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Blu-Ray Review: Kino Lorber’s Buck Rogers in the 25th Century – The Complete Series (KL Studio Classics)

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century

The Glen A Larson cult Sci-Fi Adventure series (and the theatrical movie) gets an Amazing Blu-Ray release with all the trimmings thanks to Kino Lorber.

The Film

Most will not remember that TV Series have had theatrical features beginning in the 1960s.  Though most are cobbled together episodes as a 90-minute cash-in. The Movie/Pilot that was release theatrically for Buck Rogers in the 25thCentury is definitely not that.  Though it is the pilot turned theatrical (or “cash grab”) for the Glenn A. Larson created series there’s definitely money behind the production.  

William “Buck” Rogers in the “late 90s” is sent off on a long-term NASA flight.  Of course, things go wrong.  Cue the very strange musical opening that’s part disco part Star Wars Holiday Special all amazing.  After the musical interlude, we in 2489 and Buck is back on a very different Earth.  Only a few cities remain after a long-forgotten apocalypse and Terrans are now space exploring enforcing agency of sorts.  

Much of the story involves an Evil Princess, Henry Silva as Henry Silva, and the political maneuvering to take over Earth for Evil Princess’s dad.  Buck causes a bunch of issues that foil the Evil Princess and Silva’s plan.  The relationships between Buck and Deering, Twiki, Dr. Theopolis, and Elias Huer are all set up by the end of the movie ready-made for the TV show.

Many will think of this as a basic Star Wars rip-off though they would be wrong.  The film is very much its own thing.  A combination of A Yankee in King Arthur’s Court and the Nathaniel Hornblower series.  Space Pirates, Princesses, Political machinations, a Space Force… and a man out of time it’s Buck Rogers but made for the late 70s/early 80s. 

The Series

Glenn A Larson’s TV Series is really a front-loaded series. That is to say that the first season is definitely the stronger of the two.  

The First season is content with being an “adventure of the week” with Rogers (Gil Gerard) being the cad about the galaxy that each week goes on an adventure and manages to bed the guest star or flirts mercilessly with Deering (Erin Gray).  It’s a concept that works surprisingly well with a bevy of Guest Stars that help carry each of the episodes.  

The Scripts are always sharp and fun in that first season with Gerard playing a sort of James Bond in Space.  The sort of secret agent that gets to face off against super villains(usually the guest stars like Jack Palance, Frank Gorshin, Ray Wolston, John Ryan among others), seduces a beautiful woman (usually being played by Jamie Lee Curtis, Pamela Hensley, Dorothy Stratten, among others) all set in space.  There was a fun and freewheeling adventure feeling to everything that makes the first season a blast of fun. 

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century is at its best when it’s a cleverly goofy sci-fi adventure on par with 1980’s Flash Gordon.  With episodes named Vegas in Space and Space Vampires, it’s really hard to not see this but anything but a good time.  The FX work, the arched dialog, the over-the-top guest star performances, the ensemble cast of regulars, the reused sets and props from Battlestar Galactica all are a part of the charm of the series.  Unfortunately, everyone but star Gil Gerard thought so… and everything that made the first season such a fun ride was dumped.  

The second season feels like a completely different show and a less successful one.  The Western in Space rather than James Bond in space changed everything.  It would be fine if we did not have literally a dozen shows like that.  The show becoming a much lesser version of Star Trek.  Complete with half-baked sentiments about race, religion, slavery, and other high-minded topics which the Gene Roddenberry show tackled with much more intelligence.  

Which would not be bad if they kept the great cast.  Instead, only Erin Grey has remained from the first season other than star Gil Gerard.  To add insult to injury Grey’s Colonel Deering is hobbled to a now typically 80’s written female role with Gerard taking the sole spotlight.  The serious nature of every episode dampens everything that worked in the first season.  

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century is a blast of a sci-fi adventure show that is better in its first half and the second half.  Even that said, the second season has its moments. 

The Transfers

Kino Lorber has gotten beautiful HD masters for all 32 Episodes and the Theatrical Feature.  Thankfully, KL has not decided to do a Zoom In 1.78:1.  Rather they’ve kept the correct 1.33 window box aspect ratio.  The image is handsome showing off the 35mm photography and FX work on the show that the original Broadcast could never realize.  The biggest surprise is how much the colors pop on all the Episodes.  There is a bright technicolor glow to the color they’ve used throughout the entire series.  Here it’s reproduced beautifully.  The image is always razor-sharp and other than a few minor scratches the image is flawless. The series and features have never looked better.  

Of special note, the FX work here is amazing and just makes you miss the original VFX work from a specific Sci-Fi film series.  I will leave it at that.  

The Extras

They include the following; 

  • Audio Commentary by Film Historians Steve Mitchell and Nathaniel Thompson (Theatrical Feature)
  • Audio Commentaries for 11 Selected Episodes by Film/TV Historian Patrick Jankiewicz, Author of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century: A TV Companion
  • Interview with Co-Star Erin Gray
  • Interview with Actor Thom Christopher (Hawk)
  • 9-Minute Special Theatrical Preview
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Two Radio Spots (Theatrical Feature)

Theatrical Feature Disc 

The new audio commentary by Steve Mitchell and Nathaniel Thompson does a great job of giving us a rundown on the production and context.  Starting with how this went from Feature Length TV Movie to theatrical feature there isn’t a topic they don’t cover.  Some of the aspects discussed are the theme song (that opens the film), the opening, the FX work, Producer/Creator Glenn A Larson and his career, the impact of Star Wars on not only Film but Television work like this, director Daniel Haller’s career (his work with Roger Corman) and how it informed on the making of the feature, the difference between this version and the Pilot version (which there is a great deal), the production design and make-up FX (specifically the lack of “aliens”), the actors including Gil Gerard, Pamela Hensley, Henry Silva, and much more.  Mitchell and Thompson add a lot of personal touches which gives the commentary a very entertaining feel that’s not so academic.  

Two Radio Spots (1:22) – the two radio spots are played with a production still of Gil Gerard and Erin Gray.  The two spots are cliché ridden hilariously dopey advertisements.  My favorite line “Buck Rogers is so out … he’s in!”.  

9-Minute Special Theatrical Preview (9:23) – this extended preview is in much better condition than the trailer.  This 9-minute look at the film is an abbreviated version of the first two acts of the film with a great animated title card at its end.  

Theatrical Trailer (3:29) – the trailer is great as a comparison to all the work that they’ve done in restoring the picture for the film and series.  

TV Series Special Features 

Season One Disc One 

Awakening Commentary by Patrick Jankiewicz (97:42) – Jankiewicz who literally wrote the book on Buck Rogers in the 25th Century is discussing the Pilot/TV Movie.  The critic does a great job of discussing the differences between the theatrical and TV version, the cost-cutting methods of the series, the actors, the production design, the FX work, the photography, the use of disco, Quentin Tarantino’s love of the Feature Film and the TV series, and much more.  Jankiewicz is entertained and often ribs the show as much as he shows a lot of affection for the pilot.  

Planet of the Slave Girls Commentary by Patrick Jankiewicz (97:55) – Jankiewicz discusses the second TV Movie and is in a fine mode having a ball discussing the Movie/Episodes.  The critic discusses the adjustments on the second film, the story, Buster Crabbe as a guest star, Jack Palance as a guest star, Roddy McDowell, the constant reuse of FX as stock footage, and much more.  Jankiewicz is in a very humorous mood and lovingly ribs mistakes, gaffes, actor decisions, and more.  

Vegas in Space Commentary by Patrick Jankiewicz (48:45) – Jankiewicz discusses the first regular length TV Episode.  Jankiewicz discusses with great aplomb the fact that Wilma Deering is not present, Richard Lynch as the baddie of the week, the “James Bond in space” formula that shows up here, Cesar Romero (the other Batman ’66 stars that show up as well), the work of leading ladies Juanin Clay, Pamela Susan Shoop, and Ana Alicia, and much more.  Jankiewicz gives a bit more behind the scenes of the production because of Erin Grey’s absence.  Another winning commentary.  

Season One Disc Two 

Unchained Woman Commentary by Patrick Jankiewicz (48:42) – Jankiewicz discussed the Jamie Lee Curtis guest starer.  Jankiewicz discusses the TV Plot of the Week conventions of the Prison Episode, the reference to Hugo’s Les Misérables, the FX work, the production design, a lot of discussion of what did not past “Standard and Practices”, and much more.  Jankiewicz definitely likes the episode and its adroit use of Curtis, sets, and FX. 

Season One Disc Three

Space Vampire Commentary by Patrick Jankiewicz (48:42) – the most infamous of the Episodes of the Series has Jankiewicz in a fine mode as he both ribs the show and gives us a break down of how important this episode was.  He also discusses how this episode came together because of Vampires being popular culture at the time in 1979 when it was developed, the guest star actors, its ties to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and much more. 

Season One Disc Four

Twiki is Missing Commentary by Patrick Jankiewicz (48:42) – Jankiewicz has a great time with the standalone Twiki episode. He also discusses how this related to a bit of Universal failed attempt at Synergy with the release of Meteor, actor John P Ryan as the villain and some tragic later career injury, the interesting life of actor/guest star Eddie Benton (aka Anne-Marie Martin) who auditioned for Princess Leia, Wilma Deering stuck in her starfighter, the work of Mel Blanc (the voice of Twiki), the work of Eric Server (the uncredited voice actor for Dr. Theopolis), the further “James Bond in space” comparisons, and more.  

A Dream of Jennifer Commentary by Patrick Jankiewicz (48:44) – Jankiewicz discusses what he calls “the most romantic” episode of the series.  Labeled the “Valentine’s Day Episode” (it was released on that date).  Jankiewicz dissects how the script changed from inception to written to the production which changed.  Also discusses the use of Universal Studios, guest star Anne Lockhart, Denis Haysbert’s cameo (who would eventually become a series regular in a different role), the big bad guys of the week cult favorites Paul Koslo and Mary Warnov, the very different ending, and much more.  Jankiewicz has done a great job of discussing how important this episode is not just for the growth but also what would eventually become an issue with the series (its star). 

Season One Disc Five 

Space Rockers Commentary by Patrick Jankiewicz (48:52) – Jankiewicz discusses the episode of future rock ‘n roll and Jerry Orbach.  The author discusses how a song ended up on the GTA: San Andreas soundtrack (yes, the videogame), the “Buck-Fu”, Jerry Orbach’s career, and his guest stint on the show, the youth in rebellion storyline, the costume design, the direction, and more.  Jackiewicz is definitely not impressed with the episode’s visual style. 

Flight of the War Witch: Part 1 (48:55) / Flight of the War Witch: Part 2 (48:55) Commentary by Patrick Jankiewicz – Jankiewicz discusses the highest-rated episodes of the entire series which happen to be the two-part season finale.  Because they are essentially one episode, I’ve treated them as such.  Jankiewicz discusses the plethora of guest stars like Sid Haig, Julie Newmar, Donald Petrie, Michael Ansara, Vera Miles, Sam Jaffe (it’s a large cast), the use of Vasquez Rocks, the fact these are the last episodes of Tom O’Connor, the return of Pamela Hensley and the last time she will appear on the show, the ridiculousness of the ‘advanced’ robot, the finale, and a preview of how the show changed in its second season.  

Season Two Disc One 

Time of the Hawk Commentary by Patrick Jankiewicz (97:30) – Jankiewicz gives us context for this abbreviated and very different season.  The critic discusses a new showrunner (the one from Gunsmoke), the very different tone and execution of the show becoming more western and less sci-fi, Thom Christopher as an addition to the show as the great Hawk, the changing of narrators, and how the lack of hype, the very different costuming of the series, the changing in dynamics in the series, the lack of Mel Blanc, and much more.  Jackiewicz is both bemused and upset by all of the changes that have occurred in this second season.  

Season Two Disc Three 

Star Gaze with Erin Gray (18:30) – the actor who played Colonel Wilma Deering is a delight as she recounts her beginnings as a contract player.  Gray also discusses how she got the part in Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and a terrible situation that he had to audition, the ramshackle aspect of the production, working with Gerard and O’Connor, the theatrical release, her experience on the Opening Credits of said theatrical release, the change between season one and season two, the long hours of the series, the guest stars, the second season’s terrible turn, the Space Vampire episode, and more.  

Flight of the Birdman an interview with Thom Christopher (9:10) – the actor who played Hawk discusses how he got the role of Hawk.  Christopher recounts in detail how he got the job, his work with Gerard, Grey, the seduction of acting, and more. 

The Final Thought 

Kino Lorber has outdone themselves with this Blu-Ray set.  HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATIONS! 

Kino Lorber’s Buck Rogers in the 25th Century – The Complete Series is out now

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