Adventure of Buckaroo Banzai (1984)

THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI: Across the Eighth Dimension
1984 – 102 minutes/ Widescreen
Directed by: W.D. Richter
DVD Available From: MGM Home Entertainment 

Whatever you were thinking . . ., here it is. Yes, Blue Blazers, the DVD of one of the 80’s quirkiest cult films has finally arrived in exactly the manner Banzai fans have always hoped it would. So laugh while you can, Monkey, boy, adjust those Oscillation Overthrusters, take a breather from fighting the Crime League, and remember wherever you go. . . there you are. The film not surprisingly bombed in movie theaters back in 1984, but picked up a steady stream of fans when it was released on video and played some midnight movie dates.

The, film’s stars: Peter Weller, Jeff Goldblum, John Lithgow, Ellen Barkin, Christopher Lloyd, and Dan Hedaya got more famous. Everyone knew someone who would say: “Oh you think Lithgow is something in Garp.. you need to see him as Lizardo in Buckaroo Banzai.” Of course Lithgow now has done Third Rock from the Sun, so the surprise of seeing him go over the top as Lizardo isn’t the contrast it once was.

Then there’s Goldblum decked out in a loud city slicker cowboy outfit that is something you won’t believe you’re seeing till your seeing it–well unless you’ve seen how he looks in say 1989’s Earth Girls Are Easy . A lot of people (most people actually) just don’t ‘get’ Buckaroo. It used to be you’d tell people this is an odd film and it’s like you just walked into the second of a three-part trilogy of films . . . . but that’s pretty inaccurate. In reality, the film is pretty much a mess. To enjoy it you decide you won’t care about that and just let it go. The film has several very funny throwaway gags being staged outside of the center of the screen.

That’s right, there’s bits of business going on that you would completely miss if you viewed this film in a non-wide-screen version or if you just weren’t paying attention to what’s going on beyond the center of the screen. So while you probably shouldn’t pay too close attention to the machinations of the plot of the film, you should pay attention to what’s going on in the frame of the film. Most people just don’t watch films like this.

Buckaroo Banzai starts out embracing a science fiction tone but switches into a story about a multi-talented genius crime fighter who must stop a mad scientist from using Aliens to take over the world— Except for almost 45 minutes you don’t actually realize Buckaroo’s a crime fighter.

You basically watch and try to figure out what is going on. Let’s see this guy named Buckaroo Banzai is some kind of rich guy inventor who loves risking death and testing out fast cars. Oh.. he breaks the sound barrier… oh he dissolves into a mountain and enters the eighth dimension, and brings back some strange artifact to prove he’s been somewhere else.Meanwhile Dr. Lizardo is this crazed guy in a loony bin. We learn he was involved in some earlier experiments many years ago which involved trying to break into an alternate dimension (does anyone remember Robert Lansing in the 4D Man?).

The experiment went wrong and Lizardo turned into a stark raving mad lunatic. Now he’s breaking out of the loony bin because it’s time for him to get into action the eighth dimension has been breached !!!

Meanwhile, back at the Banzai ranch, we learn Buckaroo is a brain surgeon, oh he’s a rock musician, oh he’s known about this alternate dimension and these alien creatures who need his oscillator overthruster, oh he’s a crime fighter whose mission is to destroy the crime league and he’s got lots of professional help.. his band mates The Hong Kong Cavaliers, and amateur help with The Blue Blazers a Buckaroo fan club.

There’s also a sub-plot involving a lady he loved and running across her estranged sister (Ellen Barkin). We’re not sure how any of this is connected but that’s the fun of the film, don’t you get it? No. For some that’s okay just sit back and pretend that somehow this all makes some sort of twisted logic sense. Heck I’ll make sense out of it myself. It’s not actually that difficult because underneath all of the extra stuff is a very silly, basic story about a mad scientist who has been waiting for his chance to have some mad scientist fun and get some revenge.

Well no, not exactly but well I just won’t try to make too much sense of it. There’s some neat stuff going on in the film. Its part a reverse Buck Rogers update, part some kind of weird Alien Nation re-make, part comic book super hero, part. . . .Oh I give up.

You see the thing is Buckaroo Banzai is actually a real person and it doesn’t make all that much sense because well people’s lives aren’t always the kind of thing that can be fit into a movie. No, no I’m being serious here now. There really is this inventor, scientist, brain surgeon, rock musician and vigilante crime fighter named Buckaroo.

Although obviously a few things have been changed when they made a movie about the guy. Now if you’ve been scratching your head reading this review but think it sounds like something you just HAVE to see, you’ll probably enjoy the film a great deal. If you think the film sounds like an awful mess, you better skip this one. I enjoy the film but it’s frustrating what a mess it is on almost every level. It is rated P.G. because it seems like it is interested in embracing the spirit of the Saturday Afternoon Matinee Serials like Commander Cody, AKA Rocket Man, but it also makes sure to inject some laid back cynicism into itself to cover all the bases.

The filmmakers made sure that we the audience knew this film was hip, and ‘cool’ and a film that ‘stoners’ were likely to embrace. The film almost spoofs itself as it progresses. It would have been a little too square to completely embrace the Saturday Afternoon matinees, so it makes sure that it doesn’t.

An awful lot of gags, lines, and bits of business fall flat and simply don’t work. If you’re in the spirit of the film however, you probably won’t notice this too much because there are all kind of diversions being thrown at you. If there isn’t three or four bits of business going on in the frame you are watching, then there’s another sub-plot or another character being introduced to distract you from the fact this is a really silly film you are watching.

The film just keeps careening all over the place until you realize it’s almost over. We don’t really know what the ‘rules’ are with how the aliens or the good guys operate. There’s no real suspense established throughout the film either. And if you think you’ll get any actual character development well forget about that right now. Just go back to the line from the film — Wherever you go there you are and either enjoy the film for whatever you want to think it is or just because there’s nothing else quite like it in any dimension.

DVD STUFF

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai is presented in anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen, and It looks better than you’ve probably ever seen it before. There are a few drop out flakes to be seen an a few pauses when it switches layers but you’ll not find anything to complain about in terms of film grain or scratches or end enhancement. Colors are crisp and there is no color bleeding, and the black levels are very strong.

The audio is in Dolby Digital 5.1 and is a vibrant and loud affair, which makes a lot of use of the surround capabilities of your home video, set up. Sound effects pass through the speakers very effectively and there’s also good separation employed, which allows you to hear the sometimes too quietly intoned, intentionally cheesy dialogue. A few times Weller’s near monotone delivery are difficult to hear and that’s when you might notice there are no ENGLISH SUBTITLES.

DVD EXTRAS

This is a special edition disc that is overloaded with extra features that will have Banzai fans celebrating. First off the entire disc is presented as if it was released by the Banzai Institute and treats the films and its characters as dramatizations of the real life people that actually exist. While Actors played the real life Buckaroo and his pals there are (don’t you know it) actually people walking around that all of this was modeled after.

And that’s why if you like the film, you’ll absolutely have to get this disc and if you don’t well it’s remarkable you’re even reading this review and I thank you very much for doing so and hope It’s been entertaining and somehow enlightening to you. (Still here Mark?). (Editor’s Note: Yup, still here!)

The feature length tongue-in-cheek commentary track on the disc features director W.D. Richter and Reno from the Banzai Institute (AKA screen-writer Earl Mac Rauch) discussing their thoughts on the movie and how closely it relates to the actual real story of Buckaroo Banzai and his cronies. It’s quite informative and fun for fans of the film. There’s a feature called ‘Pinky Carruther’s Unknown Facts.

Pinky is a character played by Billy Vera in the film (of Billy Vera and The Beaters fame) and if you engage this feature throughout the film you’ll see subtitles revealing little known ‘facts and trivia” about the characters we are watching. The “Alternate Opening w/ Jamie Lee Curtis” can be viewed separately by itself in the special features section, or viewed along with the film. You can select the “Extended version of the film and see it not quite seamlessly attached to the finished film. It’s a prologue that didn’t make it into the original theatrical release of the film and should have. It sets up the character Buckaroo a little better as a child prodigy etc.

Buckaroo Banzai Declassified delivers a 23-minute documentary that incorporates interviews with the cast and crew with footage from the film. It begins with the promotional featurrette that was originally made during Buckaroo Banzai’s shoot and than expands to feature director W.D. Richter. Richter talks of Banzai as someone who is an actual person.

You’ll find 14 deleted scenes, which have been taking from an old preserved work print of the film and have not been particularly improved. It’s very interesting going through these 14 scenes and realizing what a different film (not any better) the film would have been with some or most of these scenes included. A few of them would have worked pretty well with the finished film. Fans of the film will be delighted to see: “New Jet Car Trailer,” which is a 1998 promotional trailer for a proposed Buckaroo Banzai TV series that never got made.

The trailer was made on a computer and is presented in non-anamorphic 1.66:1 widescreen and in Dolby Digital 2.0. The teaser trailer for The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai is also here, and is presented in anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen and in Dolby Digital 2.0. Now the real cult film fanatics will really enjoy the extras that include profiles of all the Buckaroo Banzai characters. These are all done with text except that the one on Buckaroo comes with some clips from the film. “Jet Car All Access” tells you everything you want to know about Buckaroo’s jet car.

There is also an extensive “Photo Gallery” and the “Banzai Institute Archives” which provides schematics of vehicles and complexes found in the film, print reviews of the film, and cover photos for the Hong Kong Cavaliers CD’s (which don’t really exist). BUT WAIT BLUE BLAZERS There is more more more EASTER EGGS! They start on the discs main menu. If you highlight the Play Movie and move the selection left it will highlight the middle jet car at the top of the screen and if you select that you’ll get several quotes from the film displayed for you.

After looking over the quotes move left and highly the circle in the upper left of the screen and you will find some alternate DVD menu designs. To see some very interesting and worthwhile alternate DVD cover designs go to the Banzai Institute Archives and highlight the B.B. logo in the lower right of the screen. The DVD also has several NUON enhanced features. I’m not one of the 22 and a half people in the U.S. that has a NUON featured DVD player so I can’t comment how wonderful the NUON features probably are.

BOTTOM LINE

The Adventure of Buckaroo Banzai is a somewhat dated, awkward mess of a film that has a strong cult following. It’s an ambitious film that really isn’t as difficult to enjoy as you might think, but it does require the viewer to pay close attention and have patience. It is packed with a cast of very recognizable names and faces and is where a few popular mid 80’s catch -phrases originated. The DVD gives you a stellar presentation of the film and is over-loaded with worthwhile features, which have been constructed and organized in the spirit of the film itself. The film is a goof on several levels and it thinks it’s a very clever, very hip, very unique experience – it almost is.