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Cult Movie Greats 1984's Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai NO SPOILERS (a superb DVD package)
Written: Jun 29, 2012
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
Pros:Lithgow's over-the-top performance, incredible supporting cast. Some inventive, witty moments.
Cons:confusing, pacing issues, dated, over-thought
The Bottom Line: Quirky, messy but original and inventive cult 1984 Banzai is a love it or hate it experience. No Spoilers.
Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.
Whatever you were thinking (my Blue Blazer friends) this circa 2002 DVD (still available) of one of the 1980s quirkiest cult movies is exactly the sort of special edition package Banzai fans hoped it would be be. So Laugh while you can, Monkey, boy, adjust those Oscilation Overthrusters, take a breather from fighting the Crime League, and remember wherever you go. . . there you are.
Banzai absolutely bombed in movie theaters back in 1984, (just like Rocky Horror did in its original release)but it picked up a steady stream of fans when it was released on video and played some midnight movie dates (though it never became the sort of Midnight movie hit that Rocky did).
The stars of the film went on to make more popular movies and become better known and they include: Peter Weller, Jeff Goldblum, John Lithgow, Ellen Barkin, Christopher Lloyd, and Dan Hedaya. Back then, everyone knew someone who talked about John Lithgow…oh you think Lithgow is something in World According to Garp?. . . you need to see him as Lizardo in Buckaroo Banzai. Of course Lithgow went on to do, Third Rock from the Sun, so the surprise of seeing him go over the top as Lizardo isn't the contrast it once was. Then there's Goldblum decked out in a loud city slicker cowboy outfit that is something you won't believe you're seeing till your seeing it--well unless you've seen how he looks in say 1989's Earth Girls Are Easy .
A lot of people (most people actually) just don't 'get' Buckaroo. It used to be you'd tell people this is an odd film and it's like you just walked into the second of a three-part trilogy of films . . . . but that's pretty inaccurate. In reality, Banzai is a mess. It tries too hard to be quirky and full of intentional weirdness. It’s over-thought and full of too many ideas that aren’t developed very well. Star Wars began with a long text that gave some background to what was going on as Episode 4 began. Originally there was a prologue created for Banzai. . .but it was cut from the film so it could begin with an action scene (it’s part of the DVD extras).
You also need to know, that there are several funny throwaway gags being staged outside of the center of the screen. There’s bits of business (some subtle, some blatant) going on in the margins that would be completely missed if you viewed this film in a non-wide-screen version or if you just weren't paying attention to what's going on beyond the center of the screen. Look for Weller in one scene using THE YELLOW PAGES to find a number!
Buckaroo Banzai starts as a science fiction but switches into a super-hero action movie as it becomes a story about a multi-talented genius crime fighter who must stop a mad scientist from using Aliens to take over the world--- However, for the first 45 minutes you don’t actually realize that Weller’s character is actually a crime-fighter. You basically watch and try to figure out what is going on.
There’s this rich guy inventor Buckaroo Banzai (Peter Weller) who loves risking death and testing out fast cars. Oh.. he breaks the sound barrier.. … oh he dissolves into a mountain and enters the eighth dimension, and brings back some strange artifact to prove he's been somewhere else…
.Meanwhile we meet Dr. Lizardo—a crazy guy in a loony bin. We aren’t sure why we are being introduced to him…yet. We learn he was involved in some earlier experiments many years ago which involved trying to break into an alternate dimension (does anyone remember Robert Lansing in the 4D Man?). The experiment went wrong and Lizardo turned into a stark raving mad lunatic. Now he's breaking out of the loony bin because it's time for him to get into action… the eighth dimension has been breached !!!
Meanwhile back at the Banzai ranch we learn Buckaroo is a brain surgeon, and also a rock musician, AND he's known about this alternate dimension and these alien creatures who need his oscilator overthruster. He's also a crime fighter whose mission is to destroy the crime league and he's got lots of professional help.. his band mates The Hong Kong Cavaliers are also his side-kicks in thwarting crime, and he has amateur help with The Blue Blazers… a Buckaroo fan club (an idea you might say is an homage to Sherlock Holmes’ Baker Street Irregulars). There's also a sub-plot involving a lady he once loved and now he’s met this woman’s estranged sister (Ellen Barkin). We're not sure how any of this is connected but that's the fun of the film, it exists in it’s own world (dimension) and we’re looking in on it.
It's actually not difficult to understand—except the plot doesn’t start at the beginning and progress from a to b to c, but begins in b and gives us a plot involving a mad scientist who has been waiting for his chance to have some mad scientist fun and get some revenge.
Well no, not exactly but… Its part a Flash Gordon update, part some kind of weird Alien Nation re-make, part comic book super hero, part. . . . Oh I give up….
You see the thing is… you simply need to believe this is based on a true story. AHA !!! Buckaroo Banzai is actually a real person and people’s lives don’t actually fit neatly into a movie without a suspension of disbelief. There really is this inventor, scientist, brain surgeon, rock musician and vigilante crime fighter named Buckaroo…. Although obviously a few things have been changed when they made a movie about the guy. You don’t really want them to slow things down and explain in flashback all the various things Buckaroo has done do you?
If you’re a bit confused by this write-up so far (I’m avoiding spoilers for one thing), but think it sounds interesting enough you might just have to see this thing—you’ll probably enjoy it. If you think it sounds like an awful meandering mess—skip this one—in some ways it is. It’s also very dated. It was supposed to be somewhat old fashioned in 1984, but if you come across this now—without knowing anything about it—it will just seem like a confusing mess.
I enjoy the film quite a bit but it is frustrating at what a mess it is on almost level. It should have been made with more coherency. It embraces the spirit of the Saturday Afternoon Serials that once played in movie theaters (mainly for children) from the 1930s to the 50s. It’s got sort of a Commander Cody (aka Rocket Man) vibe. You also get plenty of laid-back adult cynicism and Weller’s acting coolness adds an air of what you might call stoner hipness to the film. It also seems to be making fun of itself, purposefully being a bit too stiff and square—so you in the audience can pretend you’re a bit smarter for getting the more subtle jokes and seeing the sight gags that are taking place (usually in the right corner of the screen).
An awful lot of gags, lines, and bits of business fall flat and simply don't work. You’ll possibly be diverted enough by the fact there are sometimes three of four separate bits of business going on in the frame that you won’t hold it against anyone. There are also multiple sub-plots and new characters being introduced that keep things moving in various directions. This also frustrates if you are trying to figure out what is going on and remember who is who. Since we don’t really know what any of the ‘rules’ are in terms of how the either the aliens or the good guys operate—we don’t really get any sense of tension or suspense. We aren’t invested in the goals of any of the characters, because we’re trying to catch up and understand what’s going on. This is an interesting approach—but it’s not good story-telling.
So go back to the famous often quoted line from Buckaroo. . .Wherever you go… there you are… and either enjoy it for whatever you want to think it is or just because there's nothing else quite like it in any dimension.
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai is presented in anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen, and
It looks better on DVD then when I saw in theaters years ago. There are a few drop out flakes to be seen and a few pauses when it switches layers but you'll not find anything to complain about in terms of film grain or scratches or end enhancement. Colors are crisp and there is no color bleeding, and the black levels are very strong.
The audio is in Dolby Digital 5.1 and is a vibrant and loud affair, which makes a lot of use of the surround capabilities of your home video, set up. Sound effects pass through the speakers very effectively and there's also good separation employed, which allows you to hear the sometimes too quietly intoned, intentionally cheesy dialogue. A few times Weller's near monotone delivery are difficult to hear and that's when you might notice there are no ENGLISH SUBTITLES.
This is a special edition disc that is overloaded with extra features that will have Banzai fans celebrating.
First off the entire disc is presented as if it was released by the Banzai Institute and treats the films and its characters as dramatizations of the real life people that actually exist. While actors played the real life Buckaroo and his pals… there are (don't you know it) actually people walking around that all of this was modeled after.
And that's why if you like the film, you'll absolutely have to get this disc and if you don't… well it's remarkable you're even reading this review.
There's a feature called 'Pinky Carruther's Unknown Facts which is a character played by Billy Vera in the film (of Billy Vera and The Beaters fame) and if you engage this feature throughout the film you'll see subtitles revealing little known 'facts and trivia" about the characters we are watching.
The "Alternate Opening w/ Jamie Lee Curtis" can be viewed separately by itself in the special features section, or viewed along with the film. You can select the "Extended version of the film and see it not quite seamlessly attached to the finished film. It's a prologue that didn't make it into the original theatrical release of the film and should have. It sets up the character Buckaroo a little better as a child prodigy etc.
Buckaroo Banzai Declassified delivers a 23-minute documentary that incorporates interviews with the cast and crew with footage from the film. It begins with the promotional featurrette that was originally made during Buckaroo Banzai's shoot and than expands to feature director W.D. Richter. Richter talks of Banzai as someone who is an actual person.
You'll find 14 deleted scenes which have been taking from an old preserved work print of the film and have not been particularly improved. It's very interesting going through these 14 scenes and realizing what a different film (not any better) the film would have been with some or most of these scenes included. A few of them would have worked pretty well with the finished film.
Fans of the film will be delighted to see: "New Jet Car Trailer," which is a 1998 promotional trailer for a proposed Buckaroo Banzai TV series that never got made. The trailer was made on a computer and is presented in non-anamorphic 1.66:1 widescreen and in Dolby Digital 2.0. The teaser trailer for The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai is also here, and is presented in anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen and in Dolby Digital 2.0.
Now the real cult film fanatics will really enjoy the extras that include profiles of all the Buckaroo Banzai characters. These are all done with text except that the one on Buckaroo comes with some clips from the film.
"Jet Car All Access" tells you everything you want to know about Buckaroo's jet car.
There is also an extensive "Photo Gallery" and the "Banzai Institute Archives" which provides schematics of vehicles and complexes found in the film, print reviews of the film, and cover photos for the Hong Kong Cavaliers CD's (which don't really exist).
BUT WAIT BLUE BLAZERS…. There is more more more….
They start on the discs main menu. If you highlight the Play Movie and move the selection left it will highlight the middle jet car at the top of the screen and if you select that you'll get several quotes from the film displayed for you.
After looking over the quotes move left and highlight the circle in the upper left of the screen and you will find some alternate DVD menu designs. To see some very interesting and worthwhile alternate DVD cover designs go to the Banzai Institute Archives and highlight the B.B. logo in the lower right of the screen.
The DVD also has several NUON enhanced features. I was not one of the 22 and a half people in the U.S. that had a now defunct NUON featured DVD player so I can't comment how wonderful the NUON features might be.
The feature length tongue-in-cheek commentary on the disc features director W.D. Richter and Reno from the Banzai Institute ( AKA screen-writer Earl Mac Rauch) discussing their thoughts on the movie and how closely it relates to the actual real story of Buckaroo Banzai and his cronies. It's quite informative and fun for fans of the film.
Banzai director Richter began as a script-writer (Slither in 1973, the 1979 versions of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Dracula and 1980’s Brubaker with Robert Redford among others). He formed a production company to develop Banzai which was planned as a series of films AND a TV series—but the film bombed and the production company disbanded. He co-wrote 1986’s Big Trouble in Little China, directed 1991’s Late for Dinner and has since worked on 1993’s Needful Things, 1995’s Home for the Holidays and 2005’s Stealth.
The Adventure of Buckaroo Banzai is a somewhat dated, awkward mess of a film that has a strong cult following. It's an ambitious film that really isn't as difficult to enjoy as you might think, but it does require the viewer to pay close attention and have patience. It is packed with a cast of very recognizable names and faces and is where a few popular mid 80's catch -phrases originated. The DVD gives you a stellar presentation of the film and is over-loaded with worthwhile features, which have been constructed and organized in the spirit of the film itself. The film is a goof on several levels and it thinks it's a very clever, very hip, very unique experience--it almost is.
Copyright© Christopher J. Jarmick 2012
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Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Fit for Friday Evening