What do you get when you cross a visionary particle physicist with a brilliant neurosurgeon, a philosopher for the ages, a fearless race car test pilot, a comic book hero and the world’s greatest rock musician?
The truth is, you only get one thing. More precisely, you only get one man. And that man is Buckaroo Banzai!
Regular readers of Biff Bam Pop! would (should) recognize that name. Especially readers of a certain age. Were you born in the 1970’s? Did you spend your out-of-school summers riding your gooseneck, banana-seat bike to the local video rental store? Did you gather in basements with your pals, watching all manner of obscure VHS movie tapes simply because they had cool titles? Yeah? Then you were probably a Blue Blaze Irregular. And you probably still are, in some shape or form.
‘Cos nothing was cooler than the 1984 cult film, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai: Across the Eighth Dimension.
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai: Across the Eighth Dimension details the story of our titular hero (played with quiet and confidant relish by Peter Weller) as he battles evil and power-hungry (if oblivious) Red Lectroid aliens, inadvertently freed from their eighth-dimension prison via a successful Buckaroo science experiment. With the help of his Jet Car and his secret technological creation, the “oscillation overthruster”, Buckaroo is able to realize his long deceased father’s greatest dream: the allowance of human beings to pass through solid matter. In this instance, a mountain, the opening scene of the exhilarating sci-fi, pulpy, comedy film.
The “overthruster” allows for the folding of dimensional space – but as Buckaroo passes harmlessly though the eighth dimension (and hence, the mountain, here on our plane of existence), he unwittingly brings back an alien organism. The news of this successful science experiment sends shockwaves across the earth as the physicist Dr. Emilio Lizardo (acted with camp brilliance – and a crazed Italian accent – by John Lithgow), imprisoned in a home for the criminally insane, sees this, finally, as the means to free all of the eighth-dimension imprisoned Red Lectroids. Lizardo, you see, was once a brilliant scientist, working with Banzai’s father on the “oscillation overthruster”, but went mad when a Red Lectroid named Lord John Whorfin took over his mind and body, all those years ago.
It all sounds a little crazy, doesn’t it? With Buckaroo Banzai, crazy is just the beginning.
Writer Earl Mac Rauch conceived of the Buckaroo idea sometime in the late 1970’s to early 1980’s. He was inspired by pop culture heroes like Doc Savage, James Bond and Batman, rock musicians like Adam Ant, scientists like Jacques Cousteau and Albert Einstein and renaissance men like Leonardo Da Vinci. The traits of all of these men can be found in Banzai, an all-encompassing hero for everyone, for all time.
Under the helm of director W.D. Richter, pop culture was at the heart of all things Buckaroo Banzai. Rauch wrote various half-hearted, started-then-abandoned, stories and scripts detailing the adventures of the hero with titles that sounded like Philip K. Dick novels including “Find the Jet Car, Said the President – A Buckaroo Banzai Thriller” (what a great title!), “The Strange Case of Mr. Cigars” and “Lepers from Saturn” (Lepers would later become Lectroids). Aspects of all of these unfinished stories and half-ideas would find their way into the film. Even the final shooting script had, at its genesis, the Orson Welles radio-play of “War of the Worlds” and it’s setting of Grover’s Mill, New Jersey, as a sort of inciting force. In the world of Buckaroo Banzai, “War of the Worlds” actually happened. Red Lectoids invaded our planet, for real, with the American military able to put down the alien threat. The incident was covered up as fiction, but the hidden truth remained. The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai: Across the Eighth Dimension is, in some obscure way, a sort of sequel to that famous Orson Welles tale.
But the movie carved out its own crazy and prolific niche as well, one that honoured the many traits of the hero. The supporting cast of Hong Kong Cavaliers (also a Banzai’s rock band) are a smile-inducing attraction of assistants and heroes themselves, each with their own fully fleshed-out characteristics, and all played by an amazing array of actors and actresses. Fan favourite Clancy Brown is Banzai’s right-hand man, Rawhide. Jeff Goldblum is Dr. Sidney Zweibel, otherwise known as the cowboy hat and stirrup-wearing New Jersey. The absolutely gorgeous and sexy Ellen Barkin is Penny Priddy, the suicidal twin sister of Buckaroo’s deceased wife, first introduced in one of the most memorable cinematic scenes of any film, if only for its inherent Banzai philosophy. For fans of the film, it’s a life altering truth: “No matter where you go, there you are.”
Thank you Buckaroo Banzai. Everything is clear. And so is the scene, beautifully shot by Jordan Cronenweth (Blade Runner) as cinematographer, who was inexplicable replaced by the producers.
Yeah, it’s absolutely nuts. But the team, completed by characters Reno Nevada, Perfect Tommy and Pinky Carruthers, is absolutely awesome. Adding to the lore of Buckaroo Banzai, they all get back stories and dangling plot threads. This is true world-building.
Actors Christopher Lloyd, Vincent Schiavelli and Carl Lumbly are here as well, in the roles of villainous and incompetent Red Lectroids, bent on destroying the good-nurtured Black Lectroids (who, it so happens, speak in Rasta accents) and conquering our world. But it’s John Lithgow, fresh off of back-to-back Academy Award nominations in The World According to Garp and Terms of Endearment, who steals scenes as he invokes a juicy (and racist) Mussolini that viewers will most assuredly remember for all their days. “Where are we going?” yells Dr. Lizardo/Lord John Whorfin to his Red Lectroid brethren. “Planet 10!” they enthusiastically answer. “When?” he asks. “Real soon!” And we fall off of our chairs, laughing, loving it!
Buckaroo Banzai was always a risk for these actors. It’s gone on record that not a one of them understood what was going on with the story, but they were all excited for it because Richter and Rauch were so enthusiastic!
I always loved the ending to The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai: Across the Eighth Dimension. Here, we are given a brief glimpse of the hero’s next adventure: Buckaroo Banzai Against the World Crime League – a film that would pit him against his arch-enemy (not seen in Across the Eighth Dimension), the villainous Hanoi Xan, the man who murdered Buckaroo’s parents! And of course, there is the final scene, wherein the team triumphantly strut trough a cement watercourse on a bright day to the best 80’s instrumental theme song ever conceived!
The sequel film, unfortunately, was never made as The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai: Across the Eighth Dimension absolutely bombed at the box office. No one could make heads or tails out of the characters or the script – the very same irrational and crazed concepts that allowed the film to flourish by word of mouth, VHS and other media including books, video games, comic books, DVD, cult movie festivals, the success of the actors in other films and, of course, time.
A Special Edition of the film, released in 2002, contains deleted scenes (including one that shows Jamie Lee Curtis as Buckaroo’s mother!) as well as commentary and featurettes contending that Buckroo Banzai and his scientific Banzai Institute, the Hong Kong Cavaliers, the Blue Blaze Irregulars (people from all walks of life that would aid Buckaroo in a time of need) is real-life and that the film is merely a docu-drama of events that actually happened.
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai: Across the Eighth Dimension lives on today in the hearts and minds of cinema-buffs, cult-classic film lovers, pop culture enthusiasts and creative people everywhere. Its legacy is one of originality and imagination, of heroes conquering their ruthless enemies and of the human search for knowledge – even if it’s only a fictional knowledge.
It still makes for a wonderful crazed Saturday at the movies.