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The blog below was under an older name of Hollyweird. I have kept the numbering the same so that I could keep track of my posts, but this is where it all begin back in the heyday of 2012…
As some of my readers (all two of them) may have noticed, the last few Hollyweird entries have been a little more academic than some of my earlier posts.
When I first started this blog my initial aim was to write about movies that can be found somewhat off of the beaten track just to give them some exposure. However they were not so heavily dissected as the movies in my most recent posts. Although I am enjoying these more focused critiques I also do not want to lose sight of the sheer ‘weird’ in Hollyweird.
So to remind myself and my readers (both of them) the simple value in cataloguing forgotten, undervalued or even over -valued oddities, this Hollyweird is dedicated to prime example of a one-of-a-kind flick, The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension.
BBAT8D (as the film will henceforth be known)is somewhat akin to the Indiana Jones series. The film is built on the pretence that Buckaroo is a well known adventurer and this is just another one of one of his wacky exploits.
Unlike Indiana Jones though, Buckaroo Banzai is not *just* and academic and a hero- he is a whole renaissance man. Viewers are dropped into a world where it is a well established fact that Buckaroo Banzai is a top level physicist, a talented neurosurgeon, a brave test pilot and a best selling rock star. He even spear-heads an entire scientific research plant called The Banzai Institute that is dedicated to nothing less than the betterment of mankind.
Imagine, if you will, that Bruce Wayne called a press conference and said to all of the worlds media and governments ‘I’m Batman. I am outstanding at absolutely everything. Let’s all work together to save humanity and then we can play some gigs in our downtime ’.
What a guy!
Then again, perhaps the Batman comparison is not apt enough since Buckaroo Banzai is played by none other than Robocop himself, Mr. Peter Weller.
Buckaroo is surrounded by his close confidants from The Banzai Institute. Each one of his crack team is an expert in their respective field. So long as they will fight injustice, can play instruments on stage, and are seemingly willing to wear pastel colours, then they’re a part of his crew.
Collectively his fellow scientists/adventurers/band mates are known as The Hong Kong Cavaliers. Not a great band name, but then neither was Supergrass and they did alright for themselves.
As this particular adventure begins, Banzai is trying out his latest invention- a car that can drive through solid matter. Buckaroo drives it right through a mountain via bypassing the mysterious realm of the 8th dimension.
Meanwhile, off in a Loony Bin somewhere is John Lithgow, a.k.a. Dr. Emilio Lizardo. Lizardo once worked on a similar cross-dimensional experiment with one of Banzai’s mentors. However his previous experiment did not run as smoothly as Banzai’s one. During the previous attempt, Lizardo’s head was temporarily stuck in the 8th Dimension, whereby he was then possessed by an alien called Lord John Whorfin.
This is actually a very civilized name given Lord John Whorfin likes to eat electricity and kill humans. Slightly less civilized is the fact that the combined Lizardo-Whorfin has been waiting decades for a chance to bring over his fellow race from the 8th Dimension, the Red Lectoids, to conquer the Earth.
Having now seen Banzai’s success on the news, Lizardo-Whorfin knows his time has come. Lizardo-Whorfin promptly escapes the asylum and hooks up with some of his fellow Red Lectoids who were freed during the failed experiment. These Red Lectoids have disguised themselves as Caucasian men and all go by the name of ‘John’. They also all work as weapons contractors under the US Air Force. They have used this cover to secretly built a space ship ready to cross the dimensional bridge. All Lizardo-Whorfin and his fellow Red Lectoids need now is Banzai’s dimension hopping engine…..
As if this initial set up of Team Banzai vs Inter-dimensional aliens wasn’t enough to take in, it turns out that the Red Lectoids actually have their own natural enemies in the form of the Black Lectoids.
The Black Lectoids know of the threat that the Red Lectoids pose. In fact, the Black Lectoids once defeated the Red Lectoids in their-joint home, the 10th Dimension, and were responsible for banishing them into the 8th Dimension in the first place.
Fearing an potential reprisal, the Black Lectoids come to Earth to ensure that the Red Lectoids are stopped at any cost. Disguising themselves as Rastafarians, the Black Lectoids sneak around Earth until they can find Buckaroo Banzai. They issue him a very clear ultimatum; defeat the Red Lectoids or the Black Lectoids will use their own UFO to initiate a fake American nuclear attack on Russia, with the resultant war amongst Nations killing everyone on Earth.
So to recap, the race is on for a Buckaroo and the Hong Kong Cavaliers to stop one alien race from conquering earth before another alien race destroys earth.
Should all of these plot strands sounds a little crammed in there are also two more reoccurring stories that come into play.
Firstly there is a romance brewing in the background of the whole film. Amazingly this is based around Banzai discovering the long-lost twin sister of his murdered wife. This character is called Penny Priddie and she is played by Ellen Barkin. Incidentally, Barkin who seems to have never-ending legs.
In addition to that romance angle, the second side story that runs throughout BBAT8D regards some unknown actor called Jeff Goldblum, who sadly never worked in Science Fiction again (Yeah, right!). Goldblum plays an old friend of Banzai’s and is trying to become a member of The Banzai Institute. He’s a talented surgeon who dabbles in playing keyboards, but his personal aim is to become cool enough to become a fully-fledged member of The Hong Kong Cavaliers.
Phew. Add those tow stories to the general narrative and suffice to say, this whole film is crammed to the gills with oddities.
I haven’t even attempted to yet mention the character of John Bigboote played by Christopher Lloyd or Clancy Brown’s sidekick role as Rawhide or even touched upon the square watermelon. Yes, you read that right. A square watermelon.
The most amazing aspect to BBAT8D is that so much is squeezed into its 103 minute run time. Unfortunately these imaginative aspects are also its Achilles Heel. The sheer overload of story, characters and back stories is just too much to be concisely presented.
I struggled to write, and re-write, the above plot synopsis quite a few times to simplify it enough to be comprehensible. Yet, there really is still even further sub-plots present in the film that I have not dared to touch upon!
This level of ‘sink-or-swim narrative’ actually takes the viewer out of the film on the first viewing. It is simply too much to take in at once. Curiously though, on repeat viewings the level of packed-in detail actually helps support the weight of this fictional world.
This mass density of mystery and adventure helps to create a universe where anything can turn in any direction at a moment’s notice. But it is also a universe where Buckaroo Banzai is always present to save the day.
For any problems with the digestion of so many ingredients simultaneously, one thing that cannot be levelled at BBAT8D is being short of flavours.
Whether or not experiencing BBAT8D is good fun or a terrible train wreck is hard to know. It depends how much a viewer likes being dropped into a bigger story than is on screen.In many ways BBAT8D feels more in the style of slopped together Saturday Serial shows than a single film. The whole movie plays almost like one small event after the next that are forcibly tied into a single story towards the end of the film.
If this amalgamation of mass concepts, characters and plots does work at all then it is down to one sole reason. BBAT8D is played completely straight.
Think about the following. Respected thespians Peter Weller, John Lithgow, Clancy brown, Jeff Goldblum, and Ellen Barkin appear in a film that revolves around dimension hopping, rock and roll crime fighters, and Rastafarian aliens.
By treating the whole film seriously in-camera the net result is we laugh along with the absurdity of it all and relish the lunacy. We do not laugh at the film directly, but we do slyly grin alongside the cast and film makers. This makes the whole ride across the 8th Dimension casually fun instead of fantastically dumb.
Although BBAT8D is too long and bustling to be endlessly watchable, it is also too full to simply dip into. This is perhaps why this film is not so well remembered or regarded as other films of a similar tone. (such as Ghostbusters or Big Trouble In Little China). Still, in an age of ongoing remakes, sequels and franchises it is important to take stock of films that truly exist as completely unique creations- and BBAT8D is clearly one such experience.
I tend to close with trailers for the films I highlight. This time here is a scene that plays alongside the end credits. It sums up the 80’s-ness and strangely optimistic note of this truly bizarre film.
Next week I’ll be detailing something that has bugged me for a decade. After all these years I finally solved a zombie-based conundrum. Go me!
Thanks for reading,