The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension

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"Nothing is ever what it seems but everything is exactly what it is "

Sept 05, 2011

Have you ever watched a movie and had no idea what you thought about it? When it comes to most films I normally have a distinct love or hate opinion of it. Sure there are those that waver back and forth but this is one that I think I enjoy. I've watched it quite a few times over the years and while I watch the film play out with a sort of fascination I don't think I'm watching because of the narrative or the effects but more in terms of what the shit were they thinking?.

This film is for lack of a better phrase bat shit insane. Just look at that title. There have been some really bad names for films but that one takes the biscuit. What's wrong with Buckaroo Banzai? It doesn't surprise me that they had trouble marketing the film. Let's give it a go at trying to explain the plot here.

Buckaroo Banzai (yes that really is the name of Peter Weller's (Robocop) character) is a world famous neurosurgeon and a rock star and a comic book hero oh and he's a Physicist. Quite the opposite of our no talent celebrities today, he even has the president looking to him for advice (why he didn't run for presidency I'll never know). Creating an experimental jet car Banzai travels through a solid mountain only to reappear on the over side to find that he has a weird alien attached to his car.

If you think you have a gist where this one's going think again this is only 5mins in. As everything Banzai does in world news his success? With the jet car is announced via a press conference. Here John Lithgow (yes he's in this) as Dr. Emilio Lizardo plans to steal the design for his own means. You see the thing is Dr. Emilio is actually leader of the Red Lectroids an alien race (his last name is Lizardo see what they did there) that are trapped in the 8th dimension (at least the title has some relation to the plot). They need the experimental Jet engine to place in a secret spaceship they built so that they can attack the Black Lectroids another alien race. Of course only one man can stop them. Lets have a look at the trailer which really dosen't tell us much.

That description above is only touching the tip of the bizarre shenanigans that run throughout this movie. While I want to describe the events in this film as a series of skits strung together no one scene really has any punch line or weight behind it without another scene to really hint at what is going on. The movie roams from one strange moment to the next and packs so much in it's a surprise that the film really is quite slow paced.

Take for example the celebration Banzai has with his entourage Hong Kong Cavaliers (who are also in his band). The band decides to play a couple of songs which seem to go on for an age. While I enjoyed the scene for its absurdity (as well as Weller's interaction with Ellen Barkin's character) I really don't know why this was here then again I'm not sure any scene in this film really has a valid purpose other than random entertainment. A prime example of the randomness can be seen below Why is there a Watermelon in the film?

The actors in this film all seem to be having a blast with the silly dialogue and yet everything is done with such dead pan delivery that it feels the non-sense is being taken seriously, no one hams it up for the screen. Jeff Goldblum appears in this flick and is a perfect example of the presentation style. Most people are aware of his recognisable speech patterns and it seems the entire film was written in that style. It may not be everyone's cup of tea but I warmed to it.

While I personally struggle to understand the tone the thing I really like about this film are the special effects. Made in the 80's the majority of things are done in a style that I adore. In my opinion practical effects are far more fun to watch onscreen than the abundance of C.G.I. modern films rely on. Seeing the aliens in action I know that they were physically created. This is where the magic of film comes into play. When I watch an older movie and see something fantastical I'm left racking my brains trying to work out how they did it. Now when I see a film the answer is always, done on a computer. While the effects here may come of goofy and old I thought it gives the film a sense of charm.

The main problem I have with the film is that I never felt I was fully getting all the information about the characters. Banzai while ridiculously great at everything appears to have a varied and well-crafted back story. When watching this for the first time I felt like perhaps I had missed a film and found myself watching the second part of a series. The experience was akin to jumping into the third season of Lost and trying to follow events.

It was clear that this was intended as a franchise as the credits announce that Banzai will return in Buckaroo Banzai against the World Crime League (the foolosih names they come up with still manage to astound me). This isn't the first time a potential franchise jumped the gun and was shot down before the first hurdle. (See tomorrows film review).

This is a film that deserves its cult title but it's hard to recommend it to anyone as I'm not entirely sure I like it myself. This is a style that is only going to appeal to some people so if you were intrigued by the trailer (which isnt really a good representation of the films style) give it a shot. I would love to know what other people thought of this film as I've never meet anyone who has actually seen it (thats not a bad sign). I may not fully understand this film but at least I got to hear the line "no matter where you go, there you are".

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