For his part, Rogers started out in prose, back in 1928, and quickly moved into comics. He later starred in a couple of shorts, one big-screen serial and two TV series but, to date, there’s been no Buck Rogers feature film. Jerry Bruckheimer did spend a lot of time and money on trying to get the right screenplay, but he eventually gave up and let his option lapse.
Meanwhile, Steven ‘Flash’ Gordon started out in Alex Raymond‘s comic strip, a commission inspired by Rogers’ success. He later took the lead in three separate serials, had the starring role in the 80s cartoon series Defenders of the Earth, appeared in a one-season TV series as recently as 2008, and is being reworked for a shoddy-looking animated show as we speak.
The scene ended up on the cutting room floor, but Gordon was even intended to make a cameo appearance in the much-loved perennial, A Christmas Story. And perhaps most notoriously, it was after George Lucas failed to get the go ahead on a Flash Gordon adaptation that he set about writing Star Wars.
But the character’s proudest moment was the 1980 feature film. Or, at the very least, this was his brashest, boldest and most fearless moment. Mike Hodges‘ picture is Fellini-does-Forbidden Planet, a selflessly entertaining movie that sweats stardust and drips camp. This one movie is more beloved than any other incarnation of the character, and outshines the late-70s TV version of Buck Rogers both literally and figuratively.
In recent years, both Rogers and Gordon have been promised reboots or remakes. Either character could very easily see a revival that, judging from today’s box office and the audience’s ongoing appetite for super-glossy pulp, has real potential to make them into bigger, better-known pop culture figures than ever before.
A few years back, Flint Dille – the grandson of John Dille, who was Rogers’ original comic strip publisher – decided that he was going to write a retro-styled Buck Rogers feature himself. Frank Miller was associated with the project for just moment, his involvement quickly refuted by Dille himself. Nothing more solid ever came to light.
Meanwhile, Universal attached Breck Eisner to a new, big-screen Flash Gordon in the mid-2000s. When that didn’t happen quickly enough, the rights reverted to Hearst Entertainment who then optioned them out to Sony, where Eisner, a passionate Gordon fan, remained attached. He set to work with Dracula: Year Zero‘s Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless in developing what would have been a new, expensive and lavishly-marketed 3D feature.
But it’s four years later and that didn’t happen either. Things have moved on again for Flash, and I understand that there’s fresh attempt bring him back into the limelight underway right now.
JD Payne and Patrick McKay are writers working on Star Trek 3 and who previously adapted Boilerplate for Bad Robot. So far, none of their scripts have gone before cameras, but they’re still considered hot stuff. They’ve just recently put together a new take on Gordon with producer Jon Davis and are now in the process of making a studio deal.
Like Eisner’s approach, Payne and McKay’s new pitch goes right back to the original Raymond comic strips and sidesteps any association with the movie, and even the serials. The idea, I’m told, is to reclaim Flash Gordon from his current reputation in the way that Tim Burton redirected the public conception of Batman.
But Burton was working with inertia from a comic book reinvention of the caped crusader that, actually, rendered that particular nickname all but inappropriate. Burton’s film was coming after seminal strips like The Dark Knight Returns, Year One and The Killing Joke. The audience haven’t been primed for Payne and McKay’s take on Flash Gordon in anything like the same way. In fact, the character was last seen in Seth MacFarlane‘s Ted, with a cameo from Flash’s alter-ego Sam J. Jones, celebrating Hodges’ film and it’s campy, cult credentials. And Queen’s unforgettable, undeniably catchy theme tune has ensured that there’s a part of Flash that will always, always be a little bit kitsch.
Don’t expect Payne and McKay to take their Flash Gordon to inappropriate, Christopher Nolan-like extremes, but instead hit a tone closer to the rebooted Star Trek; I guess that’s their wheelhouse. This new incarnation would be full of adventure and razor’s edge escapades, balanced by plenty of character work but no real anguish, ponderous chin-stroking or middle-distance staring.
While Buck Rogers lies sleeping, it looks like Flash Gordon will rise again. I guess genre fans really do prefer blonds.