This week’s Monday Pick is the 1984 multi genre classic The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. Director/screenwriter W.D. Richter (Dracula (1979), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), Big Trouble in Little China) created one of the weirdest and most beloved cult classics of the 1980s.
Peter Weller (Robocop) stars as the multi talented neurosurgeon, physicist, rock musician and comic book hero Buckaroo Banzai who battles aliens know as Red Lectroids from the Planet 10 who plot to take over the Earth. Buckaroo Banzai’s character was influenced by the 1930s pulp novels of Doc Savage, much like Lucas and Spielberg’s Indiana Jones that was influenced after the literary adventure character of Allan Quatermain.
Buckaroo Banzai has always been a favorite of mine since I first saw it in theaters in the summer of 1984. It’s a very interesting/hard film to describe to anyone who has never scene it. The premise is beyond absurd but that’s what makes the film so lovable. Banzai and his team of do-gooders known as The Hong Kong Cavaliers (a version of Doc Savage’s Fabulous Five) battle the evil Red Lectroids under the command of Lord John Whorfin (yes an alien leader named John) played to psychotic perfection by John Lithgow, who is actually an Italian physicist known as Dr. Emilio Lizardo. Yeah, it’s a little confusing but when you watch the film it all comes together.
After a secret test in the desert of Banzai’s device known as an “Oscillation Overthruster,” a device which allows one to pass through solid matter, Banzai drives his jet car through a mountain where he crosses into the 8th dimension and inadvertently releases a group of exiled aliens who plot to not only conqueror their home planet, but Earth as well. The leader of the exiled aliens is John Whorfin who has existed inside the mind of Lithgow’s character who 45 years earlier also breached the 8th dimension (which is shown in a flashback sequence). Hearing of Banzai’s success, the evil Whorfin/Lizardo breaks out of a mental hospital and plans to unite the Red Lectroid aliens in order to conqueror the Earth. Once Banzai is aware of the Red Lectroids existence and the escape of Emilio Lizardo from custody, Banzai and The Hong Kong Cavaliers spring into action to save the world from World War III.
What makes Buckaroo Banzai a unique film is largely due in part to its impressive cast. Supporting roles include Ellen Barkin as Penny Priddy (who is supposedly a long lost identical sister of Buckaroo’s late wife.) Jeff Goldblum stars as Buckaroo’s long time friend and fellow doctor codenamed “New Jersey” a.k.a. Dr. Sidney Zweibel. Clancy Brown plays “Rawhide” who is Buckaroo’s 2nd in command. Pepe Serna as “Reno”, and Lewis Smith as Perfect Tommy who is simply “perfect all the time.” Other greats include Christopher Lloyd as John Bigboote, Dan Hedaya as John Gomez, and the late great Vincent Schiavelli as John O’ Connell.
Fans the world over rejoiced when the film was first released on DVD ten years ago and MGM/UA which holds the rights to the film spared no expense in loading up the DVD with fantastic extras and easter eggs within the disc. The production notes that pop up throughout the film are fantastic and give the viewer a whole new insight into the film.
For many years fans have been awaiting a sequel that is announced at the end of film, known as Buckaroo Banzai Against the World Crime League. Richter and the cast had every intention of shooting a sequel, but in the almost thirty years since it’s release, the idea has been shelved with the slight possibility of a remake.
Peter Weller and the cast look back at the film with fond memories and love how the film has gained such a huge cult following of fans all around the world. When first cast in the role Weller was hesitant that the film would be too campy or cartoonish. In an interview, Weller said that in one particular scene where Lizardo is torturing his character, he was laughing so hard due to the banter between Lithgow and Lloyd. Weller said that he based Banzai after the likes of Elia Kazan, Jacques Cousteau, Albert Einstein, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Adam Ant. Lithgow modeled Lizardo’s character after The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Goldblum and Richter met on the set of the 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Goldblum became a huge admirer of Richter’s writing style. Goldblum jumped at the chance to star in the film at Richter’s request.
The film was slated for an early release in June of 1984, but had stiff competition from Ghostbusters and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, so the film was pushed back to August instead. The film cost over twelve million dollars to make, yet only grossed over six million in the U.S. Richter had decided not to show the film as a huge commercial release and the film made up for lack of box office sales in the home video market as a result. The film holds a very positive 68% on Rotten Tomatoes and is considered by The Guardian as one of the “1,000 films to see before you die.”
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension is available on DVD thru MGM/UA and can be streamed via Netflix.