RELEASED TO theaters in 1979, six months before the series debuted on TV, "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century" is the pilot to the show, renamed "Awakening" for the series.
THE STORY: In 1987 Captain William "Buck" Rogers (Gil Gerard) solo-pilots a space shuttle when a meteor storm freezes him into an orbit that returns him to Earth 500 years later. The shuttle is discovered in 2491 by the Draconian flagship under the command of Princess Ardala (Pamela Hensley) and her first officer, Kane (Henry Silva). They return Rogers to Earth where he meets Col. Wilma Deering (Erin Gray), Dr. Elias Huer (Tim O'Connor) and a curiously phallus-looking robot drone, Twiki (voiced by Mel Blanc), accompanied by the A.I. computer Dr. Theopolis (voiced by Howard F. Flynn). Buck learns that Earth suffered a planet-wide nuclear holocaust shortly after he launched into space, which has made Earth a wasteland, except for the impressively rebuilt New Chicago and some other cities. As Buck adjusts to the 25th century, he must convince the Terrans that the Draconians are scheming to conquer the planet.
COMMENTARY: Buck Rogers (the character) was originally conceived by Philip Francis Nowlan in 1928. This pilot movie (and the series) is quite cartoony and the effects are downright lame compared to the awe-inspiring "Star Trek: The Motion Picture," which came out (at the end of) the same year. Not to mention the original Star Wars Trilogy that was popular at the time. Heck, for the most part, the F/X don't even hold up to The Original Series of Star Trek that ran from 1966-1969. No kidding.
This doesn't mean, however, that this pilot isn't entertaining. It is to a degree; just don't expect the maturity or quality of Star Trek (TOS). Star Trek is dramatic science-fiction whereas Star Wars is fantasy packaged as science-fiction, which is 'space fantasy.' "Awakening" (and the series in general) tries to walk the line between these two and ends up being inferior to both. But, again, this doesn't mean it's not entertaining in its comic booky way.
While the script for "Awakening" is okay at best (and most of the ensuing episodes as well), the main protagonists and most of the guest stars are outstanding. Gil Gerard in the titular role, for instance, is just as effective as William Shatner as Captain Kirk, maybe even more so, if that were possible. And then there's Erin Gray as Col. Deering, one of the hottest space babes in the history of film or television. Not to mention, Pamela Hensley has the requisite "looks that kill" as the oversexed antagonist, Ardala (although she doesn't personally trip my trigger; she's just not curvy enough). The rest of the series features a gazillion female guests who are often more beautiful than these two, especially the 1st season. So "Buck Rogers" scores well on the female front.
The film is hard to rate because, on the one hand, the cheese-factor is so high with the comic book tone, flimsy sets, dubious special effects and banal storytelling, but the main protagonists and guest stars are outstanding and somehow pull off the material. It's amazing, but true. There's also something to be said for the nostalgic and innocent style of the pilot and series. Nevertheless, I can't in good conscience give "Buck Rogers in the 20th Century" (aka "Awakening") a higher rating.
THE MOVIE RUNS 89 minutes.