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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension: Collector's Edition (Blu-ray)
The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension: Collector's Edition (Blu-ray)
Shout Factory // PG // August 16, 2016 // Region A
List Price: $34.93 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Randy Miller III | posted August 2, 2016 | E-mail the Author

Wildly ambitious and unconventional, W.D. Richter's The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984) is every bit as loopy and excessive as its title implies. Written by Earl Mac Rauch (who, like Richter in the director's chair, only has two solo big-screen credits to his name), it's the kind of production that almost purposefully tries to keep viewers at a distance---or, at the very least, keep them guessing---but its willful disregard for convention has only deepened the film's cult status during the last 30+ years. Yours truly was introduced to Buckaroo Banzai during my high school days, when a much older family friend forked over a dubbed VHS copy sourced from something called a "laserdisc". That was...1996 or so, and my first viewing of Buckaroo Banzai was an equal mixture of confusion, surprise, and fascination.

Two decades later, my opinion hasn't changed: Buckaroo Banzai is the definition of "polarizing cinema", a gleefully giddy romp that plays its convoluted story straight while simultaneously being in on the joke. Our story follows the eponymous Buckaroo Banzai (Peter Weller, after Tom Hanks and Michael Keaton passed on the project), a hard-rockin' neurosurgeon and test pilot who also dabbles in physics, after his team's experimental Jet Car travels through solid matter with the help of an "oscillation overthruster" conceived by Professor Hikita (Robert Ito) and Dr. Emilio Lizardo (John Lithgow) 50 years earlier. Unfortunately, two things happened: Lizardo was possessed by the mind of alien lord John Whorfin during a test run (and committed to the Trenton Home for the Criminally Insane) and similar alien organisms also hitched a ride during Banzai's successful experiment. Now, with the help of Banzai's "Hong Kong Cavaliers"---a like-minded group of Renaissance men including Rawhide (Clancy Brown), Perfect Tommy (Lewis Smith), Pinky Carruthers (Billy Vera), Reno Nevada (Pepe Serna), and New Jersey (Jeff Goldblum)---Banzai must save Earth from these invading "Red Lectroids".

Not surprisingly, the original story by Rauch was rewritten several times, often changing direction completely when met with friction from the studio or members of the creative team. It's an odd mixture of mainstream ambition (no less than five films were originally planned, including the infamous Buckaroo Banzai Against the World Crime League advertised during its end credits) and contempt for mainstream acceptance, as if it were destined for cult status from day one. Either way, the entirely confusing story isn't even Buckaroo Banzai's main selling point: it's the film's infectious genre-bending mentality, quotable dialogue, and standout performances, mostly from relative newcomers and/or future stars. Long story short: it's a landmark of oddball cinema that may or may not be right up your alley, but one that's entirely worth seeing if you're at all interested in a spontaneous, freewheeling film that isn't afraid to ignore the rules...including its own.

Almost 20 years after its box-office failure, Buckaroo Banzai was first resurrected as a terrific Special Edition DVD by MGM back in January 2002 (loaded with plenty of extras, including a few "NUON-enhanced" ones that I'm betting about five people were able to access), while region-free and international audiences were treated to a Region B Blu-ray from Arrow last year. Shout Factory once again comes to the rescue with a domestic Collector's Edition Blu-ray that also doubles as the first entry in its new "Shout Selects" line. This isn't a definitive edition but it's awfully close, as this two-disc sdet (one Blu-ray, one DVD) serves up a near-flawless A/V presentation and a slate of entertaining extras.

Presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer of Buckaroo Banzai apparently comes from a similar source as Arrow's recent Region B Blu-ray...not that that's a bad thing, of course. The film's relatively low-budget visuals are displayed in great detail, for better or worse (you'll see more than a few seams and other accidental items, which are more charming than troublesome), sporting a wonderfully stylish color palette that plays to the film's left-field strengths. There's a fair amount of depth and texture at times, with strong black levels and creative lighting effects that stand out in high definition. Overall, Buckaroo Banzai has no shortage of memorable visuals, and Shout's Blu-ray will certainly thrill long-time disciples of the film who haven't seen it in a few years. This is a fine upgrade from MGM's respectable but entirely dated 2001 DVD, and that alone will probably justify a purchase for even the most thrifty Blue Blazers.

DISCLAIMER: The promotional stills and screen captures on this page are decorative and do not represent the title under review.

Both audio options (an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio remix and the original 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio Stereo track) sound great; they'll be familiar to owners of MGM's Special Edition DVD, but the courtesy bump to lossless definitely adds a good amount of depth and clarity to the proceedings. It's great to have both options, but I've always been partial to the 5.1 remix as the added directionality and occasional panning effects seem to fit in with the film's loopy, energetic atmosphere naturally...but, if you're a purist, the two-channel track will do the job just fine. Overall, both options are highly enjoyable with only the slightest moments of source material limitations; dialogue, music, and effects are typically balanced quite well and rarely fight for attention. Optional English subtitles are included during the main feature only.

The interface is presented in Shout's typical no-frills style and features smooth, simple navigation and the bare minimum of pre-menu distractions. Separate options are provided for chapter selection, subtitle/commentary setup, and additional bonus features. This two-disc release (one Blu-ray, one DVD) arrives in a dual-hubbed keepcase with an attractive reversible cover featuring new and vintage artwork promoting the film, plus a matching slipcover to boot.

Original poster (left) available at Phantom City Creative. Good luck finding the German VHS edition (right), though.

Like the majority of Shout Factory's "Collector's Edition" line, Buckaroo Banzai serves up a pleasing assortment of exclusive new bonus features and almost everything of interest from MGM's 2001 DVD. Here's the complete breakdown:

New to this release are two lengthy and worthwhile extras. The first is a feature-length Audio Commentary with Michael and Denise Okuda: this husband-and-wife team should be familiar to Star Trek fans as they've contributed more than a few text/audio commentaries and interviews to the franchise films and shows (which they both worked extensively on), and their love and respect for Buckaroo Banzai is obvious here. It's obviously a trivia-heavy track with a minimum of "on-screen narration", with more than its share of production details but a handful of dry patches along the way.

For most fans, though, the main attraction is a brand-new and extremely well-rounded retrospective documentary, Into The 8th Dimension (128 minutes!). Each of its eight "dimensions"---"The Origin", "The Cast", "Making The Movie", "Design Elements", "Visual Effects", "Post Production", "The Release", and "Beyond Banzai", ranging from about 5 to 25 minutes apiece---features no shortage of first-hand participants discussing the film's production. There's a staggering amount of contributors here, including (but not limited to) director W.D. Richter; actors Peter Weller, John Lithgow, Christopher Lloyd, Billy Vera, Lewis Smith, Damon Hines, and Clancy Brown; producer Neil Canton; makeup artists Bari Dreiband-Burman and Tom Burman; costume designers Eddie Marks and Aggie Rodgers; composer Michael Boddicker; VFX supervisors Michael Fink and Peter Kuran; and at least a dozen others. All of the expected bases are covered in moderate detail or at least touched upon, with highlights including the story's inception and early development, the unorthodox writing process of Earl Mac Rauch (disappointingly absent, as is Ellen Barkin), budget constraints, creative solutions, early screenings and public response, and much more. Great stuff, and plenty here to satisfy die-hard fans.

Rare behind-the-scenes images courtesy of World Watch Online via Cinefix Magazine. More at the link!

Carried over from MGM's DVD are plenty of fine extras including a feature-length Audio Commentary with director W.D. Richter and writer Earl Mac Rauch, a medium-length "Buckaroo Banzai Declassified" behind-the-scenes featurette, a handful of Deleted Scenes (which include the aforementioned alternate opening with Jamie Lee Curtis), plus two Trailers: the original version and a later "Jet Car" trailer made to drum up interest a decade after the film's release.

Missing in action are a subtitle trivia track (titled "Pinky Carruther's Unknown Facts"), a short radio interview with publicist Terry Erdmann, few still photo and promotional galleries, at least two Easter eggs, and the newer supplements Arrow created for their Region B Blu-ray, which include interviews with Peter Weller and John Lithgow, a lengthy Lincoln Center Q&A, and a visual essay by film critic Matt Zoller Seitz. It's disappointing that this wasn't a "total package" release (at least as far as those old MGM extras go), but DVD copies are easily available if you don't own one already.

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension is, as its title implies, a loopy sci-fi romp with niche appeal. Now well past its 30th birthday, it hasn't aged so much as remained frozen in time, a strange and deliberately off-center relic from the early 1980s that gave a handful of future stars one of their first real chances to shine on the big screen. Like many others, I first heard about the film through word-of-mouth several years after it fizzled in theaters, but ambitious home video releases like Shout Factor's new Collector's Edition Blu-ray (not to mention Arrow's recent Region B Blu-ray and MGM's DVD before it) will only bolster its ever-growing cult appeal. Serving up a solid A/V presentation and plenty of great bonus features (including a retrospective documentary that's longer than the film itself), Buckaroo Banzai is a solid start to the studio's new "Selects" line and a no-brainer for fans of all ages. Highly Recommended.

Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs, and writing in third person.
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