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The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai: Across The 8th Dimension (1984)

April 12th, 2007 · No Comments

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The multi-tasking Buckaroo Banzai (Peter Weller) – neurosurgeon, samurai, rock musician and lead character in his own line of comic books – goes directly from surgery scrubs to a testing range, where he climbs inside a Jetcar capable of breaking the sound barrier.

Buckaroo’s inner circle includes members of his band, the Hong Kong Cavaliers. New Jersey (Jeff Goldblum) is a new member, a surgeon who claims he can sing and dance a little. Rawhide (Clancy Brown) is Buckaroo’s lieutenant and plays bass guitar. Perfect Tommy (Lewis Smith) designed the Jetcar and plays guitar. Dr. Hikita (Robert Ito) is a particle physicist who has invented the “oscillation overthruster”, a device which allows the Jetcar to travel through solid matter and cross through “the 8th dimension”.

Watching the successful test from the Trenton Home for the Criminally Insane is Dr. Emilio Lizardo (John Lithgow). In 1938, Lizardo and Dr. Hikita attempted to break the 8th dimension, but the experiment failed. Lizardo was possessed by Lord John Whorfin, a megalomaniac Red Lectroid from Planet 10, sentenced to spend eternity in the 8th dimension by the peace-loving Black Lectroids.

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Performing at a nightclub, Buckaroo stops the music when he spots the despondent Penny Priddy (Ellen Barkin), who is a splitting image of Buckaroo’s deceased wife. Whorfin goes AWOL from the hospital and reunites with his followers, Red Lectroids passing for human beings on Earth – John O’Connor (Vincent Schiavelli), John Gomez (Dan Hedaya) and John Bigboote (Christopher Lloyd).

Whorfin wants the oscillation overthruster so he can return home. The Red Lectroids infiltrate the Banzai Institute in New Jersey and kidnap Penny. The Black Lectroids, whose spaceship is hovering over Earth, threaten to instigate global thermonuclear war unless Buckaroo Banzai and the Hong Kong Cavaliers can stop Whorfin.

In the early 1970s, screenwriter W.D. Richter read a review of a new novel in the Dartmouth College alumni magazine by a writer named Earl Mac Rauch. Richter wrote Rauch asking for permission to adapt the book into a screenplay, adding, “If you’re ever out this way, give me a call.” Rauch had dropped out of law school at the University of Texas and was selling finance contracts for mobile homes. He took Richter up on his offer.

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Rauch told Richter about something he was working on called Find The Jetcar, Said The President – A Buckaroo Banzai Thriller. It involved a multitalented hero and his adventures. Richter was intrigued with the concept and hired Rauch to write a screenplay. Rauch would start, scrap his ideas, and start over, going through many drafts and at one point, producing a script that was 300 pages long. Rauch was convinced Buckaroo Banzai was too outrageous to ever sell.

Meanwhile, Richter adapted Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Dracula (the Frank Langella version) and received an Oscar nomination for writing the screenplay for Brubaker. When given a chance to direct, the project he wanted to do was Buckaroo Banzai. Richter found an ally in David Begelman – then head of MGM – who left the studio to form an independent company, Sherwood Productions.

Begelman insisted on only shooting one project at a time. Once Mr. Mom and Blame It On Rio had wrapped, Buckaroo Banzai finally started filming in July 1983. Fox agreed to distribute the picture, but was so bewildered by the finished product, they dumped the film into theaters a week before the 1984 Summer Olympics. It received mixed reviews and was not successful at the box office.

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Buckaroo Banzai is like an orphaned immigrant kid you find in the streets speaking gibberish, but you raise up over the years and love anyway. The movie is almost entirely droll wit and throwaway humor. It has no ambition to entertain or make sense, but ends up doing both. It’s one of those movies you find yourself reciting dialogue from. “Laugh while you can, monkey boy!” is a favorite of mine.

Peter Weller found the role of his career. He does little in the way of heroics, fading into a highly imaginative quilt of New Jersey based scientists/rock musicians/inter-dimensional crime fighters. But W.D. Richter smartly resisted the urge to turn this into a spoof. The movie is low key and understated, almost as if Monty Python decided to try a mainstream sci-fi movie.

The picture has a limited scope and budget, but Earl Mac Rauch wove a wonderfully rich mythology into the script. It may have been inspired by Doc Savage, but is far goofier and totally original. The cast are game, particularly John Lithgow, who’s brilliant and the chief reason I laugh whenever I watch this. Michael Boddicker composed a catchy synthesizer score, and the closing credits sequence is a classic. This is a must-see for any sci-fi fan.

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Tags: Alternate universe · Cult favorite · Dreams and visions · Famous line · Interrogation · Shootout

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