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REMAKE WATCH: BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25TH CENTURY (2011)
 



 

Rumors persist that director / writer / comic book artist Frank Miller is interested in doing a big screen version of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century . . .

Reports insist on calling it a “remake” even though technically it wouldn’t be exactly that. Most people nowadays remember Buck Rogers as the late-1970s / early-1980s TV series starring Gil Gerard as Buck and Erin Gray as the yummy Colonel Wilma Deering. The truth is however that the character had its origins in a long-running comic strip published in newspapers as long ago as 1928!

The original strip was pure light-hearted space opera and featured square-jawed heroes facing off against nefarious villains in a fantastical world of space ships, anti-gravity belts, space pirates and invaders from other worlds. All of which was pretty amazing for an era without television, never mind lasers or rockets – it even predates the similar Flash Gordon character by several years (which saw the light in 1934).

There were also a 1930s serial starring Buster Crabbe (who also played Flash Gordon!) as well as a TV series in the 1950s not to mention the various books, comic books and computer games. The original plot involved a former U.S. Army Air Corps officer named Anthony Rogers falling into a coma after being exposed to leaking gas while surveying an abandoned mine only to reawaken in the twenty-fifth century. Together with his new compatriots Wilma Deering and Dr Huer he fights to free the world of “Mongol” hordes led by evil warlords. (Rogers’ enemy was first called the Han and were later renamed Mongols – and you thought Ming the Merciless was a nasty racist stereotype!)

In the more politically correct 1979-1981 television series Buck Rogers is named William instead of Anthony. He is a space shuttle pilot who is revived 500 years later to thwart an invasion by the planet Draconia (with a name like that what can they be other than bad guys?). The series fell halfway between the disco era kitsch of Logan’s Run with loads of spandex on display and the special effects and hardware of Star Wars. It was yet another shameless attempt by the Battlestar Galactica original series TV producer Glen A. Larson to cash in on the huge popularity of Star Wars barely two years before. (It even reused some sets and props from Galactica!) In fact it was so shameless that it even threw in a cutesy R2D2-like robot named Twiki of all things.

"Recalled with fondness by Generation X’ers whose first nocturnal emissions no doubt involved Erin Gray . . ."

Despite its cheesiness episodes were hugely expensive to produce and the series only lasted two seasons. It never seemed exactly sure where the show was headed and a complete “reboot” of the series during its second season which had Rogers and Hawk, the alien “birdman” searching distant planets searching for the lost tribes of Earth á la Galactica was hugely unpopular with fans and proved to be the show’s death knell. Incidentally Larson would later on have a genuine hit with the original Knight Rider on his hands.

Despite the show’s many faults Buck Rogers is however recalled with fondness by ageing Generation X’ers who watched the show as kids and whose first nocturnal emissions no doubt involved Erin Gray.

‘Eighties nostalgia such as Transformers means big bucks at the box office nowadays and it is understandable why Hollywood would be interested in a pop cultural phenomenon such as Buck Rogers – it is a “brand name” with instant recognition. The problem is whether Frank Miller would be right guy to bring such a version to the big screen. Miller is best-known to comic book fans as the influential writer / artist whose The Dark Knight Returns graphic novel provided the template for a “darker” Batman in the late 1980s onward. Miller also wrote and illustrated the various Sin City comics, one of which was made into the successful 2005 movie that he co-directed with Robert Rodriguez. His Dark Horse comic title 300 provided the inspiration for the popular movie of the same title.

Even though Miller is still writing comics, his latest being a highly controversial run on All-Star Batman for DC, his flirtation with Hollywood seems to have blossomed into a full-blown affair. Back in the early 1990s Miller wrote the screenplays for the darkly nihilistic Robocop 2 and the horrendously bad Robocop 3. More recently he has directed The Spirit, a Sin City-like movie based on the somewhat obscure 1940s comic book character by comics legend Will Eisner that will be released on Christmas Day 2008 in U.S. cinemas. Miller also has two Sin City sequels on his slate, but it if Internet news reports are to be believed then the Buck Rogers movie project will enjoy preference.

According to one such report Miller will no doubt write and direct his own big-screen take on the comic serial and while he has only begun to sketch ideas, it's “expected to be a darker take, with many of Miller's signature visual elements and themes, such as corruption and redemption.”

And that is exactly the problem. Considering the character’s roots as a light-hearted space opera it is rather difficult to put the words “dark” and “Buck Rogers” together; “campy” and “Buck Rogers”, sure, but come on! Which Hollywood big wig was watching the dark violent noir Sin City and decided that “hey, this is the guy who should bring Twiki back to the big screen!” While one could imagine the ‘Seventies Battlestar Galactica being remade as the “dark” cult television series now airing on SciFi, one simply cannot do the same with Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. After all, the original Galactica featured themes of genocide while Buck Rogers has a pint-sized robot that goes “biddi biddi” . . .

The other problem is of course that a big screen movie true to the original comic strips would be . . . a campfest like the ‘Eighties Flash Gordon movie! Audiences weaned on the 1980s TV show will no doubt rebel. So what to do? If I had my millions of dollars invested in the movie I’d ditch Miller and go the “let’s remake the Glen A. Larson TV series” route instead. It will work as a Saturday matinee adventure show: light-hearted, but not camp. After all, Sony is already working on its own big screen Flash Gordon scheduled for 2010. How much Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow post-modernism and self-awareness can audiences take?


 



 

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