The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension Review
“Is anybody out there not having a good time?”
This sentence, pronounced by the main character during a rock concert given in between a delicate brain surgery operation, followed by a groundbreaking scientific experiment, and a fight with redneck aliens, could perfectly summarise the goal of W.D. Richter and his cast and crew were aiming at with The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (for brevity, I’ll just call it Buckaroo Banzai for the rest of this review). And if the final product doesn’t really live up to its amazing potential, it regularly comes quite close and definitely belongs to the pantheon of the UFOs of cinema.
Buckaroo Banzai (Peter Weller, Robocop), a physicist-neurosurgeon-martial arts master-secret agent-rock star has just made history with his invention, the Oscillation Overthruster. The Oscillation Overthruster allows him to travel to the 8th Dimension but this feat draws the attention of the Red Lectroids, an alien race (led by Christopher Lloyd, Back to the Future) who have teamed up with the deranged Dr Lizardo (John Lithgow, Cliffhanger). Lizardo and the Red Lectroids are seeking the Overthruster to take over the world and Banzai, with his team of agents/band musicians, The Hong Kong Cavaliers, must stop them before it’s too late!
Buckaroo Banzai is one of the two only incursions in directing of 80s screenwriter W. D. Richter (the other one is the sci-fi drama Late for Dinner about two friends frozen in the 60s and waking up in the 90s). W.D. Richter was a more prolific screen writer and by the time he directed Buckaroo Banzai had written several screenplays including the wonderful 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ remake. With this background, you can feel that he has a genuine love for 50s sci-fi stories and it is therefore not a coincidence if Buckaroo Banzai features heavy references to the genre such as the importance of Orson Welles’ War of the World radio hoax for the plot. However, the movie is also a true melting pot of genre influences from pulp adventure movies (part of the concept was also taken the Doc Savage pulp magazines of the 30's and 40's) to Japanese imagery (a sequel for the movie, Buckaroo Banzai vs. The World Crime League, was even planed at the time of production but never materialised after the movie bombed at the box-office and bankrupt the studio behind it).
It is therefore a shame that somewhat the whole story does not manage to grab the audience and keep it interested until its denouement. The main story is not particularly complex, nor interesting, and has a lot of gaps (for instance we are never told why the Jeff Goldblum’s character is wearing this weird cowboy outfit). The movie resembles more a concentrate of fun and crazy ideas which randomly appear throughout the movie without real explanations, and weirdly increase the surprise they create. There is also a very welcome element which is cruelly missing to a lot of the movies currently produced, by all the movies of the Marvel the cinematic universe for example: it doesn’t feel the need to make us witness or even explain the origins of the main characters and allow the viewer to figure out things on their own.
The cast is also one of the major strengths of the movie. All the actors are very good, and play their part very straight, but the show is really stolen by John Lithgow’s demented Dr Lizardo/John Worfin whose punch lines and speeches could easily rival Arnold Schwarzenegger’s entire flexography. There are also numerous very funny moments usually linked to the other aliens in general and more specifically Christopher Lloyd’s John Bigbooté.
However, the main attraction is really Buckaroo Banzai himself. In a role which could have made him easily ridicule, Peter Weller manages to remain extremely charismatic and, most importantly, very cool even in borderline situations such as the probe interrogation.
On the down side, despite having several cool characters, the movie doesn’t really give them the opportunity to shine as much as they should. As a result, you don’t really relate to any of them and this particularly diminishes the impact of Ellen Barkin’s character, Penny, and as a result her couple with Buckaroo.
In any case, when inventiveness, humour, nonsense, cheerfulness (the movie does not take itself seriously as demonstrated for instance by the silly but very funny aliens’ names, the messages badly spelt on the walls and doors in their base), nonsense are all gathered, it is difficult not to have a good time!
Arrow Academy released The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension’s blu-ray disc on 20th July.
The blu-ray disc features a nice looking high definition 1080p transfer of the movie. Overall, the movie looks very good, both in daylight and night footage, and retains the original grain of the film. It could obviously be better with a new master but I think this is a very good job.
On the sound side, Arrow Video has included two standard audio tracks: English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and English PCM Stereo 2.0. Optional English SDH subtitles are also included for the movie. Both tracks are very clear and there is nothing problematic to report on any of them.
The bonus section is mostly taken from the previous DVD edition of the movie but Arrow has also included two interesting, although a little bit redundant with the bonuses, new interviews with stars Peter Weller and John Lithgow and an insightful new visual essay with critic and author Matt Zoller Seitz.
Audio commentary with director W.D. Richter and writer Earl Mac Rauch
Many elements of the movie production and themes are discussed in this audio commentary recorded by the director and his writer for a previous DVD release, unfortunately, they
The Tao of Buckaroo (17 min)
This is a brand new interview with Peter Weller in which the actor not only discusses his role of Buckaroo Banzai and the inspirations for the character (Elia Kazan, Adam Ant, Jacques Cousteau and writer Earl Mac Rauch) but also his musical background, Buddhism, Ingmar Bergman’s movie Persona and Jordan Cronenweth’s involvement as Cinematographer on the movie (Director of Photography on Blade Runner).
Lord John (14 min)
This is a brand new interview with John Lithgow in which he explains where Dr Lizardo’s Italian accent comes from, the Saturday morning influences of the movie, his relationship with W.D. Richter and Earl Mac Rauch, how fun the shooting of the movie was and its critical reception.
Lincoln Center 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 (44 min)
This says it all. This is a fun and informative bonus in which the actors discuss numerous aspects of the movie and you get to hear the reason why Kevin Smith loves the movie so much.
Buckaroo Banzai Declassified (23 min)
This is an original featurette on the making of the film featuring director W.D. Richter (both at the time of shooting and at the time of a previous DVD release), and many of the actors, who all emphasise on how complicated it is to characterise the movie. This is a very informative bonus which allows seeing some nice footage of the pre-production of the movie.
Adventures in the 8th Dimension (19 min)
In this visual essay, critic and author Matt Zoller Seitz discusses the plot of the movie, its critical reception at the time and its influence on other movies.
Alternate opening featuring Jamie Lee Curtis presented in isolation and as part of the extended feature (8 min)
This is a nice alternate opening sequence in 8mm featuring a young Buckaroo Banzai and his parents during their first experiment with the Oscillation Overthruster.
Closing sequence presented without credits (5 min)
Just the fun closing sequence (the absence of credits allows to really fully appreciate the fun expressions on the actors’ faces while all walking together!
Deleted scenes (15 min)
This is a collection of fourteen scenes from the workprint with various interests (the only scenes with a slight interest are the Backstage and “Get Me a Fix!” ones).
Banzai Radio (10 min)
In this archival audio interview recorded for a previous DVD release, Terry Erdmann, unit publicist for 20th Century Fox, discusses Buckaroo Banzai’s publicity and merchandising at the time of the release and the fans’ reactions.
The remaining bonuses are a fun teaser trailer (2 min), a Jet Car Concept trailer (3 min), a clunky looking end 90s CGI trailer for a project of TV series around the world or Buckaroo Banzai, and a gallery of pictures from the movie
Arrow Video's disc also includes a booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic James Oliver, illustrated with original stills.
8 out of 10
9 out of 10
9 out of 10
10 out of 10