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Evil, Pure and Simple, from the 8th Dimension!

July 31st, 2011 · 3 Comments

“The most typical — and difficult — question people ask me is ‘What is Buckaroo Banzai about?’ If I could answer that in a single interview, I wouldn’t have spent two years making the film. I didn’t want to make a straight, genre film, and deliberately chose Buckaroo Banzai because it defied all the labels.” W.D. Richter interviewed by John L. Flynn for Sci-Fi Universe, 1995

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai: Across the 8th Dimension (1984)
Directed by W.D. Richter
Written by Earl Mac Rauch
Produced by Neil Canton, W.D. Richter
103 minutes

Like a scrawny pup rescued from a ditch and taken home in the rain, whatever condition you find The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai: Across the 8th Dimension diminishes over time as this crossbred mutt of science fiction, comedy and superhero myth grows into a beloved member of the family. Ghettoized as a “spoof” and sometimes misconstrued as camp, part of the genre busting film’s immense charm is how effortlessly it exists as its own beast without ribbing other movies, or putting itself down. A franchise that never was, it leaped from the imagination of Earl Mac Rauch, a University of Texas School of Law dropout who was selling finance contracts for mobile homes in the early 1970s when a review for his novel Arkansas Adios caught the eye of screenwriter W.D. Richter, a fellow Dartmouth College alum.

Rauch regaled Richter and his wife Susan with the adventures of a hero named Buckaroo Bandy. The Richters were tickled enough to commission a script for $1,500. Over the next several years, Rauch abandoned as many ideas as he dreamed up; one that the Richters begged him to keep was the hero’s new name: Buckaroo Banzai. Meanwhile, Richter adapted Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Dracula and Brubaker, earning an Academy Award nomination for the latter. With the prestige to now direct, Richter wanted to make Buckaroo Banzai. He found an ally in David Begelman — then head of MGM — who departed the studio to form Sherwood Productions. Envisioning Buckaroo Banzai as his Indiana Jones, Begelman took the project with him. The producer had a distribution deal with Fox, but the studio was so bewildered by the finished product that they dumped it into theaters in late summer.

Buckaroo Banzai (Peter Weller) — neurosurgeon, samurai, hero in comic books — sheds his OR scrubs to test pilot a Jetcar capable of supersonic speed. With a device called the “oscillation overthruster”, the Jetcar successfully travels through solid matter and crosses the 8th dimension. Watching from the Trenton Home for the Criminally Insane is Dr. Emilio Lizardo (John Lithgow), a particle physicist who crashed the 8th dimension but was possessed by Lord John Whorfin, an evil Red Lectroid exiled from Planet 10 for sedition. Whorfin joins Red Lectroids John O’Connor (Vincent Schiavelli), John Gomez (Dan Hedaya) and John Bigboote (Christopher Lloyd) in a plot that threatens to annihilate Earth. The only thing in their way are Buckaroo and his inner circle of engineers who moonlight as musicians in a rock band, the Hong Kong Cavaliers.

A punk rock superhero compared to Spiderman or Batman, Buckaroo Banzai is Renaissance Man. His powers are pure invention and the crackerjack team he assembles to fight evil. Played with casual confidence by Weller, the man isn’t interesting so much as his orbit — a surgeon (Jeff Goldblum) with a cowboy fetish, a spirited blonde (Ellen Barkin) who’s a dead ringer for Buckaroo’s late wife, reptilian aliens who refer to Earthlings as “monkey boys” and good aliens who in their human form resemble Rastafarians for no reason. Unabashed in its goofiness, the mythology at play is so rich and so extensive that cast and crew seem to relax and enjoy the ride. The only downer is the wave of multimedia — sequels, TV series, books — that never materialized. Michael Boddicker composed the giddy electronic score, punching up the best end credits sequence yet devised for a film.

Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average among 15,473 users: 68% for The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai: Across the 8th Dimension

Metacritic “Metascore” average among leading critics: N/A

What do you say?

Tags: Aliens · Alternate universe · Concert · Cult favorite · Dreams and visions · Famous line · Flashback · Interrogation · Inventors and Tinkerers

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 J.D. // Jul 31, 2011 at 7:05 pm

    So bummed that this film was never followed up with a sequel. A TV show was attempted at one point but never happened. But I think it’s just as well. A film this quirky and wonderful and playfully bizarre would’ve been hard to top.

    Insane amount of quotable lines from this one and what a cast. This may be my fave John Lithgow performance – “Laugh a-while you can, a-monkey boy!!”

  • 2 ArcLight // Aug 1, 2011 at 10:19 pm

    My favorite film. From even before I actually saw it. (Seriously…the concept and cast sold me before I ever saw a frame of the film.)

  • 3 Joe Valdez // Aug 5, 2011 at 5:57 pm

    J.D.: This was truly a movie ahead of its time. The buying power of the geek had yet to be tapped by anyone other than the mom ‘n pop comic book or gaming shop. If released today, it’s easy to imagine a whole industry of Buckaroo Banzai product. The hipster in me appreciates that the film was never exploited, but I would have liked to have seen more Buckaroo adventures, even as a series of novels. Thanks for commenting!

    Arclight: I don’t believe you, but thanks for adding your two cents! As for me, I had to watch the movie before being sold on it.

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