The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension

Released in 1984, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension was the first film directed by W.D. Richter, and nearly his last; he would direct only one other film, 1991’s Late For Dinner, though he would write screenplays for several others. That Richter did not direct another film for so long is probably due to the same reason that there wasn’t a second Buckaroo Banzai movie, as the end of the film promises; it simply didn’t do very well at the box office. Hollywood logic being what it is, no doubt somebody out there has used this for evidence that films shouldn’t have really long titles. But while the film didn’t meet with success in the theatres, it went on to achieve cult classic status on home video and television. It’s easy to see why: the film has a cheerful, easy-going acceptance of its own goofiness. Where some films might ask the audience to go along with the film’s oddness, Buckaroo Banzai doesn’t appear to even question that the audience will do so, and is a very enjoyable film due to this casual strangeness.

Buckaroo Banzai is a half-Japanese, half-white neurosurgeon who got bored, and decided to expand his horizons. He took up adventuring, rock and roll, and experimental physics, and by the time of the movie takes place, he is world-renowned, a household name, and comic books based on his adventures are read by both kids and adults. To play this versatile character, the director cast an appropriately versatile actor, Peter Weller, who would eventually go on to star in RoboCop and to earn his master’s degree in Roman and Renaissance Art at Syracuse, where he sometimes teaches classes. Weller is perfect as Buckaroo (even though he doesn’t really look like he could be half-Japanese), delivering his lines with a laid-back manner that suggests that everything is under control, even when it isn’t. When he’s called on to show a less stoic emotion, he pulls that off as well.

The adventure in the film starts with Buckaroo using an experimental oscillation device to drive through a mountain, traveling through the 8th dimension, and returning to the normal dimensions when the mountain has passed. The media goes wild over the achievement, but fatefully the broadcast is observed by one Dr. Emilio Lizardo, who has been in a mental asylum for many years. Lizardo had conducted a similar experiment, but when he peered into the 8th dimension, he found himself possessed by an extraterrestrial being who had been trapped there. Lizardo — or more accurately, Lord John Whorfin — is played by John Lithgow, who takes delight in hamming up his role as much as possible. The only thing keeping Lithgow from stealing every scene that he’s in is that he has to share several of the scenes with Christopher Lloyd, who plays fellow alien John Bigbooté.

John Whorfin and John Bigbooté are members of an alien race called the Lectroids. The Lectroids are split into two races, the Red Lectroids and the Black Lectroids, and many years ago John Whorfin instigated a racial war between the two, attempting genocide on the Black Lectroids. For his crimes, he and most of his senior staff were imprisoned in the 8th dimension. Whorfin’s mind escaped during Lizardo’s experiment, and now with Buckaroo Banzai’s more stable result, he plans to steal the oscillator and free his men. Buckaroo is approached by Black Lectroid John Parker (Carl Lumbly) — all Lectroids are named John, even the women — who tells him that if he is unable to prevent Whorfin from freeing the genocidal Red Lectroids, John Emdall (Rosalind Cash), leader of the Black Lectroids, will have no choice but to vaporize Earth to prevent their escape.

And so Buckaroo Banzai has to save the day, along with his band, the Hong Kong Cavaliers — played by Clancy Brown, Lewis Smith, Pepe Serna, and Jeff Goldblum — and the identical twin of his late wife, Penny Priddy (Ellen Barkin), who is brought into it through a series of misunderstandings. The Cavaliers don’t get a lot of character development — Goldblum’s character, newcomer New Jersey gets the most — but they do get some good lines here and there, and there’s a natural sense of camaraderie among the team. Barkin, for her part, is a believable love-interest and is very convincing at showing Penny’s distress and confusion, and her occasional flashes of hyper-competence.

As for the plot, you have to be paying attention to follow along — it’s easy to lose track of things if you start to doze — but it’s a lot of fun. There’s a strong sense of humor throughout, and the action sequences are pretty good. The special effects also hold up quite well, with the only exception being the goofy glasses the team wears to view John Emdall’s holographic message; everything else, from the oscillation beam to the alien ship, looks good, and the makeup for the Lectroids is great.

Where the Indiana Jones series tried to create traditional pulp-fiction adventure stories with a 1980s budget, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension tries to show what a pulp-fiction adventure hero would look like if created with a 1980s sense of style. And, like Indiana Jones, Buckaroo Banzai succeeds at its goal. This movie is a lot of fun, and I have a feeling that as I rewatch it, my estimation of it is likely to go up. I can see why it didn’t do particularly well in the mainstream, though; it’s definitely a bit out-there and some people may not be willing to go along with that. But if they ever were to create the promised Buckaroo Banzai vs. the World Crime League, I would definitely be purchasing a ticket, at least if they were able to bring back the same cast.

Rating: 4 Stars

About Morgan R. Lewis

Fan of movies and other media
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5 Responses to The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension

  1. BIGBOOT!! Where’s my bomber?

    • Ok. That was just a spontaneous combustion comment. LOL. Me and Doc H latched on to that line and have used it for years 😀

      Great cult flick. I freaking love it. The chemistry between the cast is the best part of it, and its so whacky and original. Lithgow is fantastic. I love it. Nice flick to spotlight buddy!

      • Yes, it’s a rather quotable film… “What’s the watermelon for?” “I’ll tell you later.” I’ve been wanting to see it for years; glad I finally managed to catch it.

  2. I loved “Buckaroo” when it first came out. It’s just so out there and going in so many directions.

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