki brings Buck a bottle of medicine, and Theo warns Buck not to take more than one at a time, since it contains a strong relaxant.

(long pause)

Okay, Theo, pop quiz. You have a guy who’s suspected of being a pirate (read: a terrorist). You believe in his innocence, but there’s no way of knowing for sure. Now he tells you he feels a migraine coming on. Now, do you (a) give him a single dose of the 25th-Century equivalent of Excedrin, or (b) give him a full bottle of prescription-strength medicine that contains a sedagive powerful enough to use as knock-out drops?? Of course, Theo could’ve figured out what Buck had in mind and said, “Okay, Buck, here’s your (wink wink) headache medicine.” But it’s clear he has no clue what Buck’s up to! Clock-faced dumbass.

And now Buck asks for a rose to give to Ardala. Theo raises his eyebrows. Figuratively, of course. But he gets Twiki to truck off and find that lovely thorny flower.

Wilma, in a uniform matching Buck’s (and I gotta admit, Erin Gray wears it well), sidles up to Buck and makes small talk. Buck makes a sarcastic reference to Ardala’s “daddy,” and Wilma chides him to show some respect for “the greatest leader the world has ever known.” Uh, yeah, which world, Wilma? And we’ll get a look at the great Draco later on. Great leader. (Snicker) Right. Buck makes a reference to Greeks bearing gifts, and Wilma reveals she’s never even heard of the Trojan Horse! The future is looking worse and worse the further we go.

Twiki returns, with rose in hand. He bidi-bidis and says, “Your rose, Buck.” Most of the time, Twiki’s just done that bidi-bidi thing. A couple of times, though, he actually said something, but it was generic, like “look out” or “let’s get outta here.” Well, get ready. The filmmakers are about to put Mel Blanc to use. By the way, Blanc used pretty much the same voice he’d used for the Tasmanian Devil to voice Twiki.

Theo doesn’t like the idea of Buck giving Ardala a rose. Other people are greeting her and kissing her hand, and this might embarrass them. Buck, starting to actually show some brains, ignores this and begins putting his plan in action. He goes to Ardala and gives her the rose, making a little banter and letting her know he’s still onto her. She parries back, still being coy. Twiki looks at Ardala and says, “Bidi bidi bidi what a body!” Tactful, isn’t he. Buck introduces Ardala to Twiki and Theo, and he’s clearly embarrassed to have these two albatrosses hanging around his neck (okay, Theo’s hanging around Twiki’s neck, but you know what I mean). He then invites her to dance. Kane starts to object, saying the Princess doesn’t dance with lowly 500-year-old pilots, but Ardala counters, saying the Princess does what she damn well pleases. Again, it will come out that Kane was right. Maybe that look on Kane’s face was supposed to be jealousy, but I read it as his frustration at serving at this trull’s pleasure. Clearly he’s the smarter one of the two.

So they get out on the dance floor and join the crowd. After a couple of intercut shots of Wilma, Tigerman (snicker), and Kane watching intensely, Buck decides this dance style isn’t all that cool. So he goes to the musician on the stage and teaches him — in ten seconds — how to rock ‘n’ roll.

Words cannot describe this bit. And they don’t need to. Andrew has a clip on his site. CHECK IT OUT. And please excuse me for a moment. This was the straw that broke the back. When the musician started to play the filmmakers’ idea of “future rock,” I had to pause the DVD for a few minutes and laugh my head off!

Buck starts, uh, dancing. He dares Ardala to join him, telling her to “Get down and boogie.” (long pause) Get down and boogie?!?! Oh, Lawd, help me! This show was out of date a year after its release! The other partygoers look on in horror. If I were there, I’d have the same look on my face. Theo remarks, “It’s expressive.” Wilma shoots back, “It’s disgusting!” Maybe she was supposed to look like a tight-ass here, but the only thing I found wrong was her choice of words. Try lame or pathetic or.... On second thought, Wilma’s right. “Disgusting isn’t a bad word to use for this display.

Buck and Ardala flirt a little on the dance floor, and Ardala asks him if he’d like to join her side. Then.... Oh no. No. No no. Nononononononononono. NO! NOOOOOOO!!! Yep. We see Twiki “dancing.” Remember how I described my lack of dance moves? Twiki makes me look like Mikhael Baryshnikov. And Twiki says, “Bidi bidi bidi bidi. Groovy! Get down!” And I have the most wonderful dream of Twiki screaming in electronic agony as he is lowered into a pit of molten steel, a la Robert Patrick at the end of Terminator 2.

Meantime, we see Huer and Kane off to the side, shooting the breeze. Kane’s Earthly heritage is once again brought up then dropped. Man, I wish these two had been developed more. They’re more interesting than anything else we’ve seen. Also, their little cat-and-mouse game here, while not great, is much better than that ugly display down on the dance floor. Kane goes down to the dance floor to pull Ardala away. Ardala resists, but Kane reminds her, oh yeah, there are other things to worry about apart from her libido! Dammit, why couldn’t Kane be the main villain here? Anyway, Ardala invites Buck to join her on her personal shuttle, which lifts off at midnight, then leaves.

Wilma is sulking in a corner when Buck goes by. She bends his ear and mentions that the party seems to be over. Um, this party has been shown in real time, and it’s lasted, what, five or six minutes? Anyway, now Wilma is putting the moves on Buck. She says she was wrong to think he was a spy, then moves in to kiss him. While I’d have no problem being kissed by Erin Gray, I’d be very worried if someone like this was in charge of any part of Earth defenses. She asks if he’s like to continue this in private (showing she’s letting her hormones take over as bad as Ardala is). Oops, Buck notes the time, sees he has a date with a princess in a shuttle, and ducks outta there. Bad form, Buck. If Wilma trusts you now, you might’ve thought to give her some clue what you were doing.

So, Buck heads on up in Ardala’s shuttle. Tigerman (snicker) doesn’t like Buck being there, but Ardala waves him off. Good one, Princess. A big tattooed guy who speaks in grunts is making more sense than you. Oh, and we see that Laurel and Hardy Theo and Twiki have stowed away in the freezer. No, it’s never explained just how they got on board undetected. But it couldn’t have been too hard. They argue in their normal tone of voice, six feet away from Buck and Ardala, and no one hears them. Finally, they go back in the ice box, Twiki bidi-bidi-ing and saying, “I’m freezing my ball bearings off.”

Could someone just go ahead and shoot me now, please? Oh, all right, let’s finish this damn thing.

Huer and Wilma can’t find Our Hero. Wilma says to no one, “You are a spy, Buck Rogers, and I know exactly where you are.” Yep, that Charlie Brown thing again. I wonder which one’s Peppermint Patty and which one’s Marcie?

Meanwhile, back on the Draconia.... Buck and Ardala arrive in Ardala’s bedchamber. After ordering that tiger guy out, Ardala says she’s going to change into something more comfortable. Um, Princess, what’s much more comfortable than a string bikin— Waitaminute. Hey. *Grin* (Sorry, guys, ain’t gonna happen. It WAS a TV movie at first, remember.) Buck goes to fix them a drink, pouring that headache medicine in Ardala’s glass. Ardala reveals that she just took off that cape and that ridiculous hat. No problem there, Miss Hensley still looks damn good. So, anyhoo, Buck starts picking Ardala’s brain. Seems she’s got a lot on her tiny mind. Yes, she plans to conquer Earth as a way of proving her worth to her father. See, daddy-kins has 29 other daughters (where did he find the time?!), and she’s worried one of them may try and take her place as the next in line for the throne. Actually, she’d rather overthrow dear old dad and rule Draconia herself... with the right man at her side. She’s given up on Kane, whom she dismisses as a “weasel” (and I wonder where an alien race came up with a term like that), and she thinks Buck might be a good choice. Now that the exposition, and Ardala’s backstory (all of it) is out of the way, they have that drink. Plop. Ardala passes out. Buck puts her in the bed and tucks her in all nice and neat. Oh, in the meantime, we see that Kane’s preparing to, oh yeah, invade Earth. Ardala, your timing is lousy.

After a brief cutaway, showing Ernie and Bert Twiki and Theo trying to sneak around the ship looking for Buck, Buck opens the door to Ardala’s bedchamber, steals Tigerman’s pistol — WAY too easily — and shoot and stuns him. Note that when Tigerman is hit, the screen freezes. Almost. It jogs back and forth between two frames, looking a lot like the video for Wang Chung’s “Everybody Have Fun Tonight.” Buck dumps Tigerman in the bed beside Ardala and makes his way out of there.

He sneaks down to the launch bay, seeing the “pirate” ships. There’s a dubbed-in line (Buck’s lips don’t move when he’s saying this!) where Buck talks to himself, saying he knows what they’re up to now. See, here’s where you separate the men from the boys. A good director would, say, show Buck seeing the pirate ships, cut to a close shot of the ships, then show Buck working it out in his mind. But Daniel Haller is not a very good director; we’ll have graphic evidence of this in a moment.

Buck makes his way — completely undetected, of course — down to the flight deck, overpowers a guard, and steals his uniform. Yep, ripping off Star Wars again. Only one difference. In Star Wars, the stormtrooper uniforms had masks, hiding Luke and Han’s identities. Here, the uniform shows Buck’s face very clearly. And no one notices!

Kane and an aide go to Ardala’s quarters and notice that Tigerman’s missing. They knock on her door, and Ardala, just waking up, tells them to go away; she sounds like a petulant 16-year-old here. Then she starts fooling around with the person under the sheets, thinking it’s Buck, calling him “my little babykins.” Babykins? She shrieks when she realizes it’s Tigerman. Kane and the aide break into Ardala’s room. She demands that Tigerman be executed(!). Kane tells the aide to take Tigerman in for questioning. Ardala acts like an idiot, getting all haughty. Kane’s had enough of this little bimbo, and he says so. There are several shots here where Kane’s head is hidden by a post or bedcurtain. It clearly isn’t intentional. Bad, bad composition. This is something a competent director would know to shy away from. No wonder Daniel Haller isn’t a household name, like Scorsese, or Eastwood, or Boll. (ducking, running)

Twiki and Theo come out of hiding and start snooping around, Twiki saying “I hope you know this violates my warranty.” And I go and stick my head in the microwave to get myself a tan.

Kane is furious with Ardala, but can do nothing. She is the Princess, after all. He wants to wait until her father’s forces get here, but she bulldozes over him and orders an immediate attack.

Theontwiki get to the flight deck and see Buck. Theo notices that Buck is wearing “the uniform of the enemy.” Hmmmm, amazing that Theo recognized Buck from behind! And none of the Draconians saw him? Buck is busy loading bombs into the tailpipes of the Draconian ships. I’m not kidding, that’s literally what he’s doing! No, it’s not explained how Buck knew those things were bombs. And no, it’s not explained how those things will stay in when the ships are shooting exhaust out those pipes. By this time, the movie’s given up. No more ideas, no more intrigue, just a guy loading bombs in the tailpipes of interplanetary fighter ships.

Even if this worked, Theo’s explaining to the audience what’s going on, as if the audience were a bunch of three-year-olds, plus his sloooooow delivery, would take out any drama. The funny thing is, the filmmakers started out with a good premise, then made every wrong decision possible. And now they’re out of ideas. Anyway, Theontwiki decide to get Buck’s gun and put him under arrest. Really! Buck’s had enough of Theo. He calls him a “half-baked load of electronic gibberish” and spells the whole thing out for the clock face. And he’s right! No wonder someone as dumb as Ardala thinks she can take over the Earth. If a bunch of clock faces as stupid as Theo are running the show, we’re sitting ducks! Finally, Buck convinces Theo that yes, he’s one of the good guys, and he gets Theo to go and try to find a radio to call Earth.

Theontwiki get to a communications station, have no trouble at all getting the single, rather stupid, officer to leave the room, then call Earth. I had to laugh hearing this distress call coming from ho-hum quiet-and-calm Theo. Meanwhile, Buck keeps loadin’ them bombs in the bombers’ tailpipes. Wilma answer’s Theo’s call. He fills her in, and she alerts Dr. Huer. In the next scene, the fighters from Earth are flying into battle positions. Seriously, Wilma’s changed out of her dress blues, gotten in her flight suit, and is leading a squadron of ships out to attack the Draconia, all in the space of a few seconds!

Kane orders the bombers to launch. They do so... and blow up as they’re leaving the flagship. You know, this could have been a fairly clever way to save money. Blow the ships up as they take off, and you don’t have to show a big space battle. And it’d be a nice twist... IF they could find a believable way to show Buck rigging them to explode. Ah well. Kane sees the Earth fighters on the screen and orders the fighter ships to scramble, yelling at his men and asking what the hell’s going on.

Well, never mind that clever chuck-the-space-battle idea. They gave it to us anyway. Remember what I said about the battle scenes earlier? How they looked thrown together? Same thing here. Oh, they do have one slightly interesting thing: Wilma has learned a few things and tells her squadron to fly manually, and the hell with the computer. But that’s it. Other than that, the battle scene is a wash.

Buck keeps loading bombs in.... Uh oh, Tigerman sees him! Yes, THAT Tigerman. Guess the questioning didn’t last long, did it. After a goofy fight scene, Buck sticks a bomb in Tigerman’s belt, kicks him away, and let’s him get blowed up.

Uh oh! Kane’s on the bridge, and he has a transmission coming in from King Draco himself! Draco is an Asian stereotype, and the actor playing him is completely over the top, screaming every line he has. I found it too silly to be offensive; if I were of Asian descent, I might feel differently. Draco demands to know what the hell’s going on, and Kane answers — correctly — that hey, Your Majesty, this was your daughter’s idea! And I had to wonder, is THIS the conqueror of 75% of the universe?! This guy seems to be as dumb as any other character in this movie!

So now, Deering and the other fighter ships go in and start shootin’ up the Draconia. We see about a half dozen shots fired on the flagship. And that’s enough to set it on a chain reaction. Damn, if only ALL ee-vill battleships could be taken out this easily. Kane finds Ardala and hauls her sorry ass outta there, taking her to an escape shuttle, blessing her out all the way. And, for the umpteenth time, he’s absolutely right.

Wilma comes in and lands on the flight deck, letting Buck and Theontwiki get on board. Amazing how generous the designers of these fighter craft were. They made sure that, in addition to the pilot, this one-person craft had enough room in its cockpit for a full-sized passenger and a pint-sized annoying sidekick! So, Wilma gets ’em outta there, and the Draconia does a big ka-boom.

On board the escape shuttle, Kane and Ardala have the following exchange:
Kane: We would be rulers of Earth NOW, if YOU hadn’t let Buck Rogers aboard!
Ardala: He wouldn’t have been necessary, if you were more of a man.

Well done, Ardala! Kane just said that by letting your crotch do your thinking, rather than your head, you screwed your people right into the ground. And you just proved his point for him! Bimbo. Ah well. We see them escape into deep space, free to come in and raise hell another day.

A little bit of Wilma hitting on Buck, and a last bit of groan-inducing banter from Buck and Twiki... and we go to the final credits, and a repeat of that horrid song!

I recall that when this show was rerun on TV, they added an extra scene of Buck coming back to Earth and setting up housekeeping. I won’t go into it here, but I do remember it was a lame as anything we’ve seen tonight.

Whew! Well, O Great Horned Woodenhead, looks like you were wrong! I counted only two references to a certain show in that review!

And Jabootu said, “Wouldst thou like to order the season finale from Netflix? ‘Flight of the War Witch’?”

YAY! I’m ready! I’m ready! I’m ready! I’m ready! I’m ready!

And Jabootu said, “HA! GOTCHA! Steeeeeeee-rike THREE!!! YER OUT!!!”

Oh, tartar sauce.

(And Jabootu whispered, “That makes four.”)
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Holy Cardinal and Five Star General of the Righteous Knighthood of Jabootu

1294 Posts

Posted - 08/13/2007 :  9:56:30 PM  Show Profile

When I popped this thing in the DVD player, I was mainly prepping for the season finale, where the real treasure could be found. Little did I expect the gold mine of goofiness the movie provided; I’ve forgotten just how dopey it was. Okay, maybe some of the camp was intentional, but I doubt it; we’ll get to the reasons in a moment.

The funny thing is (and I know I’ve beaten this into the ground, but it’s what I do), for the first half of the movie at least, one can detect a really good story fighting to get out. The bits of intrigue, the clock-face kangaroo court, the trek to the ruined city, and Buck’s whole fish-out-of water status, all had such potential. But, as said before, Glen Larson had a habit of getting some pretty good ideas, then failing to follow through with them. If memory serves, the courtroom bits and the ruined-outer city idea would be jettisoned from the series. Good one, fellas, ya threw out two of the most interesting ideas behind this story, bits that suggested that the future isn’t all as rosy as it appears. Also, Buck’s status as an outsider would fade over the course of the first season; before long, that dopey opening narration was necessary for people to realize how far out of his element Buck was.

Of all this movie’s many failures, that may be its worst. Let’s look at Buck’s character. It’s a very dark story, when you think about it. Imagine this: you wake up to find out it’s the year 2491. The world isn’t what it was when you left it. No one knows you or trusts you. You’re suspected of being a spy, and you can’t prove otherwise. Everything you know is gone. Everyone you knew and loved has been dead and buried for centuries. There’s nothing you can do about it, and you can’t go back. This is very sad, not to mention very frightening. It could also make for good drama.

There have been several other man-without-a-country movies like this, mostly centering on people coming from the past into the present world. Most of these movies have been goofy comedies. Offhand, I can think of only one movie that looked at this premise in a serious way. Iceman told the story of a Neanderthal man thawed out after 40,000 years, having somehow survived his long deep-freeze. The film was intelligent and thoughtful, and it tackled the question of whether someone so far out of his place could survive in our world in a realistic way. (And the answer it gave was pretty courageous: it was a firm “no.”) Iceman had some flaws, particularly some plot holes near the end, but for the most part it was an outstanding film.* Buck Rogers could have stood having a little more of the weight that Iceman would take on — or, for that matter, a little more 2001 or Solaris — and a little less Star Wars.

*[This is off topic, but can I vent about something? Could someone please tell me, why in the hell would anyone release a DVD that’s pan-and scan ONLY?!?! Iceman may be the worst DVD release I’ve ever seen from a major studio. No extras, no subtitles, not even a menu for cryin’ out loud, and it’s not available letterboxed, which is particularly egregious when you realize its director, Fred Schepisi, loves to make full use of the wide screen. I know it was an early release for the format, but they could’ve ported the laserdisc over and had a better DVD! Okay, it’s not curing cancer or getting rid of terrorism, but this is still a pet peeve of a movie geek like myself.]

Okay, that’s kinda highfalutin, but I think it could work. (From what I’ve read, Gil Gerard might agree. He was reportedly frustrated by the direction the series took, and he didn’t like playing Buck as a smug smart-ass.) The alternative would be to make it a shameless B-movie, and do it right. Go retro. I’m talkin’ jet packs, moving sidewalks, flying cars, stuff that can make the Jetsons turn green with envy. Just have fun with it. Flash Gordon took this approach about a year later. I thought the movie wasn’t near as good as it might have been, but they had the right idea, making it all gaudy and overblown.

Buck Rogers tries to go in between. It throws in a dash of what might have been serious sci-fi, then shies away from that and throws in the camp. And it falls flat on its ass. It doesn’t have the intelligence or depth to be a serious drama, and it doesn’t have the budget or imagination to be a way cool piece of eye candy.

Most of that can be laid at Glen Larson’s door. His work on earlier series and later ones show that he did this sort of thing often. He’d lay down the groundwork, then he’d coast, hoping the audiences wouldn’t catch on. For a while, he was right. The shows he created were usually pretty popular... for a few years. But time tells the tale. Larson hasn’t had a hit series in twenty years. He failed to grow with the times, and he couldn’t keep up with audiences, who had gotten a little more sophisticated than what he was offering.

I’ve only seen bits and pieces of the new Battlestar Galactica. From what I’ve seen, its creators got it right. I really wish someone would try something similar with Buck Rogers. It had a lot going for it, and it could’ve been something special. It still can.

As for the movie and subsequent series, Buck Rogers did turn a nice profit. And the series brought in a loyal audience for its first year. It also had a pretty good list of guest stars, not A-listers on the order of Gene Hackman or Robert Redford, but recognizable, talented working actors, including Roddy McDowall, Jack Palance, Ray Walston, Gary Coleman (who was red hot at the time), a very young Jamie Lee Curtis, and a very embarrassed-looking Jerry Orbach. The series would often emulate the movie. It would throw some intriguing ideas on the screen, but wouldn’t have the courage to follow through with them, opting instead for yet another dopey space battle or badly choreographed fight scene. One particular episode gave a cameo role to Buster Crabbe, the original Buck Rogers. Okay, the idea of naming his character “Brigadier Gordon” was a bit precious, but hey, it’s Buster Crabbe! Cool! (long pause) And they gave him absolutely nothing to do. That right there is a perfect example of how this show wasted its potential.

Anyway, although it was popular, the series was clearly stumbling before long. It threw in a flashback episode, often a red flag with JUMPING THE SHARK written on it, two thirds of the way through the first season.

Ardala would return for a couple of episodes, cooking up more half-baked schemes to take over or destroy the Earth. And again, her stupidity did her in as much as any efforts from Buck and Company. Kane was also back, but Henry Silva was replaced by Michael Ansara. Ansara may have been a better Kane than Silva, if he’d been given anything to do. He would occasionally roll his eyes at his idiot of an employer, but before long he was just a toady, running off and doing what he was told. Oh, and they brought back Tigerman. You heard me right: Tigerman. When the movie aired on network TV, they tried to do some instant retconning, cutting the scene where Tigerman was killed. No, it didn’t work.

As the series went on, Theo would take a less important role, and would usually just sit around in Dr. Huer’s office. Dr. Huer was implied to be the 25th-Century version of President. Twiki kept getting more and more annoying. They tried to explain Twiki’s pitiful jokes as being his learning 20th-Century-speak from Buck — forgetting that Twiki dropped a few groaners in the movie. He did have one good joke. In one episode, when Buck had clearly screwed the pooch, requiring Wilma to bail him out (yes, they actually had him do this once; not that they held him liable for messin’ up or anything), Theo assured Huer that he believed everything would be fine. Twiki shot back, “You also believe in the Easter Bunny!”

Huer himself fared better. Sometimes Tim O’Connor’s acting was stiff and stilted, but just as often he carried himself with a kind of understated dignity. And Huer sometimes had some halfway decent dialogue. Of all the characters in the whole series, I liked him the best.

And then, at last, there was the season finale, “Flight of the War Witch.” But that’s another review. Keep an eye out here; a review will be coming in a couple of weeks.
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Holy Cardinal and Five Star General of the Righteous Knighthood of Jabootu

1294 Posts

Posted - 08/18/2007 :  09:06:15 AM  Show Profile
One thing I'd like to add. I went ahead and grabbed hold of a few of the other series DVD's, watching, in total, about half of the first season.

Most of what I saw had me playing Mystery Science Theater 3000 before long. It was pretty awful. There were two episodes, though, that struck me.

First off, one of the episodes where Ardala pops up has (gasp!) Twiki making a couple of funny and observant quips. At one point, Twiki saw Ardala and said, "Bidi bidi bidi. Once a dummy, always a dummy." Later on, after Buck pulled a fast one on our Ardala, he said, "I almost feel sorry for the Princess." Twiki answered, "Bidi bidi bidi. Almost." At another point in the episode, Buck was feeling satisfied with himself, and he said, "Sometimes the magic works." Five seconds later, he realized he was behind the eight ball once again, and Twiki said, "Bidi bidi, and sometimes it doesn't."

You heard that right. THREE decent Twiki remarks in one episode. One suspects the news people were sleeping that day; how else could you explain there being no headlines about Hell freezing over? Oh, and that episode had Kane come up with a fairly decent plan, which was blown by Ardala's stupidity. Sheesh!

Okay, the other episode of note was called "A Dream of Jennifer." This episode actually made me mad. It's a textbook example of the writers coming up with a really good idea, then completely pissing it away. In the episode, Buck sees a woman who is identical to Jennifer, his girlfriend back in the 20h Century. It is established that he and the woman were very close (possibly engaged), and the first 15 minutes are surprisingly effective. I particularly liked a long scene which just showed Buck moving slowly around his apartment, clearly haunted by his memories. There was a nice musical cue here, a sad piano solo which played several times in the episode. Yes, there was still plenty of cheese to go around, but I was willing to forgive it for a bit. I actually liked a subtle reference to Star Trek done on a background PA, and if you watch this episode, don't blink, or you'll miss a walk-on by a very young Dennis Haysbert!

As usual, when Tim O'Connor had some good dialogue, he played it very, very well. When Buck finds out the woman he thought was his fiance is going to "City-By-The-Sea" (New Orleans), he decides to go down there and try to find her. Huer gives Buck his blessing, saying he himself might do the same thing. I'll admit it; I was moved by O'Connor's acting here. Huer reveals that he is a widower, and he gives a brief description of what he went through after his wife died. I really liked the look of loss that came onto O'Connor's face for just a second when he talks about this.

And then the whole thing goes to hell. It turns into another dopey espionage episode, ending with a stupid fight scene. It's too bad, too. I thought Gil Gerard had decent chemistry with Anne Lockhart, who played "Jennifer," and Lockhart's acting was pretty solid throughout. Also, Erin Gray had found a groove she could be comfortable with, playing Wilma as an efficient commander.

The episode ends with "Jennifer" basically taking a bullet for Buck. Even after all the dopiness that had gone on, I would've been okay with this, a serious — and surprisingly downbeat — ending, with Buck crying over her body. But then they had to tack on an epilogue, giving us the standard make-a-lame-joke-and-freeze-on-Buck-laughing ending.

And as the final credits appeared, I just sat there and shook my head. What a waste.
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Holy Cardinal and Five Star General of the Righteous Knighthood of Jabootu

1791 Posts

Posted - 08/19/2007 :  08:47:37 AM  Show Profile
Thanks. I was one of those (semi) loyal fans who watched this show. I say "semi" because of the dumb parts. In "Jennifer", I got the sudden idea that she WAS Buck's old love and had also somehow gotten the ddep-freeze treatment. In my version of the story, she was also a spy because --as was related with Buck-- she had no records in the future world and thus "didn't exist" to their all-knowing computers. Further, she was avoiding him because she was more professional and didn't want her cover blown.
This could have been the greatest episode, with Buck trying desperatly to find a link to his past and his friends telling him to get over it, that it's just a coincidence and worrying about his mental health.
No such luck.

PS: was "bidi-bidi-bidi" really nessisary? How did they fail to realise it was annoying as hell?

"The Queen is testing poisons." CLEOPATRA, 1935
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Holy Cardinal and Five Star General of the Righteous Knighthood of Jabootu

1294 Posts

Posted - 08/24/2007 :  7:40:55 PM  Show Profile
Greenhornet, I'd like to know how they failed to realize just about every damn thing about Twiki was annoying. Also, I'm with ya on how they botched "Jennifer." It's funny. When Dr. Huer's dialogue required him to be a pompous dope, Tim O'Connor walked through his performance. When he had something interesting to do, though, O'Connor put his all into it.

"War Witch" came in a couple of days ago. Will probably watch it this weekend and type up the review next week sometime.

I want to save most of the bomb-heaving for that particular episode when I get going, so I'll confine most of my comments on the first season to this thread. And here's a few things I've thought about since the last post:

One of the episodes with Ardala and Kane had one of the few real surprises in the series, and it was actually pretty nice. In one scene, Buck had a knock-down drag-out fight with the resurrected Tigerman. When he had the chance, Buck refused to kill Tigerman. Later on, when Ardala had Buck dead to rights, Tigerman stepped in between them and forced Ardala to let him go. At the end of the episode, Tigerman looked Buck in the eye and said — in a surprisingly soft and cultured voice — "You spared my life once. Now I've spared yours. We're even."

Of course, the people making the series never went anywhere with this. Dummies.

Near the end of the series, it looks pretty obvious to me the show had run out of steam. It no longer had good ideas that were screwed up. The show was a flat-out bust. When I saw the episode "Space Rockers", I didn't know whether to laugh or to cry. I was closer to crying, if only out of sympathy for Jerry Orbach, who was clearly exasperated at his awful dialogue. This episode might actually be worse than "War Witch," which is saying something, but it wasn't all that much fun to laugh at it.

Okay, enough on the first season. Next stop, "Flight of the War Witch."
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Holy Cardinal and Five Star General of the Righteous Knighthood of Jabootu

644 Posts

Posted - 09/06/2007 :  8:33:59 PM  Show Profile
Thanks for the review Brad.

Did you see the episode where they hold an reception for some diplomats and the entertainment is a bunch of people on roller skates with tube lighting? I almost died laughing when I saw that when SciFi ran it.

BTW, your complaint about Buck Rogers having good ideas but not following through is the same problem I have with BSG. They present some interesting situation and then do things that make no sense.

- While science has societal benefits, science is not a social virtue. -
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Holy Cardinal and Five Star General of the Righteous Knighthood of Jabootu

1294 Posts

Posted - 09/07/2007 :  6:01:15 PM  Show Profile
Originally posted by Terrahawk

Thanks for the review Brad.

Did you see the episode where they hold an reception for some diplomats and the entertainment is a bunch of people on roller skates with tube lighting? I almost died laughing when I saw that when SciFi ran it.

BTW, your complaint about Buck Rogers having good ideas but not following through is the same problem I have with BSG. They present some interesting situation and then do things that make no sense.

- While science has societal benefits, science is not a social virtue. -

That episode with the skaters was one of the ones with Ardala in it. It was pretty obvious the crew realized they didn't have enough material to fill a full hour minus commercials, and they stuck in two minutes of filler at the last minute. They did quite a lot of this; the "Space Rockers" episode was FULL of this crap. I wonder how many people fell out laughing when they saw stuff like this in '79, let alone today.

Gotta admit I haven't seen any of Battlestar Galactica. One of these days I'll rent the DVD's, then I'll know what I'm talking about when I refer to it. *g*
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Holy Cardinal and Five Star General of the Righteous Knighthood of Jabootu

644 Posts

Posted - 09/08/2007 :  8:40:56 PM  Show Profile
One aspect is that the show pulled a "Space 1999" in the second season. It was a lot like two different shows.

I recommend you see the new BSG. Maybe you'll find I'm completely off base in my opinion of the series. You wouldn't be the first person to tell me that. :-)

- While science has societal benefits, science is not a social virtue. -
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Holy Cardinal and Five Star General of the Righteous Knighthood of Jabootu

1294 Posts

Posted - 09/09/2007 :  12:13:17 AM  Show Profile
Originally posted by Terrahawk

One aspect is that the show pulled a "Space 1999" in the second season. It was a lot like two different shows.

I recommend you see the new BSG. Maybe you'll find I'm completely off base in my opinion of the series. You wouldn't be the first person to tell me that. :-)

- While science has societal benefits, science is not a social virtue. -

Which show? BSG or Buck Rogers? I know Buck Rogers tried to change its format and its ratings plummeted in the second season. And one of these days, I'll actually get around to watching some of these shows.
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Holy Cardinal and Five Star General of the Righteous Knighthood of Jabootu

644 Posts

Posted - 09/09/2007 :  08:20:14 AM  Show Profile
Sorry, I meant Buck Rogers tried to change. It tried to become a Star Trek lite.

- While science has societal benefits, science is not a social virtue. -
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