If you have been reading through the posts here for any length of time you will probably be aware of my opinion on the accuracy with which a character’s continuing adventures should be to its’ originating material. The whole debate about screwing with a character’s personality, the setting within which they operate, the surrounding characters, the tech level (and a hundred other details) is open to discussion once more, as I find the constant chatter concerning the proposed Buck Rogers film has managed to overlook a simple fact – the original incarnation of the character is a racist thug. That comment is probably going to upset a few people, but is the nicest thing I have to say about Anthony Rogers.
The views of the character were seen as acceptable back when Philip Francis Nowlan’s novella Armageddon 2419 was released, and contemporary authors (Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft to name two) pushed similarly bigoted ideals onto the stories they churned out, so it isn’t as is the story stands alone as an Aryan call to arms. Armageddon 2419 is, in many ways, a poorly written story (not as bad as Airlords Of Han, but still…), featuring unsympathetic characters and illogical plot devices throughout. Ah, and I mentioned the sequel, which deserves a word or two of its’ own.
Airlords Of Han is shit. This may come as a shock to anyone who believes that Buck Rogers stands alongside Flash Gordon, The Rocketmen and Lensman as a paragon of the Golden Age of SF characters, but it is undeniable that an entire chapter devoted to the explanation of the fictional technologies of the future is a waste of paper and time. When it does manage to stay on track, the even crueler depiction of the Hans (a race who do not believe in either respect or the soul) reinforces the surplus of negativity with which I have always associated the character. So… Ignoring my previous entreaties to stick to the original depiction of a character, adapting the books is out of the question.
What of the comic strip? When the comic strip started, a few years later, the more obvious elements were removed at the expense of even more logic., and… Well, aside from the fact that Star Wars, Flash Gordon, Lensman, the original Battlestar Galactica and a thousand lesser films and television shows have already churned over the same ground – and sometimes to much better effect – I believe a loose adaptation of those stories may prove more fruitful. And the SF element is greater in the strip than the two novellas, wherein the level of technology has been stunted due to a prolonged war (entirely situated on planet Earth) with the Han. I never liked the television series, so I don’t know why anyone would consider it to be worth updating – at least in a straight retelling. In the mode of a parody (deep into Spaceballs territory) it would be fine, but really… Do we need that?
In formal logic, a contradiction is the signal of defeat, but in the evolution of real knowledge it marks the first step in progress toward a victory.
Alfred North Whitehead
And so I will contradict myself.
All we need (that is, all we really need) is for a character named ‘Rogers’ to find himself at some point in the twenty-fifth century – not necessarily in 2419, but that would be a nice touch – and to get into a few scrapes. Wilma (who does appear in the novellas) should really be present, though Twiki can be safely ignored. That’s pretty much all we need in a film script bearing the title “Buck Rogers” – though there will always be the nagging doubt that another property would be deserving of a remake more than a soggy old, used and abused, hokier-than-hokey SF anomaly. Okay, so that’s maybe a tad too critical of a deliberately camp old television show, but I stand by my assertion that there are many (more deserving) properties which deserve better treatment.
You might agree, you can certainly disagree, and even if you can’t raise the energy to care, a film will probably arrive at some point.