- Continued from Review, Part 2 -
Scene 42: While this is taking place, Kane discovers Tigerman not at his post. He summons a passing crewman and pounds on the chamber doors of the Princess, who groggily yells for them to go away. She turns to Buck, who isn't, who has a sheet over his face and starts some romantic overtures, which quickly turns to shocked screaming when she discovers her bodyguard in bed with her.
Commentary: Ardala, thankfully, remains clothed. I mention it because at first it is played as if she is nude, which would have cast a very bad light over our hero. But we plainly see her dress straps and the leg wraps of her dress, so we're okay there.
Hearing her screams, Kane has the crewman with him blast through the doors. Tigerman sits up, plainly stunned at where he finds himself. The Princess orders his immediate execution for being in her bedchamber, but Kane countermands her.
Commentary: The power dynamics of Kane and the Princess is another thing that is a bit grey. While a Princess, and therefore ultimately responsible for the success or failure of the campaigns of the Draconia's missions, Kane continues to be rather disrespectful toward her throughout without any apparent fear of consequences. He almost treats her like she's just a figurehead, but at other points when she puts her foot down and issues a direct order, he does submit to her authority. They must be in a constant dance over who is in control. It's an interesting, though possibly not deliberate judging by future writing for the show, dynamic between them.
Tigerman is taken for questioning under Kane's orders. The Princess snottily tells him he has a lot of explaining to do in countermanding her orders so blatantly. He is not in the least threatened by her glare, turning it back on her that she has a lot of explaining to do.
Scene 43: Down in the hanger, Buck has switched his clothes for the soldier uniform. As he exits from his hiding place to mingle among the space fighters, Twiki and Theo leave their place of hiding, determined to find out what is going on with Buck.
Commentary: Twiki, apparently by dint of existing, is funny. FUNNY, DAMN YOU! So, he continues to get the musical sting of amusement, even though he isn't doing anything but walking around. Oops - my mistake - he does give us another humorous bon mot about sneaking around enemy craft violating his warranty. I'll allow it is slightly amusing, or would be if the irritating musical sting wasn't being forced on us.
Scene 44: Back in the Princess' chambers, Kane is reading her the riot act. She warns that she will deal with his insolence later and orders an immediate attack on Earth, obviously concerned with Buck's being able to report that the Draconia isn't unarmed. Kane balks at this at first, claiming they need to wait for her father's forces to join them, but she's all "you are a spineless wimp" and he relents.
She also orders her ship's security be placed on alert to find Rogers before he can cause trouble.
Scene 45: At that very moment, Buck is in the hanger placing bombs in the, let's just use a Star Trek term, impulse engines of the Hatchet Fighters.
Commentary: The weaponry on this show is confused often. We already heard that the Hatchets are armed with missiles by Wilma, but every time we see them firing, it's always laser beam effects and sounds. I suppose the beams of light could be a 'photon torpedo' light streak which would explain the exploding space, but frankly it always looks like just plain laser beams. The Hatchet Fighters just don't look like they could have more than a few torpedoes aboard, which would seem to make them less than effective for any but very short term engagements if they were fully relying on missile technology.
Above Buck, Twiki and Theo have also made their way to the hanger bay. They recognize Buck dressed in his uniform and Theo immediately jumps to the wrong conclusion. With Theo realizing that the treaty is a hoax because of the fighters, he decides to do one last duty for his (he says country, which makes no sense in this setting) [planet] by dealing with the spy who set them up.
Buck has snuck back down to a missile rack for his next sabotage attempt, when Twiki sneaks up behind him. He draws Buck's Draconian Blaster from his holster and trains it on him. Dr. Theo confronts Buck, who is shocked to see Twiki and Theo's presence aboard the vessel. Theo calls Buck a traitor and remains unusually dense when Buck tries to point out that the ships around them are the pirate vessels.
Theo orders Buck to surrender and accompany them (Where? Why?), but Buck refuses. Buck points out that he's been loading bombs into the tailpipes of the fighters. Twiki says something untranslated in his beedi-beedi language and Theo complains he's getting confused. Buck clarifies that there were never any marauders - the whole thing was a set up to force Earth to welcome the Draconians, who are planning an invasion, not a treaty.
Finally, the metaphorical light comes on for the half-witted artificial intelligence. While Buck and Theo are arguing over whether Rogers can be trusted, Kane is spotted on the flight deck. The knocked out guard is found and reported to him.
Buck sends Twiki and Theo to find a communications relay that they can use to inform New Chicago of the Draconians' ruse, while he continues placing bombs aboard as many fighters as possible before they begin to launch.
Commentary: By the way, my suspicions about the weaponry aboard the Hatchets is confirmed. No missiles are loaded aboard the ships where we'll repeatedly see lasers blasting. They do load the bombs aboard, but they're clearly meant to be dropped in the same way that modern bombers attack... and they can only hold what looks like two measly bombs (unless they're highly destructive like nuclear bombs... but when we see the ones in the fighter impulse engines go up, that also appears not the case).
Scene 46: Anyway, Twiki and Theo waddle their way deeper into the flagship, while Buck continues his sabotage mission in the hanger. Theo and Twiki find their way to a communications center and sabotage a panel. This creates a sonic wave into the earphones of the tech on duty and he rushes off to, I suppose, report the malfunction.
Commentary: From a writing perspective, this was stupid. Why not just have the guy fall unconscious at his station?
Twiki and Theo make their way to the transmissions panel. Somehow, Twiki is able to punch buttons in the correct order to open an emergency channel to Earth, despite the fact that they're made for human digits, and he has those paddle-like hands.
Scene 47: We get another shot of the globe. Then we're in an office, where Colonel Deering answers - because apparently the emergency channel routes to a random office, instead of the actual communications center on Earth.
Commentary: I also just noticed and wanted to give props to the shot of Earth. Notice that the entire North American continent looks hilly (in keeping with the effects of tons of earth being blasted off the surface) and completely brown (in keeping with agriculture having not sufficiently recovered over the centuries to keep Earth fed ... yeah, let's not get into the fact that "Earth" means "America" ... it's just the same phenomena that caused the United Federation of Planets to choose common American English as the universal language).
Theo reports the Draconia's armed status and Deering contacts Huer to have her fighters scrambled to defend Earth.
Scene 48: Aboard the Draconia, Kane personally oversees the launch of the attack squadrons. One after the other, the bombers begin exploding moments after being slingshot-ed out of the bay. Within the bay, several of the bombs Rogers planted also go off, decimating the launch bay.
Out in space, Deerings squadron begins their run. A few Hatchets haven't been set up to explode by Buck and she orders them intercepted - but having learned her lesson from the disastrous attacks from before, she orders the combat computers disengaged for this confrontation.
Scene 49: Within the launch bay, Buck continues his sabotage campaign, when Tigerman - apparently having been released by Kane, and for reasons not explained now in the launch bay - sees Buck loading a bomb in the impulse engine of a fighter. They begin to engage in hand-to-hand, once they can get Tigerman to stop chewing the scenery around them. Buck uses his one and only chance (because this is the version of the pilot episodes that were strung together for the movies) to swear.
He gets tossed aside by the snarling, growling, grimacing, over-acting Tigerman. He also finds that his rabbit punches and kicks are largely ineffective against the brute. But even Tigerman is stuck with a set of family jewels, and these prove just as vulnerable as on Terrans... though he overacts and screams more when they're kicked then humans generally do.
Buck uses Tigerman's distracting agony (And just as an aside, why hasn't evolution provided us with armor plating down there, yet?) to shove a bomb in Tigerman's belt. He kicks him off screen, where we see an explosion go off before Buck rushes off.
Scene 50: Kane, not apparently still in the launch bay ... let's assume he returned to the bridge where he belongs ... is interrupted by a sudden hologram call by King Draco. He is overactingly-pissed off that the attack on Earth has been started while his vessels are still hours away and demands an explanation, post haste. Kane reports he is just following orders, to which the King overactingly-demands to know whose orders (Which, duh, who do you think is on board who can issue Kane direct orders, dumb ass?!)
Commentary: The actor who plays King Draco is awful. Mind-numbingly awful. Apparently he was told that to play pissed off, imperious King, he should simply shout every single line like it might be his last chance to use his voice.
Kane is quick to put the blame where it admittedly belongs. The King wonders - still overactingly-screaming - if she also ordered the fighters to disintegrate upon launch (how he has such instant details when he still so far away is unexplained). He informs Kane (yep - still yelling his way through) that if he or his daughter should survive this debacle, they'll answer directly to him, before he mercifully cuts off communications and goes away.
Scene 51: In space, Deering orders the last few staggling fighters to be ignored in preference for finishing off the mothership.
Commentary: Nicely, she doesn't give Captain Rogers, Dr. Theopolous or Twiki and second thought, as she shouldn't in this situation.
Scene 52: Aboard the Draconia, the situation is going from really terrible to catastrophic fast. Ardala picks herself up off of the floor as the entire ship is suffering panel blowouts and physical damage around her. Kane enters her suite, pinning full blame for their circumstances on her. He tells her she should let her burn up with the ship, but wants her alive to answer to her father for this disaster.
He pulls her along as he tells her that there is an emergency escape shuttle prepared to retreat back toward her father's fleet.
Scene 53: In the launch bay, Buck looks for a way to escape the destruction, but there is a structural collapse and he's pinned under (unfortunately plastic looking) debris. The shuttle bay (which is completely not even close to the shuttle bay we saw the Hatchet ships launch from) sends a gout of flame out into space as it starts to blow up real good.
Scene 54: One of Wilma's StarFighters warns that the ship is ready to blow. She orders her fighters to withdraw, but transmits to Twiki and Theo that she's going to come in after them. Theo tells her to forget them, but to try to save Buck. She tells Theo to get to the main flight deck, where they'll look for Buck following his report that Rogers was responsible for destroying a large portion of the attacking force and for sending them to warn Earth of the coming attack.
At the same time in the bay, Buck is coming around to find himself unable to pull free of the debris that pins him down. Explosions continue going off all around him.
Fortunately for Buck, Twiki finds him and is able to struggle with some of the debris. Theo reports Wilma's approach, but Buck worries she'll be killed if she tries to land. It does appear dicey, but she goes ahead with her entrance into the destructing bay.
Wilma retrieves Buck, Twiki and Theo and races to launch before the entire bay explodes (What isn't explained is how she turns her ship around to face the right direction, presumably there are some sort of maneuvering thrusters aboard the StarFighters).
They watch as the entire Draconia explodes in a (questionable) pyrotechnics display.
Scene 55: Aboard the yacht, Kane rails at Ardala for bringing Buck aboard the flagship. She insults his manhood.
Scene 56: Heading back to Earth, Deering expresses her apologies for doubting him, admitting she thought that the Princess had him beguiled.
Scene 57: Aboard the yacht, Ardala continues to insult Kane. He tells her that they'll find out if he's the man Rogers is in their next encounter. The Princess already looks forward to that day....
Commentary: Of course, I'd be more concerned at this point of even reaching that day. It doesn't seem to me that Draco is the type to forego execution for such a colossal failure. Admittedly, that could be a mistaken impression however due to his screaming every one of his sentences in a hammy way.
Scene 58: Back aboard the StarFighter (and how it pains me to have to relay this), Wilma is telling Buck that she's not as aloof as she appeared. That she was just scared to get involved with his he-man, 20th Century, studly self before, but now she's ready to be every bit the woman that Ardala was... *choke*.
Wilma suggests (rather happily) that she guesses they won't see Ardala again, but Twiki spots the escape shuttle and gives us an "Uh-oh"....
We get a shot of the squadron approaching Earth orbit, and then closing credits and theme song.
The Good: Pamela Hensley does a nice job making Ardala more than eye candy, but what eye candy she makes. I also find Erin Grey to be great when she's being a hard ass and Gil Gerard was a decent choice to play Captain Rogers. He seems to be downplaying the attempts to make him out as "King Stud", and it makes him likeable and charming to me, where he could have come across as smug or infuriating.
The special effects (remembering this was filmed as a TV pilot) are largely very good. The life size mockups of the StarFighters and Hatchet ships are outstanding.
I also love the costuming for both Draconia (dark browns, red lighting, darkened interiors = bad guys) and the Earth Directorate (whites, pristine looking, light and airy interiors) and the overall set designs, but especially aboard the Draconia (my problems with set design are on Earth - see 'The Bad').
The music for Buck Rogers in the pensive and action scenes is very good.
I really like Ardala and Kane sniping at one another throughout. Their obvious power struggle, despite Ardala's title really interests me.
I really enjoyed the space battles from music, to model work, to effects (this will wear off as they're reused mercilessly throughout S1).
The Bad: I do have a problem with the minimal-to-extremes set design in the Directorate. The Spartan furnishings are so sparse that it just doesn't look like anyone actually uses these spaces on a regular basis. I also find the all-white, everywhere to get too monotonous and visually boring when any scene spends more than a very brief period there.
The music for Twiki's scenes is odious.
The entire scene with Buck wandering the ruins of original Chicago is extremely problematic. It simply isn't logical that he'd be allowed to leave the city, it isn't logical that Twiki or Theo would even share how to leave the city, and his finding his parents' gravestones at night, in a ruined landscape is much too contrived to be believable. As is the entirely overwhelmingly powerful Draconian empire not already having taken over Earth... in fact it is never explained why they'd even want Earth, considering its rather pitiful state. There a multiple script issues like this throughout that points to a general laziness in the storytelling, and examples like the above irk me because they should have been obvious enough to be corrected before filming. Also, again with scripting - early on Theo tells everyone that Buck must have been aboard the Draconia because of his descriptions, and yet, they're never on high alert after it becomes obvious that Ardala must be lying about her knowing him... it's even suggested that Buck is a spy for her... but still, no one acts on suspicions of her being duplicitous until late in the game.
There is some horrible overacting going on in this piece. Tigerman, for one, but the egregiously awful assault on eyes and ears is Joseph Wiseman as King Draco. Every-Single-Line-Screamed.
I actively resent 'softening' Wilma's stance on Buck so that she can practically throw herself on top of him. Thankfully, while they remain very close friends in the series, they never hook up.
Other Thoughts: I really wish that the Draconians weren't so built up in the throwaway dialog, because their failure to entrap Earth long before now is plainly ridiculous, as commented on in the review. I also wish that recycled shots from Battlestar Galactica weren't so flagrant and repetitive, it just looks like what it is... cheapjack.
There is another issue that I have, but not badly enough to be in "The Bad" (actually there is more than one as seen in the commentary, but this one....) and that is the claims that Earth, even after 500 years, still hasn't redeveloped some sort of robust agriculture strikes me as suspect. It's one of the oldest of human endeavors and it just doesn't seem likely (without some sort of explanation, which we'll never receive) that the cities that have been rebuilt hasn't included food generation of some sort for the populations, even if after all of this time, cities are left to their own devices without any form of food-trading occurring.
There are a few problems with scripting, but these were commented on in commentary and don't need to be rehash here, since they're not serious.
I'm not ready to put it in the bad, but the extended boogie-ing of Buck at the reception is pretty painful to witness.
I have to say that Henry Silva's acting is really uneven. I can't put it quite into the bad, but there are some scenes where he is really scenery chewing.
The Scoring: I really had fun with re-watching Buck's debut. There are those script or logic errors, some of them severe, but the tale is overall well told. I also find myself really liking Gil, which I hadn't expected on first viewing because I usually don't like the 'swaggering hero' type character (Or do I? With my near-obsession with Dean Winchester on Supernatural, I'd have to question my own assertion... how embarrassing.) but Gerard really keeps his Buck Rogers jokey and un-self-serious and by doing so avoids what could have been an unbearable smug and egotist character. I also think the plot holds together relatively well, overall, although individual scenes and assumptions by the script are problematic. The pacing is very nice, with the exception - possibly - of the party reception for Ardala (too much time) and Buck's trial (no time at all).
I like this: 3.75 out of 5
- end -