The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension: Collector’s Edition
Studio: Shout! Factory
Aug 16, 2016 Web Exclusive
Some movies feel too strange to be real – and Buckaroo Banzai is one such movie.
Our hero, Buckaroo Banzai (Robocop’s Peter Weller), is the world’s most famous rock star, brain surgeon, inventor, daredevil, martial artist, and all-around defender of the human race. He travels around in a high-tech bus with his band, the Hong Kong Cavaliers, who help him do things like redefine the rules of physics and save the world between tour dates. When a test-run of his newly-built rocket car rips a hole into the eighth dimension, Buckaroo has to stop a sleeper cell of aliens hiding in New Jersey from returning to their home, Planet 10, or else an intergalactic force will incite nuclear war between the U.S. and Russia, ultimately bringing about the destruction of all life on Earth. Also hanging in the balance is his new girlfriend, Penny Pretty, who happens to be the previously-unknown twin sister of his dead wife.
Even when hard-pressed, it’s hard to describe just what exactly Buckaroo Banzai is actually about. (Watching the feature-length documentary included with this edition, it’s pretty clear that few people involved in making the movie had any clue, either.) Story-wise, this sci-fi romantic adventure-comedy is all over the place. Rather than explaining its bizarre world or introducing any of its colorful characters, Buckaroo throws viewers into the deep end. With all of the movie’s loose plot threads, it feels like we’re dropped cold into the fifth or sixth movie in a long-running franchise, rather than a film which was intended to launch a new one. (A sequel, though announced at the movie’s end, never happened.) A lot of backstory is referenced but never explained, which will leave even the most open-minded first-time viewer scratching their head from the opening credits to the closing ones.
Just how much one will be able to jibe with Buckaroo Banzai will hinge on whether or not you’re willing to buy into the movie’s unabashed lunacy. If you can come to grips with the idea that nearly every question you’ll have about Buckaroo and his merry band will be left unanswered, there’s a ton enjoy about the movie. Its off-kilterness level is through the roof: Buckaroo himself is a celebrity adventurer who is half-Doctor Who, half-Bruce Springsteen, with a little Pee-Wee Herman tossed in for good measure. The rest of the cast list reads like an Expendables of ‘80s cult character actors: John Lithgow, Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Lloyd, Clancy Brown, Vincent Schiavelli, Jonathan Banks and Ronald Lacey. Lithgow and Lloyd, in particular, are deliriously off-the-wall as two of the movie’s prime villains; Lithgow leaves no scenery un-chewed as a space dictator with a Chico Marx accent. The special effects, too, are pretty strong for movie with limited resources (particularly the alien make-up) and the script is fun, full of zany one-liners (“Rembember: No matter where you go, there you are”) and ridiculous character names. (Buckaroo’s band? Rawhide, Pinky, Reno, New Jersey, and Perfect Tommy. The villain’s right-hand man? John Bigbooté.)
To get a sense of the movie’s bizarre tone, just look at the trailer embedded at the end of this review and see if you can wrap your head around the contents of the film.
Buckaroo Banzai face-planted in its original theatrical run, but it eventually found a small – and quite diehard – cult following. (Which includes several celebrity fans among its ranks: Ready Player One author Ernie Cline cut his teeth writing a fan fiction sequel, and filmmaker Kevin Smith is currently shopping a television series.) The two-hour documentary including on this two-disc release goes a long way toward explaining how a film this odd came to be, even when it’s unable to explain many of the mysteries within the movie itself. (A new filmmakers commentary sheds even more light on the production.) A second disc comes with deleted scenes, an alternate opening, trailers, and an additional featurette. This is Buckaroo Banzai’s debut on Blu-ray, and the HD transfer is crisp and colorful.
Buckaroo also marks the first entry in the all-new Shout! Select line of special edition Blu-rays, which promises to be a Criterion-like collector’s label for cult cinema fans. (Upcoming additions to the line include such choice favorites as Road House and the Bill and Ted movies.) Shout! and their horror label, Scream Factory, have been routinely churning out films in robust, documentary-packed releases for years now, so this Shout Select doesn’t necessarily feel like it’s breaking any new ground for the company, but that’s more a testament to their high standards of quality rather than any knock on this release. The Select label gives the company reason to lavish their love on all sorts of titles without binding them to any one genre (and the addition of spine numbers, no doubt, will hook those of us with a collector’s mentality.) As long as Shout keeps employing such top-notch teams as Ballyhoo Pictures and Red Shirt to compile new extra features for their releases, cult movie fans should be able to look forward to a steady stream of definitive releases of films not-yet-heralded with such superb treatment.
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