Awakening: Thawing out the themes of Buck Rogers

Opening sequence to Buck Rogers featuring NASA footage of Apollo missions.
Opening sequence to Buck Rogers featuring NASA footage of Apollo missions.

Universal Studios originally planned Buck Rogers in the 25th Century as a series of TV movies. After the Battlestar Galactica TV pilot became a hit movie overseas, the studio chose to launch Buck into space with a theatrical version. The movie was successful and made about $21 million in North America, according to Wikipedia. Networks took notice, and soon Buck Rogers made the jump to a weekly TV series on NBC.

To start the series off, the studio fleshed out the theatrical  version into a two-part pilot episode, Awakening. The differences are minor, however, and the same themes are woven throughout both stories.

Visual effects of Rogers encountering cosmic forces and freezing his life support system.
Visual effects of Rogers encountering cosmic forces and freezing his life support system.

The first minutes of movie is more dramatic than those of the TV version and a better example a major story theme.

We fade into to a black screen with NASA mission chatter counting down for a space launch. Images appear in windows. Stock footage from NASA Apollo missions and special visual effects created by Universal Hartland depict the launch of the ill-fated Ranger 3, its journey past the moon, and fateful encounter with a meteor storm. The prologue ends with Rogers frozen in his cockpit and his shuttle tumbling through space. Deep-voiced actor William Conrad narrates the sequence. He finishes:

For 500 years, Buck Rogers drifted through a world in which reality and fantasy merged into a timeless dream.

Thus, Rogers is lost in time and directionless, a man without a home. Frozen in an indeterminate state, he  dreams.

Buck, frozen in time and space.
Buck, frozen in time and space.

The cheesy James-Bond style title sequence further reinforces the notion. View the movie opening sequence on YouTube.

The music lyrics drive home that point:

What am I, who am I, what will I be?
Where am I going, and what will I see?
Searching my mind for some truth to reveal
What thoughts are fantasy, what memories real?

Many are not fond of the song’s country-waltz style or sappy lyrics, written by Glen Larson and performed by Kipp Lennon, but at least it continues moving the theme forward and sets the stage for adventures to come.

But in the back of our minds, we wonder if any what is to follow just the dreams of a frozen astronaut tumbling through space. It’s a common theme throughout movies. What is reality? Did Buck actually wake up? By the time the second season of the series rolled around, many fans were hoping he was still frozen in the cockpit.

We’ll take a look at a few other themes in the next blog installment.

Published by Scott Davis

Former newspaper journalist, now government webmaster. Life-long geek.