Brad Bird's 1952 project: could it be a Buck Rogers reboot?

Feature Ryan Lambie
25 Jan 2013 - 06:06

Does an image tweeted by director Brad Bird hint at the true identity of his 1952 sci-fi project?

Inspiration for movies can come from all sorts of places - books, videogames, magazine articles, and even internet memes (see Safety Not Guaranteed). Brad Bird's enigmatic work-in-progress - currently going under the working title 1952 - takes its inspiration from an extremely unusual source: a box of stuff opened up at Disney's offices in Burbank, California.

Other than this snippet of information, the only things we've learned about 1952 are as follows: that it's a science fiction movie with a Close Encounters sense of Spielbergian wonder, that George Clooney's name is attached to it, and that Jeff Jensen (stuntman, actor, and writer) and Damon Lindelof are working on its script.

The dearth of facts about Brad Bird's film have led to all sorts of speculation - most notably, that 1952 is a code name for Star Wars Episode VII, a rumour which spread all over the web after Disney's acquisition of Lucasfilm was announced late last year. Although Bird himself shot down that rumour on Twitter (It's "A science fiction film. Not Star Wars," he wrote last November), such stories will inevitably persist until something more concrete shows up.

On the 24th January, Bird fuelled speculation further when he tweeted the contents of the box which inspired the production. In case you haven't seen it yet, here it is: 

To a casual eye, it looks like an interesting treasure trove of old stuff from 61 years ago, but what inspired Bird's sci-fi project isn't immediately apparent. Full credit to Ain't It Cool, then, for being eagle-eyed enough to spot an issue of Amazing Stories peeking out from beneath the old photographs and brown envelopes.

From that little visible cart of the cover alone, they've worked out that it's the August 1928 issue of that iconic pulp magazine. Now, this issue was extremely important for two reasons. One, it contained some writing by the great authors HG Wells and EE 'Doc' Smith. And two, it contained a story called Armageddon 2419 by Philip Francis Nowlan. 

That story marked the first appearance of Anthony Rogers, better known to posterity as the square-jawed hero Buck Rogers. Although Buck evolved considerably as the years wore on, appearing as an immensely popular comic strip in 1929, a radio show in 1932, and the classic Buster Crabbe film serial later in the decade, the character's seeds were sown in this key issue of Amazing Stories.

Could it be, then, that Brad Bird is working on a reboot of the Buck Rogers character, possibly with George Clooney as the lead character? It would certainly fit in with the sci-fi theme, and would certainly fit with the suggestions that 1952 will be a tentpole movie with lots of merchandising possibilities. Clooney has the right jaw for the role, too, though he's about 15 years or so older than Crabbe would have been when he played Buck.

It's also possible that the copy of Amazing Stories is a red herring, designed to spark lots of speculation (like this post) while drawing the eye away from something less obviously inspirational elsewhere. Ain't It Cool has even theorised that the issue's an oblique reference to Star Wars' debt to Buck Rogers, and therefore a subtle admission that Bird really is directing Episode VII.

There's also another possibility contained within the pages of that issue. It saw the first publication of EE Smith's The Skylark Of Space, an early example of space opera sci-fi which is considered to be one of the most influencial of its kind. Could the issue have inspired 1952's makers to adapt Skylark, or maybe Smith's other major work, the Lensman series? Or has it prompted them to produce something influenced by Buck Rogers and Smith, but not a direct adaptation? There's even the theory that the secret project could be a Rocketeer reboot - Bleeding Cool have pointed out that 1952 was the year its creator Dan Stevens was born.

Really, though, a Buck Rogers reboot does seem like the more plausible notion right now. It would certainly fit with the current trend for reboots and adaptations - though you'd think Disney would be nervous about classic pulp heroes after the performance of John Carter - and Bird's the perfect fit for a larger-than life action fantasy.

With 1952 currently scheduled for a December 2014 release, it's likely that all will be revealed very soon.

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