As a movie, Buckaroo Banzai could perhaps be better, but could also be an awful lot worse. Remember,
the decade after Star Wars brought forth rubbish like The Ice Pirates, camp epics that
tried to emulate Lucas and fell on their faces. Director Richter animates Rauch's world with energy
and commitment, embracing every awkward situation (the discovery of Penny Priddy crying in a cabaret
audience) and making sure every cornball dialogue line is delivered as if it were the most serious utterance
ever heard in a movie theater. Even the manic Emilio Lizardo is played straight. The wackiness
is unified into something we can care about - a consistently earnest tone, the maintenance of
which is no mean feat.
Deadpan Peter Weller puts just enough ironic curve on his delivery to have
fun with his role without condescendsion; he's also vulnerable enough to be an interesting hero. His
Cavaliers are interestingly orchestrated, personalities with varying combinations of the cool and
the klunky that
allow actors like Pepe Serna and Clancy Brown to be distinctive without reams of 'character color'
written into their dialogue. Jeff Goldblum is amusingly green, and Ellen Barkin interestingly
waifish, even when striding about in a scarlet cocktail dress.
The villains on view are mostly a pack of clowns, led by the wonderful John Lithgow's Lizardo. A
tight bundle of goofy mannerisms and extreme facial expressions, Lizardo is wonderful working with
the tightass Christopher Lloyd and sub-moron Red Lectroids Schiavelli and Dan Hedaya.
As icing on the cake, the imaginative special effects include interesting organic spaceships,
giant flying seashells that look as if they were grown instead of constructed. A handful of different
effects shops that sprang up after Star Wars participated in the wide variety of effects that
were needed, and these are scaled nicely to the show without overwhelming it. Some of the effects and
special makeup actually barely make the grade, yet seem just perfect.
The only real detriments to Buckaroo Banzai are the action scenes and the settings. Without
a budget for large sets, altogether too much of the film takes place in (yawn) derelict factories,
with endless games of tag being played in nondescript corridors and hallways. The movie also seems
a bit shortchanged for rough stuff, and doesn't pay off on the action promised by all the guns,
martial arts and samurai hardware brandished by the Cavaliers. On the other hand, this may be a
plus for fans sick of the so-called 'science fiction' movies that are really lame action films.
It's fun watching the oddball characters interact and bounce off one another, and the self-conscious
cornball factor is a big plus. Scooter Lindley (Damon Hines) rushes out to tell his father Casper
(Bill Henderson) that Buckaroo needs help, and receives a 'Say What?' that usually brings down
the house. Obnoxious Perfect Tommy (Lewis Smith) is constantly being put in his place for being
such an egoist, or placated with reminders that he is, after all, perfect. When all the
Cavaliers function as a working unit, blending their technical expertise towards a common goal,
the picture becomes a kind of Utopia for young adult males: coolness, hi-technology, guns, and
rock music. You can imagine the Fox executives sweating when screenings were greeted with mostly
smiles and chuckles instead of belly laughs. Word of mouth was good but this isn't the kind of crowdpleaser
that studios understand, then or now.
MGM's DVD of Buckaroo Banzai presents a fine new transfer of the standard 1984 cut, in 16:9
and letterboxed for the first time on video. There was an early laserdisc that was a collector's
treasure even though its squeezed and pan'n scanned image looked terrible. The transfer is so good,
some of the special effects shots are shown to have optical dirt printed in, a flaw that could have
been cleaned up digitally, one could suppose. This Special Edition has a number of unusual extras
that will either thrill fans or frustrate them, depending on what they expect from their special
The extras address one of the main problems that hurt the show when it was new. At the last minute, extraneous background plotting was removed
that would have helped some of the relationships make better sense. Thinking the movie too complicated,
they jettisoned a prologue that explained Buckaroo's name and heritage, the genesis of the overthruster,
and the relationship between Penny Priddy and Buckaroo's dead wife, who looked just like her. Losing
this background info (which was presented in a fairly exciting manner) robbed Buckaroo of a lot of
needed depth, while alienating literal-minded viewers who wanted all the plot details to add up to
an even number.
The special edition DVD was not scaled big enough to take in the entire production. Also, although reels of
star interviews and behind-the-scenes video were shot, none was retained by anyone except director
W.D. Richter, who only had VHS tape copies, often with time-code windows.
But Richter and Rauch were
to use the Special Edition to promote new life for their one-shot 'franchise' and gave the project
much valuable assistance. The extras are consistent with their take on the show, and account for the
tongue-in-cheek tone that pretends that Buckaroo is a real historical figure and that the movie is
simply an attempt to popularize, for the big screen, a small fraction of his many exploits. This conceit
is maintained well by Richter and Earl Mac Rauch, who pretends to be the real-life Reno on the main
commentary track; hopefully it won't be taken as too taxing by fans who'd prefer a
straight approach. Savant himself has no use whatsoever for prank commentaries as found on discs
like Blood simple. Besides including
BTS looks at the miniatures (with Greg Jein, Savant's old boss in
special effects) and the ferocious functioning Jet Car, the extras include the missing deleted
scenes that explain Buckaroo's backstory and introduce the all-important unseen character Hanoi Xan
The only extra piece of footage that was found intact on 35mm (instead of VHS) and was therefore able to
be reintegrated into the film was an alternate opening that takes the form of the Banzai's home
movies from 1954. A series of outtakes of Clancy Brown's narration were found and a new audio opening
them, as no track was located. 4
This alternate opening, which features James Saito and Jamie Lee Curtis (!) as Buckaroo's parents,
is offered both as a stand-alone extra, and as an alternate seamless branch during DVD playback. It bears the
original title, just plain Buckaroo Banzai. It's funny that original distributor 20th-Fox wanted
to simplify the story, but opted to complicate the
title into the desperate-sounding final concoction. Can't anyone learn from
The Fearless Vampire Killers, or pardon
me, but your teeth are in my neck? It was once the elegant Dance of the Vampires.
The Internet Movie Database lists a director's long cut, as if Buckaroo Banzai had been
finished with these scenes and others intact. It wasn't, and none of the 35mm workprint elements for
longer cuts were found in the scraps and snips of trims and outs still archived for the film. They were
undoubtedly carefully set aside, and .... who knows. The fact that Buckaroo was an independent
handed off to a series of rights holders and libraries before coming to MGM didn't
simplify the research process. Therefore, the only element for the missing scenes
was Richter's own VHS of a workprint-in-progress transferred to let the sound cutters get a head start. This
is the original for the many bootlegs, so at least it's good VHS quality. Every snipped
section is presented with handles that help place it in context within the film. A couple of unused
scenes that didn't even make the workprint are included, from 35mm workprint trims; the sound on
these was poorly transferred to mag film and is therefore almost inaudible.
The project producer hoped to reconstitute more of the scenes Richter would have liked
to reinstate, but found only the prologue. The audio for that had to be reinvented from scratch.
Savant still finds Buckaroo Banzai to be amusing and diverting; his kids think it's great.
It's certainly out of the ordinary, which in these cookiecutter days of entertainment, is high
praise. Finally available in a good widescreen transfer, it's really worth checking out.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension rates:
Supplements: Docu: Buckaroo Banzai Declassified, alternate opening, deleted scenes
Packaging: Amaray case
Reviewed: December 3, 2001
1. Defined as fashionable, narcissistic and exclusionary, as in
Our Man Flint. Radiating Hipness always carries the implication that others around you are not hip.
2. Coolness on the other hand, is simply being at ease with one's
individuality and uniqueness. You aspire to the right appearance and behavior to be Cool, although the
fastest route to Coolness is just aggressively being yourself, assuming you're a positive individual.
On the other hand, misfits and outcasts can be Cool just by being true to their natures. The
Frankenstein monster is a beautiful person, man, and is as Cool as they come ... without an ounce