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The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension!

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension!

W. D. Richter

USA, 1984

Credits

Review by Rumsey Taylor

Posted on 10 June 2013

Source MGM DVD

Categories Failed Franchises

The final credits of The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension! are prefaced with the announcement that the series will continue in another installment, Buckaroo Banzai Against the World Crime League. If these titles seem a mouthful, know that they are entirely befitting to the enterprise, an ostensibly science fiction film that features neuroscience, a rock band in the middle of a national tour, John Lithgow at his most pronouncedly villainous, romance, the President of the United States, Jeff Goldblum dressed like a cowboy, and a choreographed dance sequence that amounts to the most cheerful ending I’ve ever seen in a movie. This sequel was never made, however, even though there would have been plenty of material from which to draw—as analogized in the film’s exclamatory, seventeen-syllable title.

The film is essentially about an alien invasion, with the intruding party, Lectroids from the eighth dimension, unnoticed by the human race in the same illusory manner as the bug-eyed antagonists of They Live. They seek a technological marvel called the Oscillation Overthruster—a spaceship component that will enable them to return to their domain. Their plight is opposed by the eponymous Buckaroo, erstwhile bandleader, samurai, and accomplished surgeon who first demonstrates the device’s capability by driving a jet-propelled Ford truck straight through a mountain, thereby traversing inter-dimensional space. At the end of this epiphanic experiment, the Ford has deteriorated some, and there’s a gloppy, alien-looking ball that’s affixed itself to the bottom of Buckaroo’s truck. He plucks it off and regards it with suspicion, certain that more inter-dimensional visits are in his future. Unconcerned, in the very next scene he’s with his band – the Hong Kong Cavaliers – at a rather handsomely populated show in which he performs solos on both a guitar and piccolo trumpet prior to sitting at a piano for a quiet ballad.

This sequence is one of the film’s myriad highlights, and does well to summarize Buckaroo Banzai’s near constant tonal variation. The Hong Kong Cavaliers are outfitted in a fashion that describes their preparedness were a music video to be filmed at any given moment (I should note that they’re all dressed like this throughout the film). Behind the elaborate facade is a legion of humble, sympathetic men. Their second song, which mimics the opener in its pairing of a horn section with a guitar solo and keyboards, is quickly interrupted by Buckaroo, who – some twenty minutes into the film – subversively polls both his and the film’s audience:

Excuse me. Uh, is someone out there not having a good time?

His question comes at a moment when the film has supplied enough action for the viewer to reasonably anticipate what’s in store in its remainder, and if further exploits from Buckaroo, the Hong Kong Cavaliers, or the Lectroid invaders will be either entertaining or laborious.

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension! is overstuffed to a fault, and first-time viewers may be overwhelmed, audience to an in-joke of seemingly considerable import. But the film is coherent and unserious throughout, science-fiction by way of Wes Anderson and inhabited by Huey Lewis and the News. As it proceeds from one goofy set piece to the next, it grows more robust in its narrative scope, and when it ends only a few in its array of starting points reaches conclusion.

It is one of the most fascinating failed franchises, not for its cursed pride in announcing its sequel, but in how the film is about a franchise. The movie begins with Buckaroo Banzai at the height of his academic and popular renown, and it details the extent of this renown rather than in establishing it. Late in the film, when Buckaroo and the Hong Kong Cavaliers are chasing after the Lectroids, committed to prevent their return to the eighth dimension, they do so in a tour bus that has their name emblazoned on the outside. (Conveniently and peculiarly, this same vehicle doubles as a mobile surveillance van.) It would not be out of character were Buckaroo, after having performed some legendary brain surgery, removed his scrubs to reveal a glittery suit and signed autographs. You get the sense that, had there been more films, Buckaroo Banzai would have been more about the exploits of someone who’s a celebrity in all media than the adventures of an intergalactic hero.

The film ends in a wonderful digression, with Buckaroo walking through an aqueduct, his step perfectly in sync with the reprisal of the main theme. His bandmates, love interest, and remainders of the supporting cast join him in step. It’s a sequence that would more than suffice as the intro to a television show, so for Buckaroo Banzai to have failed to mount any further adventures in the cinematic realm, this ending carries an aspect of great nostalgia.

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