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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 12/13/01

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai
Across the Eighth Dimension

Special Edition - 1984 (2001) - 20th Century Fox (MGM)

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension Film Rating: B

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 boy!"

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 good before.

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 around.

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...

Bill Hunt
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