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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A Return to Buck Rogers: Eating & Drinking in the 25th Century

In the movie "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century," Colonel Wilma Deering escorts Buck throughout New Chicago. Surrounded by the fabulous architecture of the future, she tells him a little about the apocalypse that nearly destroyed the Earth. Eventually, they end up in a restaurant, or at least a seating area where people might gather and enjoy drinks. But we don't see them eating or drinking in the movie.

In fact, eating and drinking seem to be activities largely confined to the past. People in New Chicago, also called the Inner City, seem to largely get by on food disks. These food disks are produced by food grown off-planet. Recently, pirates have attacked food shipments. Thus, Earth hopes to forge a treaty with the Draconian Empire to police space shipping lanes.

In the novelization written by Richard Lupoff (writing as Addison E Steele), Wilma leads him to a table in the mall. When a waiter appears, she orders two glasses of Vinol, a synthetic wine. "Okay," Buck replies. "Then let's make it two or three. I'd like to get nice and drunk." 

"We're a culture of moderation," Wilma responds. "Everything is carefully balanced. If somebody ruins a serving of food, or greedily consumes two when he's only entitled to one, then somebody else goes without a meal that day. What you would call immoderation, just a petty foible in your world--is a crime in mine. And criminals are invited to leave the Inner City." 

So in the original conception of the story, New Chicago appears far less a utopia than in the film. Life there is hand-to-mouth, and drunkenness and overeating is a crime. Sin against society too much, and you get exiled into the radiation-ruined wasteland. 

In the subsequent TV series, Buck continually tries to breathe a little life into a largely sterile society. One way he does this is by attempting to grow and making his own food and wine. Doctor Huer and Wilma view this as an eccentric quirk to be accommodated and politely overlooked. Had the characters and stories stuck more closely to the original screenplay (upon which Lupoff based his novelization), perhaps these leaders of New Chicago would have applauded his efforts, or even hailed them as a hope for making Earth truly self-sustaining.

But then, who wants to watch "Buck Rogers: Hydroponics and Wine-Making in the 25th Century?"

Dragon Dave

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A Return to Buck Rogers: The Importance of Chicago

At first, Commander Kane believes that Buck Rogers has been preserved for 500 years. Then another idea occurs to his suspicious mind: what if Buck is part of an elaborate ruse to investigate Princess Ardala and himself, before they reach Earth and negotiate a treaty with the Draconian Empire? Nonetheless, Kane and Ardala allow him to return to Earth, and wait to see what happens.

Once Buck arrives on Earth, he waits in a room for hours, while investigators study his ship. Then Doctor Huer comes in, accompanied by the drone Twikki. Hanging from Twikki's neck is Doctor Theopolis, one member of a super race of computers that exists apart from Humanity. They have evolved into a separate life form, and program their descendants without the aid or interference of Humans. These computers run the Inner City, and even as important a man as Dr. Huer must still bow to their dictates.

Dr. Huer is a kindly man who attempts to ease Buck's arrival in the 25th Century by telling him that he has arrived at the coordinates originally programmed into his space shuttle. The Inner City is also called New Chicago, and is built upon the ruins of the old city. Whatever dangers the U.S. President in the 1980s foresaw (remember, Buck Rogers was developed and filmed in the late seventies, during the Carter presidency, before Reagan took the reins, and long before he proposed his Star Wars defense plan), wars devastated the globe after Buck left Earth. These wars left civilization in ruins, and nearly drove Humans to extinction. But at least Buck has returned to the land of his youth, even if it is drastically changed from when he lived there.

Through the process of reading the novel, and then watching the movie again, these questions struck me powerfully. Why should the space shuttle have been programmed to land in Chicago? Chicago seems a bizarre choice for a 20th Century space shuttle landing site. In the real world, in the 1980s and beyond, the shuttle returned to Earth in Florida, with the occasional landing in New Mexico or California. So I have to wonder what made the writers think that 20th Century Chicago could host a space shuttle landing. (And why it should land there, when it would then need to be transported back to Florida anyway?) Further, what makes 20th Century Chicago so unique in people's minds that it should serve as Buck Rogers' home, as well as the seed from which New Chicago, the home of civilization on 25th Century Earth, should sprout.

I guess one day I'll have to visit Chicago. Perhaps that will help me understand why the space shuttles should have landed there, and the unique importance of the city that inspired the writers of "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century." Then, along with Buck, I can sing, "Chicago, Chicago, you're my kind of town."

Dragon Dave

Monday, April 24, 2017

A Return to Buck Rogers: Ardala's First Impression

In the opening prologue of the movie "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century,' we learn that Buck blasts off from Cape Canaveral in Florida, and experiences freak conditions in space that preserve his body, while his ship floats aimlessly through space for 500 years. Richard Lupoff, writing the novelization as Addison Steele, elaborates on this prologue sequence beautifully. He describes a passing swarm of meteors that surround the spaceship, and how the impact of these small pieces of space debris release a mix of gases inside the hull. 

I suppose I should take a moment to discuss the role of cryogenics here, as I mentioned it in a post last month. But I already discussed the topic at length in a post last month, so I'll just reiterate that the movie prologue, and Lupoff's writing, do their job. We're sold on the idea that Buck Rogers could awaken after five hundred years without any negative aftereffects. (I was sold far more effectively, in both instances, than H. G. Wells manages in The Sleeper Awakes, a 1910 rewrite of his earlier novel, When The Sleeper Wakes). We don't really even think about it, because we're anxious to get on with the story. So I'll shut up on cryogenics, and get on with the next topic.

Five hundred years later, Princess Ardala and Commander Kane bring the space shuttle aboard their flagship, and wake him up. This is our first impression of Buck: he's out-of-it, physically and mentally. He's in no fit state to fathom his presence on a spaceship from another planet. Nor is he aware of how much time has passed. So he asks for an aspirin to clear his head. Instead, the Draconian doctors inject him with a tranquilizer that leaves him punch drunk, and even less able to perceive his present reality from his centuries of dreams.

For some reason, this scene has always been especially memorable to me. Buck is clearly dopey, and is incapable of answering Kane's questions. Nor does he seem to notice the strange appearance of Ardala's bodyguard, the mutant Tigerman. All he can focus on is Princess Ardala's beauty. It's an interesting beginning in Buck and Ardala's relationship, one that made Ardala think less of him initially, as women tend to despise men who get overwhelmed and tongue-tied by their beauty.

Of course, Ardala changes her opinion of him later, after he has demonstrated his bravery, tenacity, and he singles her out at the Ball...

Dragon Dave

Friday, April 21, 2017

A Return to Buck Rogers: Terror in the Skies

It's been decades since I read the novelization of "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century". For all that time it has taken up space in my bookshelves. When a friend helped me move to my current house, he continually marveled at all the boxes labeled "Books" he carried to and from the moving truck. So was it the book worth keeping (and carrying) around? Was it worth reading again? Did it offer a uniquely different experience from the movie? 

I decided it was about time to find out.

In the prologue of the novelization of the Glen Larson and Leslie Stevens' script, credited to Addison E. Steele (a pen name for Science Fiction writer Richard A. Lupoff), we learn there is some need perceived, at the highest levels of the United States government, for a deep space mission. The President gathers senators in the Pentagon, and tells them that this must happen. Then instead of chipping away at the budget, or going on TV to state why they will (or will not) support this program, they return to the Senate and vote to fully fund a five month mission to chart the planets of our solar system.

Perhaps on the President's mind is the network of satellites that circle Earth. These satellites eavesdrop on all Earth communications, and occasionally destroy satellites from rival countries with powerful laser beams. Perhaps the "bald truth" the President tells the Senators is a swarm of meteorites heading toward Earth. Perhaps it is both the threat of the constant state of "musical chairs" played by armed satellites and the threat of annihilation similar to that which drove the dinosaurs to extinction. Let's face it: in 1979, when the script and book were written, those fears were as valid as they still are today. 

When the space ship is finished, it blasts off from Cape Canaveral in Florida. In so doing, it brings the dreams of H. G. Wells, Jules Verne, and other Science Fiction writers Lupoff admired, such as Edmund Hamilton, Jack Williamson, Hugo Gernsback, John W. Campbell, and Hamilton's wife Leigh Brackett. Surprisingly, Lupoff doesn't mention Edgar Rice Burroughs in this list. In Science Fiction circles, Lupoff is acknowledged as an expert on the creator of Tarzan and John Carter of Mars. But then, Burroughs did not send John Carter to Mars aboard a rocketship, let alone a space shuttle.

What will happen to Earth after Buck Rogers leaves is not apparent, or even hinted at, in the movie. But in the book, we perceive a worried world leader who mobilizes Congress in a way that has not happened since Kennedy's Moon missions. This, along with the constant tussle of the satellites orbiting the Earth, gives us some indication of what will occur after Buck leaves Earth, which adds a different dimension to my understanding of "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century."

Dragon Dave