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Disney goes sci-fi to make a ‘Buck’

NEW YORK — Following the success of some other studios, Walt Disney Pictures is getting heavily into the space program. Under prexy David Vogel, the studio has made a high-six-figure rights deal for futuristic adventurer “Buck Rogers,” and hired “Eraser” scribe Tony Puryear to turn it into a big-budget film set in the 25th century.

The project’s produced by Tapestry Films’ Peter Abrams and Robert Levy, with Tapestry veep Jennifer Shankman persuading rights-owner Lorraine Williams to make a deal. Buck Rogers began as a 1929 comic strip created by Philip Nolan.

Williams is the granddaughter of Flint Dille, the newspaper owner who controlled the rights of the strip which became a radio show, then two TV series.

In the film, Rogers saves the world in 1999 by using his plane to destroy threatening technology, seemingly dying in the process. Luckily, he’s preserved in a cryogenic pod and later found by space pirates. He’s thawed just in time to lead a revolt against aliens who now control Earth and have enslaved humans while stripping the planet of its natural resources.

That’s just one space project Walt Disney has on the launchpad.

Aside from the futuristic Isaac Asimov novel “Bicentennial Man” being scripted by Nick Kazan, WDP prexy Vogel has Mark Frost rewriting “Hardwired,” in which a cop investigates a murder on a space station doing bioengineering research that’s illegal on Earth. Vogel described it as “Ten Little Indians” on a spaceship.

Then there’s Scott Smith, who’s scripting “Jettisoned,” a drama about a forgotten Star Wars satellite that starts blasting laser fire at the former Soviet Union. Russian and American astronauts have to overcome their mutual distrust to shut down the satellite, which has a sense of self-interest rivaling that of “2001’s” HAL and refuses to go quietly.

At the same time, “Executive Decision” scribes Jim and John Thomas are writing “Mission to Mars,” about the first manned mission to the red planet.

Star fixation?

Why the fixation on the stars? “We’re closing in on the millennium, dealing with questions of whether there is a god,” Vogel says. “Everything involves looking up, outside of ourselves and beyond, while we wonder who we are in time and space and whether we are alone. The Heaven’s Gate thing was an extreme expression of this zeitgeist.”

Besides, sci-fi space projects are just plain cool. “It’s wonderful territory for filmmakers,” he says. “With digital effects, the possibilities have exploded. Not since the turn of the century, when film began, have we had this kind of frontier to explore. We’re just at the tip of the iceberg.”

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