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March 9, 2014 9:14 AM   Subscribe

After the success of releasing the television pilot for Battlestar Galactica in movie theaters (in Sensurround) in 1978, Universal Pictures decided on a theatrical release for it's other science fiction TV series: Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. The film version of the pilot was essentially the same as what later appeared on NBC... except with a very different style of opening credits and theme song.
posted by jca (82 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'd love to see the BG reboot on the big screen. And the pilot episode of Lost.
posted by double bubble at 9:19 AM on March 9 [2 favorites]


Wow, I remember that my grandmother took my brother and I to see the movie and she was suspicious that we got her to take us to a move that appeared to be about floating women.
posted by cgk at 9:21 AM on March 9


My mom probably wouldn't have let me watch Buck Rogers on TV if they kept the same opening credits.
posted by birdherder at 9:26 AM on March 9 [2 favorites]


Because of the Buck Rogers opening credits, as a child I thought of 1987 as a nearly incomprehensible future time. I could barely comprehend that the world would keep going after 1987 or that the world would be so different that I'd barely be able to function in it. I spent a good deal of 1980 and 1981 in deep terror of the coming doom.
posted by double bubble at 9:26 AM on March 9 [4 favorites]


I'm a little disappointed that every person mentioning in the credits wasn't lolling around on the giant lit-up letters.
posted by RakDaddy at 9:27 AM on March 9 [4 favorites]


Man, the Buck Rogers show was such a huge part of my childhood for a while. I distinctly remember only two things about it: it came on right after Dance Fever with Denny Terrio, and I was going to grow up and marry Erin Gray.

Not long ago it was on Netflix and I revisited it and ... yeah, don't revisit shows from that time period that you have fond memories of. The memories are better.
posted by jbickers at 9:28 AM on March 9 [10 favorites]


That intro sequence was like James Bond Lite, which is kind of what the show was like according to Wikipedia.
posted by infinitewindow at 9:28 AM on March 9 [2 favorites]


Wow, the science-babble in the intro voice-over is way worse than I remember.
posted by octothorpe at 9:31 AM on March 9


This is crazy. I had no idea that they had theatrical releases of broadcast TV shows back in the day.
posted by SpacemanStix at 9:36 AM on March 9


Not long ago it was on Netflix and I revisited it and ... yeah, don't revisit shows from that time period that you have fond memories of. The memories are better.

The new BG is a good proxy for my memories of the old BG.
posted by double bubble at 9:43 AM on March 9


BEEDEEBEEDEEBEEDEE TRAPPED IN THE 70S BUCK
posted by Katemonkey at 9:49 AM on March 9 [19 favorites]


That intro sequence was like James Bond Lite, which is kind of what the show was like according to Wikipedia.

I tried watching some of the series on Netflix not too long ago. It's painfully early '80s TV, so I didn't watch it all. Some aspects were pretty neat, others were just cringe-worthy cliches and cheap production values. But what I really dug was the contrast between the new Earth gov't and civilization's idealism and Buck's '80s Cold War cynicism and willingness to play dirty. The fact that he grew up and lived in an era where nobody trusted one another was a huge advantage for him.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 9:51 AM on March 9


Also, that original film opener is hilariously bad.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 9:55 AM on March 9


Are those letters that the women are posing alluringly on supposed to give them a tan while they're in space?
posted by planetesimal at 9:56 AM on March 9 [1 favorite]


Even without that opening, the TV show episodes managed to get a surprising amount of crap past the radar. I don't know which episode was worse about it, the one where Gil Gerard ended up up on the auction block, topless, or the one with the remote controlled submissive's collar.

I know I say this about lots of different pop culture, but there's at least a few things about myself that I can directly blame this show for.
posted by radwolf76 at 9:59 AM on March 9 [3 favorites]


I'm a little disappointed that every person mentioning in the credits wasn't lolling around on the giant lit-up letters.

Not in the credits, but I immediately pictured Dr. Theopolis rolling through the frame.
posted by codswallop at 10:04 AM on March 9 [5 favorites]


That BG commercial is really weird. Spaceships! People... smiling at a robotic dog while a drunk guy narrates a security film? LASERS!
posted by selfnoise at 10:07 AM on March 9 [1 favorite]


That intro sequence was like James Bond Lite, which is kind of what the show was like according to Wikipedia.

The first season was James Bond Lite...IIIN SPAAAAACE! In the second season, everyone hopped into a big starship for some reason and it turned into Star Trek Lite featuring a bird-dude as the Spock analog.

I've said it before, but I still maintain that Buck Rogers is ripe for a Ronald Moore-style "reiminagining." The setting has as much grimdark as you might want to play with, and you could play up that Buck can't really know who to trust (especially if they keep the bit about oppressed starving mutants that aren't allowed in the cities). Also new versions of starfighters that are basically the same but less disco! As an added bonus, the original doesn't have the religious trappings that the original BSG did, so they could avoid being boxed in by it.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:14 AM on March 9 [4 favorites]


So the future is a like a porn fantasy come to life except for some reason people still need to wear glasses.
posted by juiceCake at 10:21 AM on March 9 [2 favorites]


5,460 Google hits for "Buck Rogers Reboot". When you consider that the Tarzan reboot is a greenlit major motion picture and there are only 16,000 hits for "Tarzan Reboot" - that feels like demand.
posted by MattD at 10:21 AM on March 9 [1 favorite]


I fear that some members of the audience may have felt that there was a bait-and-switch once Tim O'Connor and Henry Kane actually appeared on the screen.
posted by thomas j wise at 10:46 AM on March 9


Good grief, that was 1979?!? So long ago! But yeah, I too was glued to the TV every week, although ROU_Xenophobe is right, the first season was best.

Gil Gerard was hot.
posted by easily confused at 10:51 AM on March 9 [2 favorites]


I spent a good deal of 1980 and 1981 in deep terror of the coming doom.

This was not irrational. The Cold War probably was at its most unstable as the USSR was beginning to fall apart. There were some close calls.
posted by stbalbach at 10:53 AM on March 9 [1 favorite]


I vastly prefer Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 10:55 AM on March 9 [5 favorites]


The only way that opening could be any more 70s is if Buck Rogers had a pet rock.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 11:00 AM on March 9


Who thought it was a good idea to have the star of the show sleep through the opening credits?
posted by plastic_animals at 11:17 AM on March 9 [1 favorite]


Just a few of the other 1970s TV series that released theatrical versions of broadcast shows (sometimes two or more episodes edited into one feature length release), often outside of of the U.S and Canada only...


Captain America

The Incredible Hulk

The Incredible Hulk 2

Galactica 1980

And many more...
posted by acroyear at 11:22 AM on March 9


South Park's version of the opening.
posted by justkevin at 11:37 AM on March 9 [2 favorites]


Huh. The the theme song had lyrics. Who knew? I watched this show every week when I was a kid and enduring memory of it (beyond the awesome spaceships) was that almost every episode ended up with the cast awkwardly dancing back in a Space Disco, a joke is made by Twiki (or at his expense), everyone laughs and SCENE!
posted by KingEdRa at 11:38 AM on March 9


I saw Buck Rogers in the theaters and remember there was also a pretty aggressive merchandising campaign going on at the same time. I had a Twiki action figure before the series was aired on TV.
posted by cazoo at 11:51 AM on March 9


So much cynicism. I defy anyone to tell me three ways that opening credit is better or different than True Detective.

And I suspect theres a whole generation of us with a fetish for spandex bodysuits due exclusively to Erin Grey. That shit got imprinted, hard.
posted by Keith Talent at 11:52 AM on March 9 [3 favorites]


Is it sad that I know Buck Rogers is actually frozen for 504 years, without needing to look it up? Obviously it is.

Gil Gerard was hot.

Really? Even to me as an 8 year old he seemed a bit crap. A trifle paunchy for an action hero and with a near obsessive focus on chatting women up by asking them to boogie. Compared well with Hawk though, a departure nearly as shit as Galactica 1980.

Note to future show runners: I was only allowed to watch this as my dad fancied Princess Ardala.
posted by biffa at 11:52 AM on March 9


Erin Grey was pretty hot but wasn't there some anti-heroine who tried to trap Buck and make him her love slave? I distinctly remember diaphanous peach-colored clothing. And Buck forced to wear a vest.

(Or was that just some early fantisization by my prepubescent unconscious?)
posted by armoir from antproof case at 11:54 AM on March 9 [1 favorite]


The only way that opening could be any more 70s is if Buck Rogers had a pet rock.

Dr. Theopolis was Twiki's computerized pet rock.
posted by radwolf76 at 11:58 AM on March 9 [1 favorite]


Wow, Tim O'Connor, Henry Silva, and Joseph Wiseman were much sexier ladies than I remember.

Goofy folk singers and Maruce Binder ripoffs aside, I think I would have found that first part pretty scary on the big screen as a kid.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:59 AM on March 9 [1 favorite]


I would pay twenty bucks to see the original 3-hour broadcast version of the original Battlestar Galactica pilot. In order to cram it into a 1.5 hour theatrical release they edited it to incomprehensibility and eliminated several characters, and that shortened version is the only one that was ever shown again or released on video.
posted by localroger at 12:03 PM on March 9 [1 favorite]


(Farscape was the reboot of Buck Rogers)
posted by jepler at 12:07 PM on March 9 [7 favorites]


Not in the credits, but I immediately pictured Dr. Theopolis rolling through the frame.

Total Diet Coke snort moment there. And then Twiki does a Sharon Stone leg cross/uncross.

Erin Grey was pretty hot but wasn't there some anti-heroine who tried to trap Buck and make him her love slave?

Princess Ardala! Played by tha lady from Matt Houston. She had all kind of cool headdresses made out of her Mom's old costume jewelry. She was a lot like the mean princess on Tales of the Gold Monkey.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:08 PM on March 9 [1 favorite]


Underpants Monster FTW
Thank you

My day is now devoured by the Internets

Google Image Search here I come
posted by armoir from antproof case at 12:14 PM on March 9


Gosh, that trailer. Buck Rogers' wet dream of the 25th century, I was disappointed that Twiki didn't show up in a metallic pant suit.
posted by arcticseal at 12:15 PM on March 9 [1 favorite]


OMG that was a seriously inappropriate amount if cleavage for young impressionable Me to have seen

This explains so so much of what's happened during the past thirty years
posted by armoir from antproof case at 12:20 PM on March 9


I spent a good deal of 1980 and 1981 in deep terror of the coming doom.

This was not irrational. The Cold War probably was at its most unstable as the USSR was beginning to fall apart. There were some close calls.


Wow - I never thought of the two things being related. But I think you are right, the general feeling of doom in the real world coupled with the fictional doom of Buck Rogers' fateful flight got all mushed together in my kid brain.
posted by double bubble at 12:30 PM on March 9


Say what you like about Battlestar Galactica, but witnessing the home world explode in Sensurround at age eleven years is one of maybe five things I can clearly recall from 1978. An experience never to be reproduced, it makes me glad to have been born when I was.
posted by JimInLoganSquare at 12:44 PM on March 9 [3 favorites]


One of the reasons I'm cynical about the enduring hype of the Star Wars franchise is that my key aesthetic film influences as an impressionable preteen in the same timeframe were Buck Rogers (saw it in the theater), Battlestar Galactica (saw it in the theater), and the astoundingly WTF Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band film (saw it in the theater—THREE TIMES), which formed a trifecta of glitzy disco madness in shiny shiny satin pants to compliment my adolescent horniness over Joseph Bottoms in The Black Hole, in which they were searching for "habitable life" in the universe with a gay robot who wasn't nearly the insufferable prick Anthony Daniels was is.

Good taste is fine, and yeah, they were all sort of aping SW, but give me disco-ass Ardala in horns and Gil showing us his circumcision status and fucking Julie Newmar as a war witch any day.

I come from a tasteless planet encrusted in satin and sequins, shot with a starburst diffraction grating, and that's before I discovered Divine, for pete's sake. Marlo Thomas may have made me gay, but Dr. Theopolis made me glamorous.

And P.S. Wonder Woman. All that spinning around the yard!
posted by sonascope at 12:52 PM on March 9 [11 favorites]


sonascope: My God, it's as if Liberace was the secret force behind the explosion of film SF in the late 1970's.

I guess that explains the REAL reason George Lucas got the San Francisco Armory rezoned as a film studio, amirite?
posted by localroger at 12:56 PM on March 9 [1 favorite]


Erin Grey. 'Nuff said.
posted by NedKoppel at 12:57 PM on March 9


Good God, Gil Gerard is now 71! Thanks for that NedKoppel.
posted by biffa at 1:02 PM on March 9


I remember watching an episode where Deering was locked in a room with telekinetic dwarves and nasty hijinks threatened to happen.
posted by ZeusHumms at 1:03 PM on March 9


Also, let's not forget the 1939-1979 crossover.

You go, Buster Crabbe!
posted by sonascope at 1:07 PM on March 9 [5 favorites]


I saw the Sexy Lady credits a few years ago and couldn't figure out what on earth they were for -- obviously no network TV show in 1979 would begin that way, but maybe this was part of a sales pitch? -- so thanks for the explanation. I wonder what demographic they imagined going to see the show theatrically...
posted by kittens for breakfast at 1:19 PM on March 9


That was quality sonascape, that may have been my first ever full geekout.
posted by biffa at 1:36 PM on March 9


Thanks to this thread, I've popped Spiritualised on for the first time in ages. Awesome way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
posted by arcticseal at 2:01 PM on March 9


biffa,
At the time a little bit paunchy was perfectly acceptable for an action here. Not everyone had to have perfectly cut abs and well-defined hip bones. Even the women were allowed to have a bit of flesh on them (gasp!). Now maybe Gil had a bit more than some of his cohorts, but those spacesuits certainly didn't do anything to hide his flaws.
posted by sardonyx at 2:38 PM on March 9 [3 favorites]


I'd love to see the BG reboot on the big screen.

I think they could successfully make it into a movie, like Macross and Macross:DYRL.

I would only actually want to watch it if they just deleted the rest of the show after they get stranded on the planet in the camp and just write a completely different ending though. I'm still bitter about the, for lack of a better term, blue balls that show left me with. I can't even enjoy the campy old show because of the associations.
posted by emptythought at 2:48 PM on March 9


I still have a garbled memory of the lyrics from the movie theme song despite having only heard it that one time 35 years ago. I think the TV show premiered after I saw the film — I remember I was very disappointed the TV theme song didn't have the words.
posted by gubo at 3:34 PM on March 9


I believe "I'll be in my bunk" is the correct punchline to watching the credits sequence.

But seriously, great find.
posted by artlung at 4:26 PM on March 9 [2 favorites]


I've won more than a few bar bets by knowing the words to that theme song.
posted by Cyrano at 4:35 PM on March 9 [1 favorite]


Re: Erin Gray and my love of her, she had this observation in an interview:

"I’ve learned to recognise that there’s a certain age group of gentlemen between about 36 and 43 – we’re walking down the street and all of a sudden you see the lights go on behind the eyes. What I’ve found from going to the events is that obviously I helped a lot of young teenage boys go through puberty!"
posted by zardoz at 4:50 PM on March 9 [8 favorites]


I saw Buck Rogers at the gorgeously ornate State Theatre in Sydney. When the lights go down it's a little bit creepy in there, what with all the dimly-lit art-deco statues and whatnot, and my friend's developmentally-delayed little brother went berserk.

My friend hauled his brother outside, and I stayed in my seat, because surely they'd be back soon, and because I got to go to the movies once every school holidays, and because this was sci-fi. The movie was pretty good, I remember. Not Star Wars good, but OK.

When I left my friend was pissed off, man. He'd been sitting in that foyer for an hour and a half keeping his little brother entertained. Not a great day, as it turned out. So my memory of that film is tainted with lingering feelings of guilt. I was a bad friend that day.
posted by misterbee at 5:01 PM on March 9


Erin frickin' Gray FTW. Man was I in love with her when I was 10 years old.
posted by photoslob at 5:53 PM on March 9


Erin Gray and I share a birthday.
posted by mikelieman at 6:13 PM on March 9


Like some others upthread, I too recently tried to rewatch the TV series. And like the others upthread, let me also caution you to not do this.

For me Erin Gray > Slave Leia.
posted by snwod at 6:40 PM on March 9 [3 favorites]


This is reminding me of the time when a house mate meant to bring home Flash Gordon from the video store, but picked up Flesh Gordon instead. Best mistake he ever made.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 9:32 PM on March 9 [2 favorites]


Has anyone identified the reason that Star Wars never looks dated but every other late-1970s/early-1980s science fiction movie looks exactly like the time period of its production?

I watched this Buck Rogers show and I watched the original Battlestar Galactica. Even though I was an enthusiastic viewer at the time, I could recognize that these TV shows were knock-offs, that they were shows made by actors in California. The space headquarters in Buck Rogers was a cheesy luxury hotel in downtown Los Angeles, you could see it from all over downtown. The men had these silly hair styles requiring a lot of grooming and hairspray. (Seeing the Getty Center in the last Star Trek movie had a similarly awe-removing effect.)
posted by kenlayne at 11:45 PM on March 9


Does everyone reading this thread realize that Erin Grey just starred in the second episode of Star Trek Continues?
posted by trackofalljades at 12:46 AM on March 10


My love for Sensurround is only surpassed by my love for Erin Gray. Although I gather that neither has aged very well.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 3:29 AM on March 10


Has anyone identified the reason that Star Wars never looks dated but every other late-1970s/early-1980s science fiction movie looks exactly like the time period of its production?

The one properly innovative thing Lucas did while knocking off old movie serials, writing awful dialogue, and giving Joseph Campbell wet dreams was to make the future look futuristic by making it look already worn out, which is what the present often looks like, even though it's the future to, say, 1911.

The rest of 'em were hung up on the old-fashioned "Gee whiz, Mr. Science! The Futurama Pavilion sure looks neato!" future, which, if you're shooting anywhere in Southern California, looked just as horrible as Southern California, with everything under a shiny new skin of stucco, big sheets of brushed aluminum veneers, slabby glass everywhere, and beigey plastics and masonry.

It's why the future of 1978 usually looks like the convention center of 1971, and a reminder of what the hell has always been wrong with Roddenberry, which is why Star Trek: The Next Generation looks so embarrassingly awful now, like it was shot in the beige and burgundy (with fake wood trim) business meeting facility at a Sheraton, even though it was shot on purpose-built sets. There's a reason Bang & Olufsen abandoned the plain black glass touchscreen look not long after ST:TNG took it up, and that's the grim reality that, if the future truly looked like it does onscreen, the corporation that manufactures Windex would own the Earth.
posted by sonascope at 3:40 AM on March 10 [8 favorites]


I saw this at the drive-in with my dad when I was 12. It was on with 'Starman'. 'Starman' was sooooooo much better. I hated that bloody robot and its stupid beedleybeedley so much that I refused to ever watch the tv series.
posted by h00py at 4:38 AM on March 10


Speaking of sci-fi cheese on the same tip as Buck Rogers, I would heartily recommend the barely watchable television camp classics Space Academy and Jason of Star Command. The former features Jonathan Harris with a mustache and super-annoying child actor Pamelyn Ferdin as super-annoying child actor Pamelyn Ferdin, while the latter has Sid Haig as a cyborgish bad guy and Tamara motherfreeeeaking Dobson, and both share the entire sound library of Filmation (6 sound effects!) and scoring brilliance of Filmation (cues straight from the Star Trek animated series!).

Then, of course, there's Quark, which is a thing unto itself.
posted by sonascope at 4:58 AM on March 10 [2 favorites]


sonascope, how could you forget that Jason of Star Command also starred the bizarrely mustachioed James Doohan?
posted by hanov3r at 6:02 AM on March 10


Yep, I did forget to add that. I think Tamara Dobson overwhelmed my insane star turns register. Plus, there's the distinctively fluttergay Charlie Dell.
posted by sonascope at 6:30 AM on March 10


Erin Gray was also good lookin' in Silver Spoons.

Jason Bateman! Alfonso Ribiero!
posted by Chrysostom at 7:18 AM on March 10 [1 favorite]


I loved this show as a kid but these days I can't even make it past the shape of Twiki's head. I mean who thought that was a good look?
posted by The Violet Cypher at 7:22 AM on March 10


Plus, there's the distinctively fluttergay Charlie Dell.

When I first saw that, I didn't look carefully and thought you were referring to the Charly Doll. Mine was older and used by the time I got her in the early 1980's, but she was well-cared-for and had her original clothes and package. She was rather fetching, in an Olivia Hussey/Jenny Agutter sort of way.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:49 AM on March 10 [1 favorite]


Huh. The the theme song had lyrics. Who knew?

Trivia: the theme for Star Trek also has lyrics, written by Roddenberry. Here it is accompanied by theremin, like ya do.

According to lore, he never intended that the lyrics be used, but attaching them to the theme meant that he got paid every time the theme aired.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:53 AM on March 10 [1 favorite]


Holy crap, reading "Charly" from the mention of Charly Doll instantly put the damn soundtrack to the absurd musical Charlie And Algernon into that horrible earworm place in my brain.

I'm having full-on nostalgia-related dementia, I think.

Is there a Hallmark Channel for us Gen X folks?
posted by sonascope at 10:21 AM on March 10


There's a reason Bang & Olufsen abandoned the plain black glass touchscreen look not long after ST:TNG took it up, and that's the grim reality that, if the future truly looked like it does onscreen, the corporation that manufactures Windex would own the Earth.

When I was in college, my friend and I wanted to write a spec script about the maintenance crew of the Enterprise that just went around wiping down screens.

*kssht ksssht*
*squeaka squeaka squeaka*
"There you go, Commander."
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 10:26 AM on March 10 [4 favorites]


Erin Grey was pretty hot but wasn't there some anti-heroine who tried to trap Buck and make him her love slave?

Colonel Wilma Deering vs. Princess Ardala
posted by homunculus at 10:25 PM on March 10


I believe Princess Ardala (Pamela Hensley) is the woman in the silver bikini. I was pre-puberty (ages 9-10) when Buck Rogers aired, but I thought she was very pretty. But Colonel Wilma Deering was a pilot too! C'mon that's really cool.

There's a line in an obscure song (None of the Above, by a band called "The Bears" (Adrian Belew played guitar and sang in it!)) -- "Shiny women / on a yacht / these are things / I have not" -- and the women on the 1980s Buck Rogers remind me of that line.
posted by artlung at 12:02 PM on March 11


I loved this show as a kid but these days I can't even make it past the shape of Twiki's head. I mean who thought that was a good look?

There was (maybe still is) a retro channel or 2 here in Toronto and Buck Rogers, Wonder Woman, Dukes of Hazzard, etc., are unfathomably awful. I can understand why kids liked them but I wonder how the hell adults lived through these shows. I suppose it was primarily all there was. We have a lot of bad stuff today as well, such as Sherlock and Doctor Who, but they're better produced.
posted by juiceCake at 9:32 PM on March 14


No mention of the original Buck book?
For shame!
It's great. Buck wakes up and goes to war against the Han.
They're totally evil Chinese who rule the world.

(Actually, in many ways the TV show was superior to the book. I saw this as the movies way back when, and was always haunted by the post-apocalyptic scenes in San Fransisco (as I was with 'Miri' in Star Trek).
I was always sad Buck never kicked around the ruins a lot more, and instead spent time dancing with Space Disco pants in gold lame.
posted by Mezentian at 11:02 PM on March 21 [1 favorite]


I was always sad Buck never kicked around the ruins a lot more, and instead spent time dancing with Space Disco pants in gold lame.

That certainly would have made for some compelling TV. I got the idea, though, that he was more of a life-is-for-the-living sort of guy who didn't mind talking about his life in the old days, but who wouldn't dwell on morbid reminders of its destruction.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:21 AM on March 22


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