I first saw The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension or Buckaroo Banzai for short in the mid to late 80’s and thought it was utter crap. Looking back on it now it is clearly a mess of a movie and a cheesy mess at that but like so many 80’s movies it has a certain charm. For those who don’t know it (I suspect they outweigh those that have seen it) here is a brief synopsis:
Dr. Buckaroo Banzai (Peter Weller) is a Rock-Star, physicist and brain surgeon. Dr Emilio Lizardo (John Lithgow) whose mind has been taken over by Lord John Whorfin. Whorfin and the rest of his race the Red Lectroids have been banished to the 8th Dimension. Thousands of them escaped (it was covered up as Orson Welles’ The War of the Worlds radio broadcast) and have an evil plan that only Dr. Buckaroo Banzai and his band of sidekicks The Hong Kong Cavaliers can stop him. He is helped along the way by Penny Priddy (Ellen Barkin) (who for no good reason within the plot is the long-lost twin sister of Buckaroo’s dead wife) and by the peace loving Black Lectroids who had originally captured the Red Lectroids. And that’s a simplified version!
The mythology of the plot and the characters back story is bizarre, it is as if the filmmakers have created this elaborate universe to set the story in and not bothered to tell the audience about it, you just have to pick it up as you go along. The easiest way to describe it is picking up a TV show in the second season. You soon get to know the characters but you aren’t sure what has gone on before and you don’t get the in-jokes. This could be because there were several part-finished stories before they settled on one to be turned into a movie. It was also intended for there to be further Buckaroo Banzai adventures that didn’t happen for financial reasons. The end credits actually promise a sequel “Buckaroo Banzai Against the World Crime League” although the sequel never happened, all reports at the time and since have stated it was the intention to make the movie. As well as the poor box-office, Sherwood Studios went out of business Shorty after the releases. There are suggestions that other studios were interested in picking up the character but never go beyond the red tape involved in acquiring the rights. There was also talk of a TV series in the 90’s, that also came to nothing!
As alluded to above, the movie bombed at the box-office but has gained a cult status ever since. The real problem with its lack of audience was twofold, there was a real lack of marketing for the movie, it also came out in the middle of the summer and had to compete with big hitters like Ghostbusters that was still packing them in two months after its original release. As the movie contained so many genres but couldn’t be pigeonholed into one the studio didn’t know how to market it or more to the point who to market it to.
All that aside the real question, is it any good. And the real answer, I’m not sure. I hated it when I was thirteen, twenty years later I kind of like it but I don’t know why. Everything about the movie goes over the top, the 80’s cloths, the acting and most notably the premise, but that really is no bad thing. The movie is the most fun when at its cheesiest. Also look out for the famous and much imitated end credit sequence. If you are still not convinced to take a look two questions. How funny does Jeff Goldblum look in his cowboy outfit; and how hot does a young Ellen Barkin look? (she was 30 at the time) still not curious? It kind of explains why the movie bombed.