Buck Rogers Rebooted... Right To The Curb
Fanboys who wondered whether Joe Johnston -- the journeyman director behind Jumanji, Jurassic Park III and this year's The Wolf Man -- was the man to make Captain America are this morning likely going to be choking on their Cheetos to learn that Paul WS Anderson, a director whose CV is much, much less inspiring, is bringing Buck Rogers to the big screen... in 3-D, naturally. But the rest of us should care, too.
Even moreso than Superman or Captain America, Buck Rogers is a bona-fide American cultural icon -- and one with real- and reel-world influence. As he raced from his origins in short stories and into comic strips and radio and film serials, Buck brought sci-fi to the masses. Rather than just provide much-needed escapism from the rigors of the Great Depression, his adventures inspired kids in ways that'd change the world.
If that sounds far-fetched, the guys who put man on the moon will set you straight. In Failure Is Not An Option, Gene Krantz, Apollo mission chief, writes of one of his NASA engineers: "Hal Beck . . . grew up, as many of us did, believing in Buck Rogers." The influence extends to this day. Upon his appointment as NASA administrator last year, Charles F. Bolden introduced himself to the media and outlined his dreams with:
I did grow up watching Buck Rogers and Buck Rogers didn't stop at Mars. In my lifetime, I will be incredibly disappointed if we have not at least reached Mars."
The other great influence Buck Rogers had was on Baby Boomer filmmakers, particularly George Lucas. Like Bolden, he grew up with the aforementioned versions still in circulation and with the 1950s TV show. In 1976, talking to the AP about his upcoming film Star Wars he described it as "Buck Rogers updated." The spectacular success of Lucas's sci-fi behemoth was what made it possible for Buck Rogers to get its last major update, the 1979-81 series starring Gil Gerard.
The pilot for that show was released to cinemas -- much as the serials were sometimes cut together into matinee movies -- but there has never been a big-budget Buck Rogers feature made for cinemas. The premise -- present-day man gets put to sleep in a mine/dirigible/etc for 500 years, wakes up to a new world under threat from dictatorship/aliens/etc -- is fittingly timeless and there's now the technology's to do it justice. And though this week it seems every movie announced is to be in 3-D, the process would suit this just fine.
But do we really want the man who gave the world the imagination-deficient Resident Evil, Alien Vs Predator, Death Race and Pandorum behind the camera on what will become by default the definitive version of a story that inspired so many over nine decades? The previously floated Frank Miller adaptation's starting to look pretty good now, even in the wake of The Spirit. But why not a heavy-hitter? In his Paul WS's surname phylum alone, I'd rather see the polar-opposite extremes that'd be delivered by either Wes or Paul Thomas. Hell, Gillian directed an episode of The X-Files and has moved into producing -- give her a shot. She's more beloved by sci-fi fans, that's for sure.
What's next? Uwe Boll's A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court?