The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension, 1984.
Directed by W.D. Richter.
Starring Peter Weller, John Lithgow, Ellen Barkin, Christopher Lloyd, Jeff Goldblum, Lewis Smith and Ronald Lacey.
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai arrives in a new Blu-ray edition that’s been highly anticipated by fans of this 80s cult classic. With an all-star cast featuring Jeff Goldblum, Peter Weller, John Lithgow, Christopher Lloyd, and Ellen Barkin, Banzai is a movie that’s not quite sure if it’s a sci-fi adventure, a comedy, or some genre from the eighth dimension. This first release in the new Shout Select line features a nice high-def print of the movie, a new two-hour documentary, a new commentary track, and most of the bonus features from the previous DVD.
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai is a movie that you simply have to experience, if you’ve never seen it before. And it’s worth experiencing at least one, if you’re open to movies that defy all conventional wisdom about storytelling and yet still manage to work, at least to some extent. I’ll admit I’m not a diehard fan who was chomping at the bit to get my hands on Shout! Factory’s new Collector’s Edition Blu-ray, but I did look forward to the opportunity to explore this movie in more detail, since I don’t have the previous DVD.
Buckaroo (Peter Weller) is a hero who’s renowned as a physicist, neurosurgeon, and rock star, a guy who spends his morning performing a delicate surgery and his afternoon testing an experimental device called an Oscillator Overthruster, which enables him to drive a car through a hillside and into the eighth dimension.
Doing so, however, attracts the attention of the evil Red Lectroids, aliens who want to use the Buckaroo’s device to free their comrades who are trapped in the eighth dimension. To further their goals, one of their spirits takes over Dr. Emilio Lizardo (John Lithgow), who enlists a trio of henchmen led by John Bigboote (pronounced “big boo-tay” (Christopher Lloyd)) to help him get the Red Lectroids back to Planet 10.
Meanwhile, another group of aliens known as Black Lectroids are orbiting Earth in their spaceship, and they send one of their kind to Buckaroo with a message from their leader, who supplies a batch of exposition. Buckaroo and his Hong Kong Cavaliers, who assist him with science experiments and play in his rock band, must help the Black Lectroids thwart the Red Lectroids. Oh, and a mysterious woman named Penny Priddy (Ellen Barkin) has a role to play in the proceedings.
While that plot rundown seems pretty straightforward, Buckaroo Banzai is anything but conventional. The movie careens from one plot point to the next, with thin character motivations and even thinner story logic, but that’s not why you watch a film like this. You watch it because you can’t believe someone actually financed it, and you really can’t believe that despite the crazy roller coaster ride it sends you on, it more or less manages to pull off what it’s trying to do. It’s an “everything but the kitchen sink” kind of movie, one that tosses together big helpings of sci-fi adventure, quirky characters, laugh-out-loud moments, and quotable dialogue to produce the kind of cult classic that most people either love or hate.
If you’re a fan, you’re probably wondering if this new edition is worth the purchase, and I would say that’s an unequivocal “yes.” This is the first release in Shout!’s new Shout Select series, and they clearly put a lot of love and care into this one, although they didn’t port over everything from the old DVD, so you’ll probably want to hold onto it.
In addition to a high-definition version of the film, this Blu-ray serves up a new two-hour documentary called Into the 8th Dimension that covers the making of the movie from start to finish. Many members of the cast and crew show up for interviews, and they tell plenty of interesting stories, such as one about executive producer Sidney Beckerman’s expectation that the film was going to be similar to Raiders of the Lost Ark, which is why he arranged for the first test screening to happen in a theater full of fifth graders. (Spoiler alert: It didn’t go well.) Beckerman is also the subject of a great anecdote that explains why a watermelon inexplicably shows up in one scene.
The film features two commentary tracks, a new one with fans Denise and Michael Okuda (also known for their Star Trek trivia tracks) and one with director W.D. Richter and screenwriter Earl Mac Rauch from the previous DVD. The new one is a good trivia track that fans will enjoy, but I found the older one a bit tedious. The conceit of the original DVD was that Buckaroo was a real person and the film was a docu-drama, so all the bonus materials were presented in that fashion. In the commentary, Rauch plays the role of a member of the Banzai Institute who is there to discuss the film from that perspective. Richter bounces between playing along with Rauch and giving information about the making of the movie, and sometimes the two of them lapse into a lengthy silence.
The second disc in this set is a standard-def DVD that houses some, but not all, of the materials from the old DVD, starting with the 22-minute Buckaroo Banzai Declassified featurette, which mixes the “this is based on a true story” conceit with interviews from when the movie was originally made. Also included are 15 minutes of deleted scenes, including the well-known original opening sequence featuring Jamie Lee Curtis, the theatrical trailer, and a trailer that has a CGI sequence for what would have been a TV series called Buckaroo Banzai: Ancient Secrets and New Mysteries. The show was scrapped, but supposedly Kevin Smith is shopping around a new series based on the character. I’ll give it a try if it happens.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★