Rixflix A to Z: The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension (1984)

Director: W.D. Richter // 20th Century Fox/Sherwood; 1:43; Color
Crew Notables: Earl Mac Rauch (screenplay)
Cast Notables: Peter Weller (Buckaroo Banzai), John Lithgow (Lord John Whorfin/Dr. Emilio Lizardo), Ellen Barkin (Penny Priddy), Jeff Goldblum (New Jersey), Christopher Lloyd (John Bigboote), Lewis Smith (Perfect Tommy), Rosalind Cash (John Emdall), Clancy Brown (Rawhide), Carl Lumbly (John Parker), Vincent Schiavelli (John O'Connor), Dan Hedaya (John Gomez), Robert Ito (Prof. Hikita), Pepe Serna (Reno Nevada), Ronald Lacey (President Widmark), Matt Clark (Secretary of Defense McKinley), William Traylor (General Catburd), Billy Vera (Pinky Carruthers), Jonathan Banks (Jack the orderly), Yakov Smirnoff (National Security Advisor), Jamie Lee Curtis (Buckaroo's mother - extended version only)
Cinema 4 Rating: 7

Each and every time that a film like Snakes on a Plane comes along, and then, despite massive hype via the internet and water cooler chats, brings back box office receipts far smaller than anticipated, the media likes to leap onto Standard Line #103 In Relation to Diminished Expectations for Oddball Films: "You can't purposefully create a cult film." Once Snakes proved itself to have a little B.O. in the B.O., I heard numerous radio, TV and podcast aisle-seaters mention this supposedly steel-laced maxim over and over again. The saying is absolute bullshit, of course, for a couple of reasons. One, because in a way, every film that is released is a cult film. All movies, whether moldy classics, box office champions, little films that could, little films that couldn't, and colossal failures -- ALL MOVIES have their cults. Whether it is that one person tending the flame for The Rats Are Coming, The Werewolves Are Here! or a convention center full of geeks at the latest Star Wars convention, all movies big and small have their audience, their supporters, their die-hards. The problem lies in what you would consider to be a "cult film": saying that Snakes was a failure, and then backing it up with the "You can't purposefully create a cult film" cliche is b.s., because by their own definition, if Snakes had lived up to the monstrous hype and it made zillions of dollars, it would no longer be a "cult film". It would belong to the world at large.

Putting aside this outrageous notion, the second reason is that there are films whose sensibilities are so off-kilter that it becomes hard to imagine the filmmakers not knowing that it would strike a chord with small but devoted audience, well after the initial box office release, which was most likely doomed for at least middling results, if not outright failure. Especially since the time that home video came into the world, filmmakers could at least on that second market to get their film some notice and respect, or at least a little love. Films of decidedly odd timbre from the outset are surely bound for a "cultish" fate, whether a box office success or not. Such a film is The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension, which seems to have fought a battle against its own inherent weirdness since its inception.

Banzai is a film that doesn't quite work as a film, which is precisely the reason that it does work as an entertainment. There seems to be little care given to atmospherics or precision; the entire thing seems to be comprised of first takes. The action scenes are stumblebum antics with a "let's see what happens" air to their assemblage. Which is the beauty of the film: it feels remarkably "lived-in", like the characters have existed here for adventure after adventure, and there will be many more adventures to follow, whatever the fate of individual characters. Hipster slang and personal details are tossed around without any regard to explain such things to the audience, like we all know exactly what they are getting at, because we have been with them since the beginning of their adventures. Banzai has a vast army of loyal supporters, and they just show up exactly when they are needed, and we have to accept their intrusion because that's just the way things happen to be. Buckaroo Banzai is the most famous and talented man in the world -- in fact, he has saved the world numerous times, by implication -- and he receives a phone call from the President of the United States as if it were the most common thing. Everyone know him, listens to his records, reads his comic books... if you watch this film and find it confusing, then you have missed something from the beginning. It is supposed to be confusing... but you are supposed to pretend that you are not, that you are part of Banzai's world and that no matter what occurs, he will come through in the end.

When I was younger, I was upset that the film failed at the ticket counter and that the proposed next adventure against "The World Crime League" (or so it promises at the end of the film) would never be made. After all, I had grown up reading the words "James Bond Will Return" and he always did, hell, even up to now. Twenty years later, I am glad that Banzai did fail, if for no other reason than to keep this film pure, to keep it as a time capsule example of that perfect "cult" film. A brainy goofball of a film with a devoted, ever-shrinking band of followers and created by men who just had to know that the world at large would never get what they were doing.

And that it would find its audience eventually, no matter how small...


ArcLight said…
Always nice to hear from someone else who 'gets' the wonderful wierdness that is the world of Buckaroo.
matt Fosberg said…
Count me in as part of that small group.

"No, John Smallberries..."

What a hoot!

ak_hepcat said…
I always thought of that ending as sort of a "history of the world part 2" ending. Yeah, you want it to exist, and in that world, it does exist.

But here, where people live outside of it, it doesn't. And that's sad.

And nothing is sadder than Hitler on Ice.
Rik Tod said…
Nice idea, Hepcat. But if the film had been a hit of any size, there were actually plans for a possible sequel. There are a zillion rumors out there regarding this part of Banzai history, but however they boil down, the idea was squashed by the suits at some point.

However, the idea that it exists in that world is a nice one to imagine, especially since the creators envisioned as being much, much farther into the series than just "Episode 1" and "Episode 2". Clearly, as I stated above, much has gone on before, and much would occur later.

There is a new comic book series available from Moonstone Comics, and written by Earl Mac Rauch, the original creator, though I have yet to get it. I'm checking it out online right now.

And nothing is sadder than practically ANYTHING on ice...

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