Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (Blu-ray Review)
Release Date(s)1979 (November 24, 2020)
Studio(s)Universal Pictures (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B-
In the year 1987, NASA launched the last of its deep space probes, commanded by Captain William “Buck” Rogers (Gil Gerard). During the mission, Buck suddenly encountered strange forces that resulted in his ship being thrown off course and his body being perfectly frozen in suspended animation. 500 years later, Buck’s ship is rescued from deep space and he’s revived in perfect health... awaking to a world that’s changed more than he could ever have imagined. Earth has been devastated by war and the surviving humans now live in domed cities, protected by Colonel Wilma Deering (Erin Gray) and her Earth Directorate space forces. When Buck returns to the planet, the Directorate is negotiating with the Draconian Empire for badly needed supplies (as Earth can no longer sustain itself). Secretly, however, the Draconians’ Princess Ardala (Pamela Hensley) and her henchmen plan to attack and take over the planet. Only Buck sees through their subterfuge, yet Wilma thinks he’s a spy for the Draconians and is reluctant to trust him.
Based on the classic newspaper strip and film serial character created by Philip Francis Nowland in 1928, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century was developed for television by producer Glen Larson. The original plan was to make a series of TV movies for NBC, but after the success of Star Wars in 1977, as well as the theatrical success of Larson’s Battlestar Galactica pilot in 1978, Universal opted first to release the Buck Rogers pilot film into theaters. The resulting box office returns were strong enough to convince NBC to commission the property as a weekly TV series, which subsequently aired for two seasons from 1979 to 1981.
Kino Lorber Studio Classics’s Blu-ray release presents that original feature film version of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century for the first time ever in full 1080p HD at its 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio and with a running time of 89:03. It offers footage missing from the 2-part TV syndication version (known as Awakening), including Kane’s communication with Emperor Draco, the alternate “sexy” Bond-like opening credits, different William Conrad opening narration, slightly more adult language deemed suitable for theaters but not for TV (including Buck calling Wilma “ballsy” and Twiki saying that he’s “freezing his ball-bearings off”), and a few moments of tame violence edited from the TV syndication version. It’s also missing an additional scene found at the end of the TV version (in which Dr. Huer and Wilma offer Buck a job at the Earth Defense Directorate) which sets up the series.
The Blu-ray is mastered from a brand new 2K scan of archival film elements. The image quality is surprisingly good—better than I expected actually. Contrast is excellent with deep blacks yet a surprising amount of shadow detail. Overall image detail is good and nicely refined, though a few shots are optically soft and obviously VFX shots (that have been through the optical printer) are a little soft as well. Grain levels are light to medium, but organic. Colors are actually nicely vibrant and accurate—the blues and reds are definitely bolder than you may recall them from all those years of TV viewing. This is a lovely presentation and one that you’ll appreciate more the longer you watch.
Audio is offered in the original English 2.0 mono in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio format. The soundstage is front and center as you might expect, though modestly wide. The track offers good overall clarity and little in the way of age-related artifacts. Dialogue is clean and the score by Stu Phillips is presented with pleasing fidelity. Optional English titles are also available.
Kino’s Blu-ray release actually includes some nice extras, among them:
- Audio Commentary with Steve Mitchell and Nathaniel Thompson
- Radio Spots (audio with HD images – 2 spots – 1:22 in all)
- 9-Minute Special Theatrical Preview (HD – 9:23)
- Theatrical Trailer (HD – 3:29)
The video features are all in HD, though the 9-Minute Preview is of much higher quality than the trailer. The commentary is also quite enjoyable, with film historians Mitchell and Thompson packing lots of interesting trivia, production anecdotes, and other behind-the-scenes details into the track’s 89-minute running time.
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century is campy to be sure but also good fun, and Gerard does much to keep things lively and entertaining. It’s a pleasure to finally see the theatrical pilot film in this level of quality. Kino Lorber Studio Classics offers it on Blu-ray by itself, and also in a box set that includes both seasons of the TV series on Blu-ray. Whichever version you choose, if you recall Buck Rogers fondly from your childhood, this disc is certainly recommended.
- Bill Hunt
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