Director: W.D. Richter
Screenplay: Earl Mac Rauch
Starring: Peter Weller, John Lithgow, Ellen Barkin, Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Lloyd
Running Time: 103 min
BBFC Certificate: PG
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension is a cult classic from the 80’s that I’d never seen, but always wanted to. I didn’t really know much about it, but I found the title strangely appealing and was aware of its status as an oddball cult classic. Luckily for me, Arrow came to the rescue once again and offered me a chance to review their new feature-packed Blu-Ray re-release. So I strapped myself in for a trip across the 8th dimension.
Buckaroo Banzai (played by Peter Weller) is a half-Japanese, half-American brain surgeon, daredevil scientist and rock star. He and the Hong Kong Cavaliers, his band of hard rock scientists (as described in the opening crawl), are famous around the world, with their own branding and even a comic strip and arcade machines.
After successfully removing a tumour from a patient’s brain, Banzai heads to the salt flats to test a jet powered car which houses an Oscillation Overthruster. Banzai manages to use this device to open a door to the 8th dimension in the side of a mountain. He sees some crazy stuff in there before re-appearing out the other side with a strange creature/thing attached to the car.
This test is celebrated as a great success, but it draws the attention of the Red Lectroids, an alien race (led by Christopher Lloyd and Vincent Schiavelli) who have teamed up with the deranged Dr Lizardo (John Lithgow). In the past, Lizardo had worked with Banzai’s scientist partner Professor Hikita (Robert Ito) on the prototype Overthruster, which went wrong and let the Red Lectroids escape from their inter-dimensional prison. Lizardo and the Red Lectroids now want to get their hands on the Overthruster so they can regain power over the world they were originally banished from, which is currently in the hands of the Black Lectroids. The Black Lectroids meanwhile, although friendly to the humans, feel their only hope of survival is to blow up the Earth if the Reds aren’t stopped in time. Banzai, with his team of agents/band members, The Hong Kong Cavaliers, must stop both sides before it’s too late!
Yes the film is as crazy and confusing as it sounds. In the supplementary features, even members of the cast and crew don’t really know what the film is about. The general story does become clear as it goes along (or as clear as something this bizarre can get), but it’s easy to get lost along the way.
This is all part of the fun though and what makes the film great is the fact that you can never second guess it. The film is totally unique and revels in this fact. There is lots of frankly quite silly stuff happening, but even with these aspects the film could have followed a linear path. Instead, we’re constantly thrown curveballs and sent on a wild ride through the imagination of writer Earl Mac Rauch and director W.D. Richter. Some might call it a mess, others (like author Matt Zoller Seitz in the special features) might call it a radical counter culture classic. I’m not quite sure I’d go that far, but I certainly enjoyed the hell out of it.
It would be easy to pick the film apart. Some problems, such as the fact that the film looks very cheap (the team’s special glasses are clearly made out of bubble wrap) are part of the charm. Other issues, such as the film’s set pieces and finale feeling a bit flat and underwhelming, detract a little though. Nevertheless, although the film never gets exciting, it’s consistently fun. On top of the wealth of bonkers ideas being thrown around, the dialogue is immensely quotable. A random moment I loved was when two of the Cavaliers walk past a watermelon and one says “why is there a watermelon there?” to which the other replies “I’ll tell you later”. Of course you know he won’t tell us later, so it’s a brilliantly random throwaway gag, to go alongside numerous others.
I found Weller in the lead a little hard to swallow as the world’s most famous man, as he’s not hugely charismatic, if I were to be brutally honest. He is one of the few actors that can get away with looking like a rock star and a scientist though and he is likably cool in an unusual way. The supporting cast is fantastic. Front and foremost is Lithgow as the main villain. He hams it up beautifully, revelling in his thick Italian accent and over the top gestures. His sidekicks, Lloyd and Schiavelli, play off him brilliantly too. Ellen Barkin plays the love interest Penny Priddy, who isn’t given a lot to do, but gives it her all. The Cavaliers are fun to watch too and you get Jeff Goldblum coming along for the ride as New Jersey, a doctor brought on board the team who dresses like a cowboy from a 50’s western. Added to this excellent core cast, you get a couple of cameos from more great character actors like Matt Clark and Dan Hedaya.
The film teases us with a brash promise of a sequel at the end. Buckaroo Banzai was a huge flop at the time of release so this never happened and to be honest, as much as loved the film, I don’t think a sequel would do the film any favours. It’s a one of the kind experience and should probably stay that way. It may not be perfect, but it’s hugely unique and has a wonderful offbeat humour running throughout that is infectious. Some of the flaws prevent me from giving it full marks after this initial watch, but it’s the sort of film I imagine demands and rewards repeated viewings so I’m looking forward to revisiting it already.
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension is out now in the UK on Blu-Ray, released by Arrow Video. As is to be expected from Arrow, the picture and sound quality is fantastic.
There’s a whole host of special features too. Here’s the list:
– Audio commentary with writer-director W.D. Richter and Reno (writer Earl Mac Rauch)
– The Tao of Buckaroo: A brand new interview with Peter Weller on his role of Buckaroo Banzai
– Lord John: A brand new interview with John Lithgow who discusses working on the film
– Lincoln Centre Q&A featuring Peter Weller and John Lithgow moderated by filmmaker and Buckaroo fan Kevin Smith, filmed as part of the 2011 New York Film Festival
– Buckaroo Banzai Declassified An original featurette on the making of the film featuring W.D. Richter, stars Peter Weller, Ellen Barkin, John Lithgow and more!
– Adventures in the 8th Dimension: Visual essay by critic and author Matt Zoller Seitz
– Alternate opening featuring Jamie Lee Curtis presented in isolation and as part of the extended feature
– Closing sequence presented without credits
– Deleted scenes, featuring fourteen scenes from the work print
– New Jet Car Trailer and Teaser Trailer
– Easter Egg
It’s a fantastic collection of extras that fans can really dig into. I haven’t got around to the commentary yet, but the rest of the disc is great. The interviews are quite different, with Weller getting quite flowery and philosophical in a rather serious talk about the film, whilst Lithgow laughs as he reminisces how enjoyable the shoot was. The Q&A opens with a passionate introduction by Smith, who has a lot of love for the film. Lithgow and Weller give a couple of similar answers to their interviews, but there’s still plenty extra and it’s nice to see them joking around with each other and the audience.
Seitz’s visual essay possibly overthinks the film a fraction, but proposes that the film inspired the likes of Wes Anderson, which I can see logic in. On the whole, the video is a loving tribute to the film and well worth a watch.
The original featurette is surprisingly substantial for an archival making of and pretty wacky, with Richter talking about Banzai as a real person at times.
The alternate opening is an interesting addition. The sequence would have helped explain the dimension jump a little more clearly as well as giving Banzai more of a back story, but adds in talk of a super villain who never plays a part in the final film, so it would still have added to the confusion.
There’s also a booklet included which includes an essay by James Oliver as well as some cool publicity images and artwork by Matthew Griffin.
All in all, it’s everything a Banzai fan would want. A no brainer for the converted and a must buy for the curious.
* Please note, the images used here are not indicative to the picture quality on the Blu-Ray, which is far superior to what I could find to illustrate my review.