The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension [retro review]

“No matter where you go, there you are”

The Scoop: 1984 PG, directed by W.D. Richter and starring Peter Weller, John Lithgow and Ellen Barkin

Tagline: Beings from Another Dimension have invaded your world.

Summary Capsule: A scientist/rock n’ roller/brain surgeon/samurai fights evil aliens named John from the 8th dimension.

Justin’s Rating: Severe Eyebrow Twitch Warning

Justin’s Review: In the cult movie world, there is The Rocky Horror Picture Show and then Buckaroo Banzai. These two films have some of the largest cult followings of any of the strange flicks we present on our site, and for a good reason… although I’m not quite sure what that is.

Buckaroo is odd. Very odd. So odd that you might be rewinding at the beginning going, “What the flippin’ flapjack did I miss?” You didn’t miss anything, patient viewer, this movie is out to mess with your mind. I read once that the best way to explain this movie is to compare it to jumping in to the middle of a series of movies. You feel like this is Part 6 of something, since it doesn’t start at the beginning. I like that explanation, so I’ll leave it at that. You must have a blank, tabula rasa-mind watching this. Just be a conformist: accept what is happening and go with it!

Buckaroo (RoboCop, er, Peter Weller), a Jack-Of-All-Trades cat (the cool kind), is currently riding his rocket car into the 8th dimension, inhabited by bad dudes all named John. They come to earth and try to fight us, but Buckaroo and his Hong Kong Cavaliers are there to stop them. I feel so funky trying to explain this… it’s like trying to explain a dream that really made deep sense to you while it was happening, but no one is really going to know what you are talking about in the morning: “And so, this snail gave me a hug, right, and said I was from the Land of the Lollipop People! Can you believe that?

I personally didn’t find this film as engrossing as other famous cult movies, but it wasn’t bad. Just very disjointed and nonsensical. There are a lot of great, great lines, including the famous: “No matter where you go, there you are.” Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Lloyd, and John Lithgow join the cast (I didn’t even have to look up their names! I’m so proud of myself, like when the giant snail came up to me…). Definitely worth a rent, even better at a party of your bizarre friends. Sure you have bizarre friends, right? If you don’t call us and we’ll send a couple of us mutants over to your place for company.

Kyle’s Rating: Did anyone get a license number?

Kyle’s Review: This is one freaked-out movie. It’s a throwback to those black-and-white episodic adventure serials that your parents and grandparents probably watched in theaters growing up for fifty cents a gander.

The movie details one adventure of Buckaroo Banzai and his loyal team fighting evil invaders from the 8th dimension. How they get here involves a souped-up rocket car that looks like what your car would with a little work, John Lithgow (who gave me nightmares for weeks when I watched this as a child in the scene where he simply electrocutes his tongue to stimulate recall), and the empty space in rocks. If you can explain it better after you see this film, let me know!

As much as I like this movie, it’s not one to be watched over and over. You should see it once in a great while, definitely when you don’t have much on your mind so you can relax and let the strange on-screen happenings overload your mind. It will also make you feel better if you happen to not know what the heck you want to do with your life: do it all!

Lissa’s Rating: I don’t get it.

Lissa’s Review: This is probably akin to sacrilege on a cult movie site, but would someone please explain to me what the flipping heck it is I watched the other night? I know I stayed awake for the whole movie, but for crying out loud, it simply made no sense.

The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai Across the Eight Dimension is, for some reason, a cult classic. Perhaps it’s the absurdity of the characters. A main character who is a surgeon, a scientist, a singer, and who knows what else does have a way of capturing the imagination. Perhaps because people get a kick out of seeing acting that should have come out of John Lithgow’s high school play. Perhaps because the premise is ludicrous (although I’m still not 100% sure what the premise is). Perhaps because Jeff Goldblum runs around dressed as a cowboy. Or perhaps because we believe that if this movie could get greenlighted and made, ANYTHING is possible. Frankly, I think it’s the last.

The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai Across the Eight Dimension is, simply put, a terrible movie. The story is bad. The acting is bad. The dialogue is bad. The effects are bad. The costumes are bad. However, I will be generous enough to say that it’s not on the level of The Doom Generation. (Duckie kept asking me if it was. Yes, I saw the Doom Generation in my first year of grad school, long before I discovered MRFH. The GSA put on free movies (generally indies or foreign films), and I went every weekend before I had friends.) Anyway, every single sentence above can be used to describe The Doom Generation, but TAoBBAtED (man, that doesn’t work any better) never, not even once, made me want to throw up or offended me in any way. So yes, it was better than The Doom Generation. That does not say much.

Maybe this movie makes more sense if you’re drunk or stoned? Being seven months pregnant, I was neither, so I’m really not in a position to make any assessments on that. But it’s the only way I could really see to improve this one. I’m trying to think of a reason to even watch it. MST3K commentaries or curiosity are really the only two reasons I can think of to do so. I really don’t get the appeal. I mean, I don’t like Rocky Horror Picture Show (largely because of strong associations with an ex), but I can at least understand what’s going on. It’s ludicrous and laughable, but it’s coherent enough that you can laugh at it. Buckaroo Bonzai, on the other hand, isn’t. And what’s the point if it’s impossible to even mock? I scratched my head more than anything else with this one.

So don’t bother. Go laugh at Van Helsing or LXG or Philadelphia Experiment or something where you can actually understand the plot. But before I go, can someone please answer the following five questions for me?

1. Okay, I know about the first, second, third, and fourth dimensions. I can even make excuses for the fifth, given that A Wrinkle In Time was one of my favorite books when I was a teenager. But what happened to the sixth and seventh dimensions?

2. Why WAS Jeff Goldblum wandering around looking like a square dance caller? His character just had a penchant for bad clothes? I mean, it wasn’t even like Dodgeball, where the one guy was convinced he was a pirate. I mean, he didn’t think he was a cowboy. Small budget, perhaps?

3. What was going on with the chick? Penny Pretty or whatever her name was? I never did figure that out.

4. Please tell me I wasn’t the only one giggling and thinking immature thoughts at the obsession with the “overthruster”.

5. Could someone please tell me why this is actually in our collection? Please? (I didn’t put it there.)

Thank you.

It's 100 miles to the next dimension. We've got a full tank of cult, a half pack of Mentos, it's bright, and we're in the 80's. Hit it.

Intermission!

  • The latitude and longitude recited by the technicians during the “alignment” of the Oscillation Overthruster are the coordinates of Cape Canaveral, Florida.
  • The “oscillation overthruster” device reappeared as a “spectral analyzer” in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Pen Pals”
  • When Lizardo’s colleagues pull him out of the supposedly solid wall, the hole that they pull him out of can be seen. In the next shot the wall is solid again.
  • The credits end with the announcement of the upcoming sequel “BUCKAROO BANZAI VERSUS THE WORLD CRIME LEAGUE.” While this film was never made, the script was reworked to produce Big Trouble In Little China.
  • During the closing credits, Buckaroo’s team assembles, one by one, walking along. Included in the group is Clancy Brown, whose character, Rawhide, dies during the film.
  • The overall concept and several names appear to be taken from the Doc Savage pulp magazines of the 30’s and 40’s: both main characters are multi-talented surgeons, adventurers, and musicians; and both have an inner circle of sidekicks with nicknames (Renny, Ham, Monk, Long Tom, and Johnny, compared to Reno, New Jersey, Perfect Tommy, and Rawhide). Many names and terms were taken from Thomas Pynchon’s book “The Crying of Lot 49”.
  • Jamie Lee Curtis played Buckaroo’s mother in a flashback, but this scene was cut.

Groovy Quotes

Buckaroo Banzai: Hey, hey, hey. Don’t be mean. We don’t have to be mean because, remember, no matter where you go, there you are.

Buckaroo Banzai: Evil! Pure and simple from the eighth dimension!

Buckaroo Banzai: It flies like a truck.
John Parker: Good. What is a truck?

General Catburd: Mr President, I’m a soldier, and a damn good one. I’ve got enough decorations to snap a christmas tree. All I’m trying to say is, and I hope I speak for everyone in this room, is that I’m scared — barely holding my fudge right now.

Lord John Whorfin: May I pass along my congratulations for your great interdimensional breakthrough. I am sure, in the miserable annals of the Earth, you will be duly inscribed.

Rawhide: Dr. Banzai is using a laser to vaporize a pineal tumor without damaging the parthogenital plate. A subcutaneous microphone will allow the patient to transmit verbal instructions to his own brain.
Observer: Like, “raise my left arm”?
Rawhide: Or “throw the harpoon.” People are gonna come from all over. This boy’s an Eskimo.

Buckaroo Banzai: You can check your anatomy all you want, and even though there may be normal variation, when it comes right down to it, this far inside the head it all looks the same. No, no, no, don’t tug on that. You never know what it might be attached to.

Television voice: Nineteen thirty-eight! Can you imagine what it must have been like then… then… then…

Perfect Tommy: Pictures don’t lie.
Reno: The hell they don’t. I met my first wife that way.

Perfect Tommy: Emilio Lizardo. Wasn’t he on TV once?
Buckaroo Banzai: You’re thinking of Mr. Wizard.
Reno: Emilio Lizardo is a top scientist, dumbkopf.
Perfect Tommy: So was Mr. Wizard.

Lord John Whorfin: Where are we going?
Red Lectroids: Planet Ten!
Lord John Whorfin: When?
Red Lectroids: Real soon!

Lord John Whorfin: Take her to the Pitt! Go, Big-booty. Use more honey! Find out what she knows.

Buckaroo Banzai: I’ve been ionized, but I’m okay now.

Lord John Whorfin: Laugh-a while you can, monkey boy!

President Widmark: Buckaroo, I don’t know what to say. Lectroids? Planet 10? Nuclear extortion? A girl named “John”?

President Widmark: [reading] “Declaration of War… the short form.”

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6 Comments

  1. 1. Okay, I know about the first, second, third, and fourth dimensions. I can even make excuses for the fifth, given that A Wrinkle In Time was one of my favorite books when I was a teenager. But what happened to the sixth and seventh dimensions?

    Eighth dimension was where dangerous criminals from Planet 10 were imprisoned.

    2. Why WAS Jeff Goldblum wandering around looking like a square dance caller? His character just had a penchant for bad clothes? I mean, it wasn’t even like Dodgeball, where the one guy was convinced he was a pirate. I mean, he didn’t think he was a cowboy. Small budget, perhaps?

    Buckaroo invited Goldblum to come travel with the Cavaliers after assisting Buckaroo with the surgery. Goldblum only really knew the Cavaliers from the comic books, and assumed everyone wore the costumes they wore in the comic, in real life, and just wanted to fit in.

    3. What was going on with the chick? Penny Pretty or whatever her name was? I never did figure that out.

    Penny, Buckaroo’s dead girlfriend, was the girl in the movie’s identical twin sister. Buckaroo sees his Penny in her.

    4. Please tell me I wasn’t the only one giggling and thinking immature thoughts at the obsession with the “overthruster”.

    Everyone is 🙂

    5. Could someone please tell me why this is actually in our collection? Please? (I didn’t put it there.)

    Because it’s so damn quotable! And a lot of fun, as long as you don’t ask why the watermelon was in ths vice.

    There’s an answer, actually…..

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  5. A friend took me to see this movie in the 1980’s and I came out of the theatre somewhat confused; how could the film feel so ‘off’ and the actors so awful when the majority of them were what I would consider seriously-above-average artists?
    When the dvd came out, I discovered that this was not only one of the cleverest dvds ever made – filled to the brim with what the dvd format had promised it could do – but that everyone involved in the project had joyfully rushed in because it presented a rare oppurtunity to stretch out on really well-written material.
    Yes, it’s ‘way out there’ as a concept, but it’s not incoherent; everything fits in its impishly warped way – no artificial mind boosters required.

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