The Summer of '84: The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension -

The Summer of '84

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  • Starring: Peter Weller, John Lithgow, Ellen Barkin, Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Lloyd, Lewis Smith, Robert Ito, Clancy Brown, Carl Lumbly, Vincent Schiavelli and Dan Hedaya
  • Written by: Earl Mac Rauch
  • Directed by: W.D. Richter
  • Studio: MGM
  • Rating: PG
  • Run Time: 103 minutes
  • Series:

The Summer of '84: The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension

"No matter where you go... there you are."

By Rob Vaux     August 11, 2014

Buckaroo Banzai
© MGM/Robert Trate

If you’re a comic book fan, chances are your first exposure to the medium didn’t come with an issue #1. It was #47 or #83 or #279: something in the middle of a complicated storyline where you had to pick up the threads as you went. “Okay, this person’s girlfriend is dead and they have to face this bad guy, but he actually came at them three issues ago and so-and-so doesn’t have his power back yet and WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?!”  It was baffling, but also kind of fun, and for some of us it represented a key part of our comic book experience. For obvious reasons it can’t be duplicated in big-screen superheroic adventures… or can it?

Enter Buckaroo Banzai, a movie deliberately tailored to feel like this month’s issue of an ongoing adventure. It really shouldn’t work, but thanks to the knowingly absurd storyline, it feels perfect. Buckaroo (Peter Weller) wears many masks, all of them awesome: brilliant scientist, race car driver, gifted surgeon, rock-and-roll god and freelance thwarter of the forces of evil. When his experiments breach the walls of the 8th Dimension, he earns the attentions of the evil Dr. Emilio Lizardo (John Lithgow) and his alien minions (all named John for some reason). They’re hell-bent on returning to their home world, and if Buckaroo and his Hong Kong Cavaliers can’t stop them, said home planet will cheerfully trick Earth into destroying itself.

Are you confused? Good, that’s how the movie wants you. Buckaroo Banzai carefully throws out a seemingly endless series of non-sequiturs that could almost make sense if you knew a little more about this world. Why is Jeff Goldblum wearing a cowboy outfit? Why does Christopher Lloyd insist on being called “John Bigbootay” instead of “John Bigbooty?” And why do the good aliens all dress like Jamaicans in disco suits? We never learn the answers, but the film believes they make sense so strongly that we start to believe it too, and in believing, we come to love it.

Its iconoclastic mischief helps strengthen that hand. Director W.D. Richter pulls off the balance between homage and send-up by capturing the spirit of comic-book escapism even as he winks at us over its excess. For those on his wavelength, that over-the-top nudge in the ribs becomes irresistible. You want to see more, and suddenly the mere possibility of ongoing Buckaroo Banzai adventures feels inevitable. We’ll never see them of course (the post-credits promise of a sequel never happened), but it’s enough just to see this movie make reference to them as if they did. Having said that, if you’re not on his wavelength, it simply looks ridiculous, and the ephemeral magic will vanish in a puff of smoke.

Either way, you can’t accuse Weller of not selling it. Few actors in Hollywood history possess a more lethal deadpan than he, and Buckaroo’s utter indifference to the lunacy surrounding him provides a calm rock to which we can cling. That’s part of the movie’s central gag too; if he’s so nonchalant, he must go through this bizarre shit every week, and each time come up with a new and utterly bonkers way to save the world again. The remainder of the cast follows suit, with the exception of Lithgow, whose off-the-chain energy provides an irresistible force to Weller’s immovable object. When they collide, something special happens, though like all cult films it takes a certain mindset to feel its vibe.

And its status as an 80s icon helps cement that vibe even further. We were all too cool for school in 1984, when nothing fazed us and we’d seen it all. Richter knowingly embodies that vibe, and then somehow makes us care about it all anyway. Beneath the snark you feel the way you were when you were six, and cartoonish dangers were as serious as the square-jawed good guys who thwarted them. That mix proves elusive to today’s comic book movies, who for all their creative triumphs still can’t quite reach such levels of self-mockery. That only adds to Buckaroo Banzai’s unique pedigree: a one-film franchise that never was, too daft and marvelous to expand any further. 


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Walker 8/11/2014 11:17:29 AM

 Laugh while you can, Monkey Boy.

samson 8/11/2014 11:48:48 AM

 This was one very cool flick back in the day. For some reason, this movie made me think Weller would have been a good pick for Spidey back then. Don't know what I was thinking. But, hey, I was a kid.

Always wished for a sequel.

HomestarRunner 8/11/2014 1:06:36 PM

To this day, I yearn for a reason to yell 'BigbooTAY!' Sadly, it never comes.

Apart from Bigboote, I also enjoyed the names John Yaya and John Smallberries.

As for not being able to successfully duplicate that non-#1 feel, don't forget Bill Cosby's Leonard Part 6...oh, wait. I said 'successfully'. Never mind. It's best to forget it after all.

CaptAmerica04 8/11/2014 2:35:15 PM

LOVE this movie!!!

CaptAmerica04 8/11/2014 2:36:32 PM

I not only wished for a sequel... I somehow got it into my 9-year old brain that there should be a cross-over with Remo Williams!  LOL!

mike10 8/11/2014 3:21:59 PM

This movie is great, and all the actors do a great job. Love the opening bit where Buckaroo drives thru the mountain with the rocket powered SUV. The look on the guys face in the control room was priceless.

mike10 8/11/2014 3:23:18 PM

This movie might have crossed over better with Mega Force than Remo Williams.

monkeyfoot 8/12/2014 10:45:22 AM

I loved this movie! It had this Jump In the Middle of Action Running at Top Speed zaniness I've only seen in Big Trouble In Little China which happened to be written by the same screnwriter.

I don't think it was successful though. But the director and screenwriter wanted to make a sequel but the producer wouldn't let them. They didn't get along and even though he could make money he wouldn't even sell the movie rights to them. I know some test footage was shot. If you go to Youtube and search for BUCKAROO BANZAI - JET CAR TRAILER you can find an FX test of the jet car driving under the shuttle to take the place of broken landing gear when its landing.

jsmulligan 9/3/2014 7:15:10 AM

Alert!  There are monkey boys in the facility!



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