Buckaroo Banzai — AKA: The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension — is one of the great cult classics of the 1980s. And Shout! Factory‘s new Blu-ray release of the flick is an excellent way to remember a singular film that believes its part of much bigger universe.
Peter Weller stars as Dr. Buckaroo Banzai, a neurosurgeon/physicist/rock star in the mold of Doc Savage (if a bit smaller in physique). Along with his rock band, The Hong Kong Cavaliers, he gets into one scrape after another.
As Across the 8th Dimension begins, Banzai recruits a new Cavalier, performs brain surgery on an Inuit and breaks the dimensional barrier discovered by his friend and mentor Professor Hikita. But evil Red Lectroids from Planet Ten intend to steal his trans-dimensional device, the Oscillation Overthruster, and resume their totalitarian regime.
With the aid of his pals, members of his fan club and a Black Lectroid named John Parker, it’s up to Banzai to keep the self-proclaimed Lord John Whorfin from obtaining a working Overthruster and prevent the Earth from being destroyed by a Black Lectroid countermeasure.
The plot is delightfully cheesy with its roots in Saturday morning cereals and comic books, but a greater part of the appeal is the film’s warp-speed world-building. In the span of a half-hour, the viewer is introduced to colorful characters like Perfect Tommy, Rawhide, Emilio Lizardo, and New Jersey. We’re also introduced to concepts like the Banzai Institute for Biological Research and Strategic Information, the history Banzai, Nikita and Lizardo share in regard to the Overthruster and the 8th Dimension, and the Red Lectroids who own and operate a defense contractor called Yoyodyne Propulsion Systems.
And that’s still leaving out the watermelon, Lizardo and Whorfin inhabiting the same body and the entire presence of John Bigbooty.
The script by Earl Mac Rauch assumes a familiarity with the Banzai world despite it only existing in his head. The direction of W.D. Richter doubles down on the confidence that viewers will just get it. And for a good number of people — this reviewer included — it works. The most important plot elements are explained while the richness of Rauch’s world bleeds in from the edges of the frame. Why is the President of the United States in traction? The film actually contains an answer, but the visual detail of the President’s strange medical rig gives what might otherwise be standard “raising the stakes” scenes an off-beat charm.
That confidence in the writing and direction is backed by a cast which includes Weller, Jeff Goldblum (New Jersey), Clancy Brown (Rawhide), Ellen Barkin and Lewis Smith (Perfect Tommy). The group give it their all as they inhabit Rauch’s world. Even it they don’t understand half of what they are saying, they do a fine job of seemingly like they get it.
Opposing Banzai is an all-star rogues gallery of John Lithgow as Lizardo/Whorfin, Vincent Schiavelli and Dan Hedaya as Black Lectroids John O’Connor and John Gomez. But the standout is Christopher Lloyd as the eternally frustrated John Bigbooty. Already resigned to his imprisonment on Earth, his growing impatience with Whorfin is one of the film’s greatest charms.
There are also wonderful moments with Matt Clark as the US Secretary of Defense, Ronald Lacey as the President and even an early appearance by Breaking Bad‘s Jonathan Banks as an orderly at a mental hospital. Justice League‘s Carl Lumbly also stands out as John Parker.
Seriously, if you’re tuned into the film’s wavelength, few films will have you feeling so giddy as it comes to its end.
Shout’s release of the film looks beautiful in its Blu-ray form. While still retaining the softness of a 1984 film, the colors tend to be as vibrant as they can be. A few scenes shot by Blade Runner‘s legendary cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth are remarkable for the extra level of contrast he brought to the production, reproduced with great fidelity in the Blu-ray transfer. Sadly, gunshy producers replaced him after a few days, as detailed in the set’s expansive documentary, Into the 8th Dimension.
Featuring interviews from Richter, just about every member of the cast — Goldblum and Barkin are the notable holdouts — and several members of the crew, the documentary goes into great detail about bringing Rauch’s script to the screen, the producer who was terrified of it and Weller’s continued bafflement by what it all means.
Richter recalls the project from its earliest days as Rauch’s unfocused notes through the version of the script they submitted for budgeting. He also recalls the day he realized no one at the executive level cared anymore and began to slip things into the movie like the watermelon moment. Other crewmembers recall how details like the cake boxes, the Lectroid Thermopods and the Overthruster came into being. There’s even an entire sequence devoted to shooting the film’s end credits.
The level of detail in the documentary will be appreciated by Banzai fans — the Blue Blaze Irregulars — particularly those who picked up the MGM DVD release fourteen years ago and saw the much shorter Buckaroo Banzai Declassified featurette; which chose to tell a truncated making-of story from the standpoint of Banzai being a real person. For those curious about that featurette, Shout included it — and the rest of the MGM video content — on a second disc.
One thing that did not carry over from the MGM release is the wealth of text supplements detailing the far reaches of Banzai’s world and some of the present-day activities of the Banzai Institute. But considering how difficult the text was to read and navigate back then, it’s a small loss in comparison to the gains of Into the 8th Dimension.
The set also comes with two audio commentary tracks. One, from the MGM release, features Richter and Rauch (posing as Banzai Institute archivist Reno of Memphis) continuing with the notion that Banzai is real and recalling a handful of stories from that perspective. The other track features Michael and Denise Okuda. It’s more of a technical track, but worth a listen for Denise Okuda’s stories of the early Banzai fandom and the couple revealing their tendency to sneak props of the Overthruster onto the sets of the various Star Trek productions they’ve worked on.
For Blue Blaze Irregulars on the fence about upgrading, the Blu-ray is a must have. With glorious looking video and a top-notch documentary, it certainly worth the purchase. And for everyone else, it’s a marvelous opportunity to discover a surprisingly funny and confident film.