Site created 12/15/97.
review added: 12/13/01
The Adventures of Buckaroo
Across the Eighth Dimension
Edition - 1984 (2001) - 20th Century Fox (MGM)
review by Bill Hunt, editor of
The Digital Bits
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B/B+
Specs and Features
82 mins, PG, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single sided, RSDL
dual layered (layer switch at 43:03, in chapter 6), keep case packaging, audio
commentary with director W.D. Richter and writer Earl Mac Raugh (in the guise of
the real Reno), Pinky Carruther's Unknown Facts
subtitle track, alternate opening featuring Jamie Lee Curtis, Buckaroo
Banzai Declassified featurette, 14 deleted scenes from the work
print, new Jet Car trailer, teaser
trailer, Buckaroo Banzai personal profile, other character profiles, Jet Car
details, photo gallery, Banzai Institute Archives
(containing schematics, photos of movie tie-ins, badges and Hong Kong Cavaliers
CD covers, details on the filming locations, text interview with Buckaroo
Banzai, Banzai Radio interview with Terry Erdman, Banzai Institute history and
Hikita's diary entries), several Easter eggs, Nuon features, animated
film-themed menu screens with animation and music, scene selection (16
chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1) and French (DD 2.0 mono), subtitles:
French and Spanish, Closed Captioned
"Laugh while you can, monkey
You know... there just aren't many films like Buckaroo
Banzai. In fact, about the only other film that I can think of that
even comes close is Big Trouble in Little China.
Put yourself in the 1980s campy, quasi-SciFi mindframe, and you're in the right
ball park. Sort of.
Our story starts as the infamous Buckaroo Banzai (played by Peter Weller) is
preparing to test his suped-up, high-powered Jet Car (but not before consulting
on an intricate brain surgery - Buck's a man of many talents). Buckaroo climbs
into the cockpit of the car and installs a strange device - an Oscillation
Overthruster. Then the car blasts down range on a faster-than-sound test run.
But something goes wrong... or so it seems. The car careens off the test track
and heads right for a mountain. But just as it looks as if Buckaroo's about to
bite it, he suddenly engages his Overthruster... and the car drives right
through solid rock, blasting through the mountain and into the mysterious Eighth
Dimension. News of this scientific breakthrough is quick to spread, and it soon
reaches the maniacal Doctor Emilio Lizardo (John Lithgow), who has been confined
to a mental hospital in New Jersey since one of his experiments went horribly
wrong years ago and drove him crazy. But it seems that he isn't really crazy...
just possessed by the spirit of an alien Red Lectoid named Lord John Whorfin.
Whorfin wants to free his Evil Red Lectoid comrades, who are trapped in the
Eighth Dimension, and he needs Buckaroo's Overthruster to do it. So with his
loyal henchmen John Bigboote (Christopher Lloyd) and John Gomez (Dan Hedaya), he
sets out to steal the Overthruster... and hopefully destroy Buckaroo in the
process. But Buckaroo never stands alone - he's got the hard-rockin',
atom-crackin' Hong Kong Cavaliers on his side. And if things really get
desperate, he can always call upon his worldwide network of Blue Blazer
Regulars. When they're not busy fighting the World Crime League, of course.
Buckaroo Banzai is one of those films that
you either already love, don't get or have just never seen. I first caught it
during its theatrical run back in the 80s, and its off-kilter brand of
absurd-yet-straight-laced humor hit me right square between the eyes. As a fan
of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Airplane
and the shenanigans of Monty Python, I
took to it immediately. If you enjoyed John Lithgow and Christopher Lloyd in
3rd Rock from the Sun and Back
to the Future respectively, you'll love absolutely love their over
the top performances here. Other cast highlights include Jeff Goldblum as New
Jersey (in a role that's very much hinted at in his later appearances in ID4
and Jurassic Park) and a very young Ellen
Barkin as Penny Priddy, Buckaroo's hair-teased femme fatale. You even get Yakov
Smirnoff in a bit part - no kidding.
But Buckaroo Banzai is not a great film by
any stretch. Its major flaw lies in its direction and editing - this is not a
well-paced film. It doesn't build on the humor (there are some VERY funny throw
away gags here) and it doesn't build much tension either. It also doesn't help
that the film's soundtrack is a lot hokey - a cheesy, early 80s brand of
synthesizers and drum machines. You'll either love Buckaroo
Banzai or hate it. But I dig it and, for me at least, this DVD's been
a LONG time in coming.
Thankfully, the wait was by and large worth it. The video on this DVD looks
surprisingly good, given the film's new anamorphic widescreen transfer. The
contrast is very nice, with deep, detailed shadows, yet the brighter areas of
the picture are never overblown. Most impressive is the color, which is
surprisingly rich, accurate and vibrant, while never bleeding or otherwise
falling short. The print itself also looks quite good. It's occasionally soft,
and there's moderate grain visible at times, but the print is in great shape -
very clean and free of dirt, dust and other blemishes once you get past the
opening credit sequence. You may occasionally notice compression artifacting and
edge enhancement, but they aren't too much of a distraction. Overall, this is a
very good, but not great transfer. Fans should be quite happy with it. You've
certainly never seen Buckaroo looking this
The disc's audio is also generally quite good, available here in a newly
re-mixed Dolby Digital 5.1. I would have appreciated the inclusion of the film's
original stereo track, but the new mix is enough to satisfy. The track sports a
surprisingly wide and smooth front soundstage, with good ambience created in the
rear channels. The film isn't really too active in terms of surround sound
effects, but when they're needed, the mix handles them just fine. Mostly, you
get ambience reinforcement from the surround speakers, which accomplish that
task well. Dialogue can occasionally sound a little flat, and low frequency is a
little wanting at times. But like the video, the audio is much improved here and
should please fans of the film, if not surround sound connoisseurs.
Here's where my first major complaint about this disc comes in. There are no
English subtitles. And at a couple of points in the film, some of the dialogue
is a bit tough to understand. I suspect it's just the way the dialogue was
recorded and mixed originally. But when I went to check the subtitles, I
discovered they're only available in French and Spanish. Doh!
Now for the extras. Here's the schtick of this DVD, and I think it's pretty
funny: this disc was assembled as if it were produced by the actual Banzai
Institute. That means that the material here is rife with in-jokes. Only fans
are going to get all of them. But if you are a fan, this disc is a real treat.
To start with, you get a tongue-in-cheek audio commentary with the film's
director W.D. Richter and the real Reno from the Banzai Institute (it's actually
writer Earl Mac Rauch, but play along here). The two dissect the film and talk
about how the "real" Buckaroo Banzai liked the film. You see... the
further schtick here is that the film itself is a dramatization of "real"
events, so the people you're watching on screen are only actors playing the "real"
Buckaroo Banzai and the Hong Kong Cavaliers. If you buy into it, it's pretty
funny. There's also subtitle track of Pinky
Carruther's Unknown Facts (Carruthers being a character in the film
played by musician Billy Vera, although again, it's Rauch who wrote all this
stuff). It's filled with funny bits of trivia, again in keeping with the gag.
Fourteen deleted scenes are available here too, taken from the film's work print
(so they're not anamorphic and the quality is poor... but they're here, so no
complaining). And there's even the film's alternate extended opening, which
features Jamie Lee Curtis as Buckaroo Banzai's mother. You can view this
separately, or you can choose to view it not quite seamlessly restored to the
film itself (when you go to play the film, you choose between the theatrical cut
and the extended). I say not quite seamlessly, because the switch from the
alternate opening to the rest of the film triggered a long pause in my player -
my other major complaint about this disc. But hey... it's fun to see regardless.
Hang on there, Blue Blazers! We're just getting started. This disc also
includes the film's original teaser trailer (in anamorphic widescreen) and a new
Jet Car promo trailer that was created by
the folks at Foundation Imaging to sell the idea of a Buckaroo
Banzai TV series. The idea never flew, but it's cool to have the
trailer here (it's otherwise only been seen at SciFi conventions). You get a
behind-the-scenes featurette on the making of the film from the 1980s, Buckaroo
Banzai Declassified, along with a detailed profile of the "real"
Buckaroo Banzai. Then there are profiles of most of the characters in the film,
a look under the hood at the Jet Car, an extensive gallery of photos (broken
down by subject) and some Nuon features no one cares about (because only like
three people have a Nuon-enhanced player to access them). I doubt you're missing
anything if you can't view them. And then there's a fun section called the Banzai
Institute Archives. This is filled with schematics of the Tour Bus
and Complex BB, photos of movie tie-ins, badges and CD covers by the Hong Kong
Cavaliers (gotta love Your Place or Mayan?),
a list of the film locations, the text of a pair of reviews of the film, a text
interview with the "real" Buckaroo Banzai, a history of the Institute,
entries from Hikita's diary and even a ten minute Banzai Radio interview with
with Terry Erdman (who was the Fox publicist for the film back in 1984).
Finally, there are several Easter eggs hidden throughout the disc's menu
screens, including quotes, alternate DVD menu designs and alternate DVD cover
designs (oh, how I wish they'd been used). There's even a funny bit about the
watermelon - 'nuff said. They're funny and pretty easy to find if you search
The bottom line is that a lot of care has gone into this disc, and if you're a
fan, you're really going to love it. A lot of other people are going to
completely miss the gags and be left scratching their heads. Screw 'em! This
baby's aimed at you diehards anyway, and it's got plenty of mojo. So fire up
your Oscillation Overthrusters and enjoy.
By the way... when I tried to reach Buckaroo Banzai himself, to see what he
thinks about the DVD, turns out he was still working on that World
Crime League sequel and so was unavailable for comment. His publicist
at the Banzai Institute did, however, send over this statement: "Nothing is
ever what it seems, but everything is exactly what it is." I'm still not
sure if he meant the DVD or the sequel, but there it is...