Back in the ancient dark ages when I was finishing high school (1984), a little movie came out that, despite having a surprisingly high-profile cast, was not well publicized or well received, and surfaced and sank in a very short amount of time. Normally it would have been forgotten. But it’s very hard to forget Buckaroo.
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension starred Peter Weller as the eponymous character, a physicist-neurosurgeon-test-pilot-rock-star who leads a posse of scientist-musician geniuses called the Hong Kong Cavaliers as they save the world from invasion by evil aliens from the 8th Dimension.
The story starts with our hero, Buckaroo, leaving a surgical theater (where he was doing revolutionary brain surgery) to go to pilot an experimental jet car launch. But the launch has an ulterior motive: the Oscillation Overthruster, an object which is designed to let him pass through solid objects. The test is a success: he drives straight through a mountain.
News of the test gets back to a former colleague, Dr. Emilio Lazardo. Lazardo was with Banzai’s father when the Oscillation Overthruster was originally designed and tested. Unlike Banzai’s, that test went wrong, and Larardo was permanently possessed by Lord John Whorfin, a Red Lectroid.
What’s a Red Lectroid? Okay, it seems that there’s this planet called Planet 10 (imaginative, right?). On this planet there was a terrible civil war between the evil Red Lectroids and the good Black Lectroids. The Reds lost, and were banished to a place called the 8th Dimension. Lazardo’s original tests of the Oscillation Overthruster left him temporarily trapped in the 8th Dimension, where he was possessed.
Guess what dimension Banzai’s jet car passed through in that test? Yep, the 8th dimension.
Lazardo breaks out of the insane asylum where he’s lived for the past fifty years, intending to steal Banzai’s Oscillation Overthruster. He hopes to use this successful overthruster to free the other Reds still trapped in the 8th Dimension. He joins forces with a secret band of Red Lectroids who are living disguised among us, preparing for a coup d’etat.
Meanwhile, the Black Lectroids have contacted Banzai, and he, the Hong Kong Cavaliers, the Black Lectroids, a ragtag collection of civilian Banzai-organized volunteers (called The Blue Blaze Irregulars), plus Banzai’s dead wife’s long-lost twin sister, all join forces to defeat the Reds and save the world.
Whew! That’s complicated, ain’t it? It makes more sense in movie form, I promise. What this movie ends up being is a loving, tongue-in-cheek play on the old Doc Savage stories from the Pulp era. It hits all the points: the super-competent polymath hero, the genius disciples from half a dozen different disciplines, the mad scientist villain, the campy alien invaders, the slightly OTT dialogue, the chaste and slightly off kilter quasi-romance, on and on and on.
And I do mean a loving play. It’s not laughing at us. It is a play that recognizes the foibles of the genre, and loves them, even as it teases us for loving them. This movie did not do well when it first appeared in 1984, but has since acquired cult status, and for good reason. It is a fun movie.
Downsides: it’s not aging well. The music is dated, the fashions are painfully dated, when they’re not just being plain weird. There are times in the movie when I just want to hide my head in embarrassment, because it’s just a little too cheesy for my 21st century sensibilities. But those times are few and far between.
I could fill a couple pages with my thoughts on this movie, but I think it’s better if I leave off now. Buckaroo Banzai can be found on Netflix and, of course, on Amazon. The end credits teased for a sequel, but that was never made. However, two tie-in novels were released, along with several comic book series. Those are all available on Amazon. In the meantime, here’s a trailer, so you can get a feel for the movie.
And that’s it for me. Tune in day after tomorrow for our Fun Friday offerings! In the meantime, comment, share, tweet. And if you have a recommendation for Fun Friday, email me at the address listed on the About page!