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Monday, July 31, 2017

A Return to Buck Rogers: Wilma's Outrage

In "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century," this grand ball is an event to which Buck Rogers has been invited. He feels overwhelmed, and completely uncomfortable, as you can imagine. For it wasn't that long ago that the Artificial Intelligence Overlords had judged him a traitor, and banished him to the wastelands. Although he was granted a reprieve, he has never proven his assertions of his innocence, or his suspicions that Earth is unwise to link itself with Draconia. And yet here he is, expected to dress to the hilt, and act like an important dignitary, at an event which he feels in his heart is a sham, and which will herald the ruin of his planet.

It's not as if anyone on Earth even wants him in the room (aside from his Artificial Intelligence friend Dr. Theopolis, and possibly the drone Twiki). He's here simply as a favor to Princess Ardala, the Draconian would-be-conqueror of Earth. She declares to the Earth dignitaries that he is a hero, for having defended her flagship from the dreaded pirates. Yet he can't help but feel as if he's being played. As he stated earlier at his trial before the AI overlords of Earth, he's like a pawn in a game of chess.

Buck doesn't understand the intricacies of 25th century dance. So when he approaches Princess Ardala, and asks her to dance, she allows him to instruct the orchestra to play something more suited to his tastes. What he requests is something more familiar to him. Something from his past. In the novelization by Richard A Lupoff, as the orchestra begins to play, Buck pops his knuckles, setting up a rocking rhythm, like a famous disco dancer of the ancient past. Everyone in the hall, even the princess, gapes as Buck demonstrates a sexy boogie step of the late 1980s

While everyone in the hall is shocked, and some like Wilma even offended, Ardala is much more uninhibited. She joins Buck in "getting down," and has as much fun as he does. The Earth dignitaries, including Wilma, seem backward and puffed with pride. As a viewer, it's hard to immediately feel for them. It's especially hard to feel for young, beautiful, vivacious Wilma. She seems the most likely to accept societal change. Yet she is appalled, even outraged by Buck's display. 

Imagine if this scene were to play out in Jane Austen's time. What if Buck Rogers had traveled back in time instead of forward? What if Buck had attended a ball in Jane Austen's novel Pride And Prejudice? Remember the scene in Jane Austen's famous novel in which Mr. Collins, the clergyman related to the Bennett family, attempts to introduce himself to Mr. Darcy? Mr. Collins has a strong pastoral and friendly relationship with Mr. Darcy's aunt. Yet Mr. Darcy is affronted that Mr. Collins would personally introduce himself, rather than follow the norms of that time, and wait for a mutual friend to introduce him. How do you think Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy would have reacted to Buck's boogie?

Suddenly, Wilma's outrage over Buck's flaunting of conventions grows more understandable, and a little harder to easily dismiss.

Dragon Dave

Monday, July 24, 2017

A Return to Buck Rogers: Jane Austen in the 25th Century

Earth culture of the 25th Century blends elements from all eras of recorded time (at least what the historians can piece together from surviving culture. Such is the formal dance performed in the novelization of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. As Richard A Lupoff (writing as Addison E Steele) describes in the novelization, the dance is a mixture of minuet and quadrille, ballet and free-form interpretive. As the dancers move, they pass along globes containing lit candles. The chandeliers dim as the dance reaches its climax, producing a fairyland of multicolored fireflies floating on the invisible breeze. 

The dance performed in the film "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century" reminds me more of the formal style portrayed in Jane Austen dramatizations than it does Lupoff's description. Just as I like Jane Austen's novels and dramatizations, there's a strong love for her books and characters in the Science Fiction community. American Science Fiction conventions regularly host Regency Balls, in which participants attend in period dress. I'm not sure why SF fans like Jane Austen and cosplaying Old English societal norms, but her stories are timeless, and things like dressing up and drinking tea are always fun. It's nice that series creator, producer, and pilot co-screenwriter Glen Larson tipped his hat to fans of Science Fiction and Jane Austen in his film.

As the TV series progressed, Larson would lean more on Lupoff's description, and portray much more of a blending of styles and freeform interpretation in episodes containing dances. Sadly, those scenes never matched the elegance Lupoff envisaged, and seem dated by today's standards. But this dance in the pilot is elegant and impressive.

Dragon Dave

Monday, July 17, 2017

A Return to Buck Rogers: Embracing Tyranny

In Richard A Lupoff's novelization Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (originally credited to pen name Addison E Steele), after Princess Ardala appears in the Palace of Mirrors, a live holographic projection of her father, Draco the Conqueror, is transmitted from his palace on his home planet via Ardala's flagship. The crowd of Earth dignitaries gasp and cringe at this gross and menacing figure. Then they politely applaud the power and authority he represents.

As Emperor Draco addresses the crowd, Princess Ardala's top military officer Kane whispers, "There are two things your father enjoys most: spellbinding a crowd and conquering a new world. This is a rare opportunity for him--to do both at once."

While Draco promises eternal peace through this pact, the Earthers see it as nothing more than a mutually beneficial exchange. Lupoff compares Draco to such historical figures as Henry the Eighth and Genghis Khan. It is true that both figures, in their own way, would have been seen by some as liberators. It is also true that many of their subjects would have welcomed such a strong leader to reorganize their society and form a stable government. However, Henry the Eighth and Genghis Khan are mostly remembered for the incredible levels of bloodshed and destruction involved in consolidating their power. 

As an outsider, Buck suspects that Draco will lull Earth with promises of peace, only to use his greater access to the world to sweep aside the existing power structure of Earth and rule it as a subject planet. It's interesting how, in Lupoff's description, the Earthers' initially cringe at Draco. But as their off-world food supply is threatened, the people disregard their first impression, and welcome him for his promise to protect their food shipments.

In the TV film "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century," Draco does not address the Earth dignitaries in the Palace of Mirrors. We only see him at the end. Then he appears as a holographic projection on Princess Ardala's flagship to rant at Kane and Ardala for deciding to attack Earth before the rest of the fleet arrives. It's a one-hundred-and-eighty degree difference between the jowly, obese emperor and the diminutive, wizened ruler. Perhaps the filmmakers rethought, and subsequently recast Draco in this manner to suggest that he often conquered worlds more through subterfuge, and a threat of force, rather than through an actual ability to conquer and maintain power.  

Dragon Dave

Monday, July 10, 2017

A Return to Buck Rogers: The Palace of Mirrors

Within the Palace of Mirrors there were splendid chambers and halls for every purpose and sort, each more magnificent and sumptuous than the next, for all the surviving wealth and all the surviving glory of Earth were represented here. And even so, within the Palace of Mirrors, there was none to compare even remotely, in dazzling magnificence, with the Grand Ballroom.

In the novelization of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (originally credited to the pen name Addison E Steele), Science Fiction and Mystery writer Richard A Lupoff goes on to describe this most heralded and prestigious chamber, set in the most heralded and prestigious building, and in the most heralded and prestigious area of New Chicago, or the Inner City. The ceiling in this regal chamber gives one the impression of a glowing jewel through which colors, spectrums, and intensities of light vary, and never cease to delight the eye. The walls are mirrored, and the floors likewise reflective. 

The effect of being in the room was thus one of being wholly surrounded by, bathed in, permeated, and all but absorbed by a supernatural solution of pure light and tone.

Richard A Lupoff spends several pages explaining how the Grand Ballroom is hung with regal banners and displays. Trumpets sound. Prestigious government personnel of all sorts, both from Earth and Draconia, enter amid much pomp and circumstance. I have no idea how much of this rich description was included in the screenplay written by Glen A Larson and Leslie Stevens, and how much was invented by Richard A Lupoff. In any case, Lupoff paints a picture of a grand affair of state, in which the Earth government pulls out all the stops, and only invites the most important people, to attend this ceremony intended to cement relations between Earth and the Draconian Empire. 

Obviously, a 1970s production crew was never going to pull all this off on a TV budget. I doubt even the movie studios of the time could have reproduced Lupoff's description faithfully. All of which goes to show that, when it comes to exciting our imaginations, books wield far superior power to movies and TV shows. Or at least they did, before computer generated digital effects were available. 

Here's what the TV production pulled off in 1978.

In a way, Richard A Lupoff's novelization serves as journey through time just as startling as Buck's. For Lupoff's novelization of the screenplay written by Glen A Larson and Leslie Stevens could not have been filmed in all its glory when he wrote it back in 1977. But forty years later, in 2017, with the aid of modern techniques (including computer-generated special effects), and with the backing of a powerful movie studio, a new film version of "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century" could be made that would faithfully reproduce the words Lupoff originally put to paper with a plunking, ringing, clickety-clack typewriter. It'd be nice if someone in Hollywood would do that, don't you think?

Dragon Dave