“Well, I’m scheduled for execution, and if I miss it I could be in a lot of trouble.” — Gil Gerard as ‘Buck Rogers’
While planning the ‘Buck Rogers’ entry in my recent “Notable Genre Anniversaries in 2019” series (and even before), I got to thinkin’ that a reboot TV series might be cool — or, even a movie or two. Buster Crabbe played the role in 1939, and Gil Gerard played him 40 years later. Another 40 years have gone by, so who could play ‘Buck Rogers’ now? I decided to fan-cast the character, and… this be that. Enjoy!
The story of ‘Buck’ Rogers is that of a man thrown roughly 500 years into Earth’s future. Published in 1928/1929 (novels & comic strip), the original version has Anthony (later nicknamed ‘Buck’) Rogers as a 29-year-old former airman and veteran of World War I. By 1927, he is working for the American Radioactive Gas Corporation when he is called in to investigate unusual phenomena in abandoned coal mines in Pennsylvania. A cave-in exposes him to some sort of radioactive gas, which puts him into “a state of suspended animation, free from the ravages of catabolic processes, and without any apparent effect on physical or mental faculties”. Rogers is presumed dead, and he remains in suspended animation until waking in AD 2419.
He manages to get out of the cave, wanders through some unfamiliar forests, saves a woman (Wilma Deering) from being attacked, realizes how long he has been “gone”, and is introduced to a strange, new world. Essentially, the world is ruled by a number of huge “gangs”, including the Bad Bloods who shot down Wilma’s patrol. Rogers ends up not only acclimating but becomes a gang leader himself.
Other versions (e.g., radio show (1932-6), movie serial (1939), ABC TV series (1950-1), comic strip revival (1979-83) followed the same basic outline, but certain dates, locales, supporting players, and specifics regarding gangs & dictators, etc., were altered. For example, for the movie serial starring Buster Crabbe, “Buck and his young friend Buddy Wade get caught in a blizzard and are forced to crash their airship in the Arctic wastes. In order to survive until they can be rescued, they inhale their supply of Nirvano gas which puts them in a state of suspended animation. When they are eventually rescued by scientists, they learn that 500 years have passed. It is now 2440. A tyrannical dictator named Killer Kane and his henchmen now run the world. Buck and Buddy must now save the world, and they do so with the help of Lieutenant Wilma Deering and Prince Tallen of Saturn.
The 1979 motion picture Buck Rogers in the 25th Century — created by Glen A. Larson, who gave us Battlestar Galactica, too — updated the concept a bit and led to a new TV series of the same name from NBC. In this one, Captain William ‘Buck’ Rogers is a USAF/NASA pilot who commands Ranger III, a space shuttle-like ship launched in 1987. “When his ship flies through a space phenomenon containing a combination of gases, his ship’s life support systems malfunction and he is frozen and left drifting in space for 504 years. By the time he is revived, he finds himself in the 25th century. There, he learns that Earth was united following a devastating global nuclear war that occurred in the late 20th century, and is now under the protection of the Earth Defense Directorate, headquartered in New Chicago. The latest threat to Earth comes from the spaceborne armies of the planet Draconia, which is planning an invasion.”
From what I can tell, all versions of Buck Rogers have him as an athletic, action-oriented, white male. He is attractive, self-confident, and (at least in the NBC series) charming and with a good sense of humor. (Though his 25th-century friends don’t always understand his jokes or 20-century references.) He is also bright, a skilled hand-to-hand combatant, and an exceptional pilot — all skills that come in handy as a “gang” leader or Directorate operative.
Buster Crabbe was about 30/31 when he shot the Buck Rogers serials, and Gil Gerard was 36 when Buck Rogers in the 25th Century debuted. Given his military experience, I think 30-something is a good age for the character. As for height, Crabbe and Gerard were/are both 6’1″. I’d prefer Rogers be at least 6′, though I’d consider an otherwise excellent candidate who is an inch or two under that. He should also be a white male with an athletic build. For whatever reason, I think of Rogers as having dark hair (while Flash Gordon I think of being blonde). That’s not really very important, though I think a relatively short, military-acceptable cut would be reasonable, especially at the start.
If this project were being made a few years ago, I would have nominated Alex O’Loughlin, Eric Dane, and maybe Mark Wahlberg. Unfortunately, they are all in their 40s, now. I looked at Daniel MacPherson (39), but he’s too short. I considered Diego Klattenhoff (39), but decided he just didn’t feel right for the part. Dylan Bruce (39) and Alan Ritchson (34) are both strong possibilities, but I’ve cast them several times before and wanted to bring you some newer faces this time. 🙂
So, here they are…
OK, Chris Evans (6′,b.1981) isn’t exactly a new face, but I don’t think I’ve cast him for anything before. Genre movie fans know him best as Captain America in various films and, before that, the Human Torch. He has also had major roles in The Losers, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Push, Street Kings, Cellular, et al. We also mustn’t forget his voicework on “Robot Chicken”. I think Evans has the right mix of charm and physicality to do this role justice. Probably my top pick. Besides, it seems rather fitting for the guy who played ‘Steve Rogers’ to then play ‘Buck Rogers’, no? Hmm, I wonder if the characters could be related….
You might remember that I included Lex Shrapnel (????,b.1979) in my “6 Coolest Names in TV & Film” post. Unfortunately, I can’t find his height listed anywhere; but, I estimate it at about 5’10”. He’s not a big name, but he has appeared in “Flyboys”, Captain America: The First Avenger, “Hunted”, “By Any Means”, Seal Team Eight: Behind Enemy Lines, “The Assets”, Thunderbirds, “Sons of Liberty”, “Medici”, et al. Assuming he is sufficiently likable on-screen, this role could be a breakthrough for him.
Fans of the “Killjoys” series will recognize Luke Macfarlane (6’2″,b.1980) as ‘D’avin Jaqobis’. He has also appeared in “Supergirl”, “Person of Interest”, “Beauty and the Beast”, “Over There”, and lots of non-genre things, as well. On “Killjoys”, his character is flying around in spaceships, shooting blasters, getting into fights, etc. ‘Buck Rogers’ sounds right up his alley. Plus, he has the required looks and charm. I think he’d make a fine ‘Captain Rogers’… Buck, that is.
Tom Hopper (6’5″,b.1985) is both the youngest and tallest of today’s four prospects. He is currently enjoying some success as ‘Luther Hargreeves’ in “The Umbrella Academy” (recently renewed). Genre fans might have also seen him in “Game of Thrones”, “Black Sails”, Kill Ratio, “Northmen – A Viking Saga”, Knights of Badassdom, “Merlin”, et al. Even an episode of “Doctor Who”. He obviously has the required physique and is familiar with action roles. Hopper might just be the Buck Rogers we’re looking for….
Think you have the perfect casting suggestion for ‘Buck Rogers’? Let us know below…
* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2019.