Some movies are destined for cult status before they even have the chance to succeed with the mainstream. The textbook example for this would be The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension. Even the title seems to be a dare. It certainly doesn’t in any way hide the movie’s niche nature. That long rambling moniker either entices you with what strange wonders lie within or scares you away with unabashed geekiness. It’s no surprise that Buckaroo Banzai failed at the box office in 1984. You can’t even call the movie ahead of its time. W.D. Richter’s campy sci-fi rock n’ roll odyssey was destined to only ever appeal to weird freaks who would trade VHS tapes in hushed tones while the larger world happily ignored the flick’s very existence. Thankfully, that gang of weirdoes grows every year and now Buckaroo Banzai is beloved enough that a TV series spin-off is on the way. That’s hard to imagine for even the biggest Buckaroo fan and I suppose that’s why Shout Factory was kind enough to lavish the movie with one of their finest Blu-ray releases to date.
So…how to even describe the plot. It’s tough. The movie opens with a backstory crawl so convoluted that most viewers end up lost before the movie even beings. Maybe that’s the point. The basics are that Peter Weller stars as the titular Buckaroo, a rock star/scientist/superhero/everything else who discovers a way to defy the laws of physical matter and burst through to the 8th dimension. That achievement infuriates Dr. Emilio Lizardo (John Lithgow with an accent and hairdo wild enough to live up to that name) who attempted to break through to the 8th dimension in 1930s and can’t believe Buckaroo beat him to the punch. Lizardo decides to get revenge and starts charging himself with electrodes to beat his heroic nemesis. Now, that doesn’t make a whole lotta sense and I assure you that everything else that follows in this bonkers plot is actually even more insane.
Buckaroo Banzai is one of those movies that is so uniquely bizarre and pitched to it’s own tone that you’re either onboard or not within an instant. There’s no pandering here and even less in the way of rational explanation. The movie is what the great Moe Szyslak once described as “weird for the sake of weird” and gloriously so. It’s hard to say what screenwriter Earl Mac Rauch had in mind when he whipped up this one except for every conceivable cultural influence that appealed to him at the time. That it fell into the hands of director (writer of Big Trouble In Little China, and the 70s Invasion Of The Body Snatchers) was likely for the best. He turned it all into deadpan comedy, both self-mocking and self-aggrandizing. It was myth-making that treated every element of that myth as a glorious joke.
The movie is a wild of collage of influences, ideas, characters, effects, and asides. If you’re confused or bored for a minute, stick around because the movie is sure to fly off in some new wild direction soon enough. While Buckaroo Banzai was clearly made with more imagination than money, the trippy low-fi effects and visuals only add to the charm of the piece. There’s a tackiness to it all that is wonderfully sincere. Weller anchors the proceedings with an authoritative performance that at least suggests he understands everything that’s happening (unlikely), Lithgow goes farther over the top than he even did for DePalma to deliver glorious overacting of Cage-ian heft, and then Jeff Goldblum wanders around being himself because that fits in just fine. It’s unclear how many members of the cast are in on the joke of Buckaroo Banzai, but even when a confused day player plays it straight, that kind of adds to the off-kilter charms. I can’t in good conscious describe Buckaroo Banzai as a masterpiece because even now after several viewings over a number of years, I’m still not 100% what the movie is supposed to be. However, I applaud the film for being it’s own weird, wacky, unpredictable self all the same. There’s certainly nothing else like this Buckaroo Banzai and it’s a miracle that it even exists.
First off, Shout Factory have done an amazing job restoring Buckaroo Banzai for Blu-ray. Given that the movie was barely even released theatrically, it’s unlikely audiences have ever seen it look so good. Aside from a few flecks on the print, the images are stunning with vibrant colors and rich depth. If anything, the transfer is too good as the old school effects work looks particularly dated. That adds to the retro campy charm, but is still worth noting. The audio mix is also top notch, with a master 5.1 surround mix replicating the original 70mm presentation (yep that was a thing for about a dozen or so lucky 1984 audience members) and is filled with all sorts of strange designs and atmosphere. Seriously, I can’t imagine the filmmakers ever thought their work would be so well preserved.
Then we come to the special features, which kicks off with an absolutely spectacular two hour (!) documentary about the inception, production, release, and cult redemption of Buckeroo Banzai featuring every major player except for Jeff Goldblum. It’s an amazingly detailed dive into what was a surprisingly smooth production until the studio got the movie and had no idea what to do with it. In fact, it’s hard to imagine fans will need to know much more about the movie that isn’t in that feature length doc, but we’re just getting started. All of the old features from the special edition DVD also made the cut. So there’s a commentary with W.D. Richter and writer Earl Mac Rauch that’s a delight (especially since Rauch didn’t make it into the new doc). For the more technically inclined, designers Michael and Dennis Okuda provide a second commentary outlining how they came up with the movie’s wild visuals, which is a bit more dry yet still interesting.
Also included in the set is a DVD featuring an old 22-minute documentary about the movie that’s amusingly light-hearted and self-effacing, a 7-minute alternate opening, 14-minutes worth of deleted scenes (don’t expect anything that makes much sense), and a pair of trailers.
Does this deserve a spot on your Dork Shelf?
For the uninitiated, you may want to sample the movie before committing to this purchase. This movie sure isn’t for everyone, but if the overbearing title doesn’t intimidate you then you’re probably primed for amusement. Just expect an overload of 80sness (in the best possible way of course). And if you’re already a Buckaroo Banzai aficionado, you’ve probably already ordered this and are going to be very pleased with it.
It’s also worth noting that Shout Factory chose this title to the be the first in their new ‘Shout Select‘ series, an arm which looks like it concentrates on 80s cult films while still leaving the scary stuff to Scream Factory. Hopefully this is just the first in many to come, other titles already announced include Bill and Ted’s Excellent Collection, To Live and Die in LA, Midnight Run, Road House, and John Carpetnter’s Elvis.
this is the first movie Shout Factory