"The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension" surely ranks as one of the classic cult movies of all time. This insanely great little film has carved out a nice little niche for itself due solely to word of mouth by the rabid fans who refuse to let a good movie die. While the film was well received by the handful of critics who "got it," I can just imagine how the average theater-goer responded to this one-of-a-kind cinematic experience. I myself missed this gem during its very limited theatrical run but I quickly fell under its sway when I later rented the VHS tape on a whim. I imagine that many "Buckaroo Banzai" fans followed the same path to enlightenment and those who have never seen the film in all its widescreen glory (it has never before been released in widescreen on any home video format) are certainly in for a treat with this jam-packed special edition courtesy of the Banzai Institute and the fine folks at MGM.
Buckaroo Banzai (Peter Weller) is a scientist/musician/surgeon/well, you get the idea by now, who finds himself engaged in numerous very important pursuits with his band (I’m talking the real music-playing kind of band here) of compatriots The Hong Kong Cavaliers.
The film opens with Dr. Banzai rushing from his stint as a neurosurgeon just in time to pilot the first test drive of a supersonic Jet Car. Unbeknownst to the project’s government-appointed handlers, Buckaroo Banzai and his life-long mentor Professor Hikita (Robert Ito) are secretly planning to recreate the very test that killed Buckaroo’s parents many years earlier.
Planting an Oscillation Overthruster in the vehicle, Banzai sets out to take the car and himself into the 8th dimension. Banzai and the car both pass through a mountain relatively unharmed but this brief foray into 8D awakens the Red Lectroids who have been imprisoned there after a failed coup against their Black Lectroid brethren on Planet 10.
The last man to venture into the 8th dimension was Hikita’s partner Dr. Emilio Lizardo (John Lithgow) who seemingly went mad in the attempt. In actuality, Lizardo’s body was possessed by the leader of the Reds, Lord John Whorfin (all of the aliens are named John) who now sets out after Banzai to steal the Overthruster, release the rest of his army, and seek revenge against his home planet.
Can Buckaroo Banzai and his gang stop Lord Whorfin in time? Will the Black Lectroids be forced to start World War Three in order to annihilate their Red enemies? Is Penny Priddy (Ellen Barkin) really the long lost twin sister of Banzai’s departed wife? All these questions and many more you never thought to ask are answered in "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension."
That’s really the best I can do by way of a plot synopsis as the storyline really defies explanation and just has to be seen to be believed. Modeled after the Saturday morning matinee serials that were a staple of the all-American childhood up until the 1950s, "Buckaroo Banzai" plays out in frenetic fashion and assumes that viewers will not only be able to keep up but that they are also in the know with regards to any background information. For this reason, the film feels like the middle episode in a series (alas, the follow-up film promised in the end credits never came to pass) so don’t be alarmed if nothing seems to make sense the first time through.
Writer Earl Mac Rauch and director W.D. Richter have created a comic book come to life and the only other film that comes close to approximating the dialogue, pacing, and almost outlandish seriousness of "Buckaroo Banzai" is that other mid-1980s cult classic, John Carpenter’s "Big Trouble in Little China." Of course the fact that W. D. Richter was involved with both films may have something to do with their similarity in tone. If you’ve seen "Big Trouble" and liked it then "Buckaroo Banzai" is most certainly your cup of tea.
"The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension" is presented for the first time ever on home video in its original 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio. That alone should be enough to get fans of the movie all giddy but the fact that this brand-new anamorphic transfer is virtually perfect comes as a very welcome surprise. The image is much sharper than I’ve ever seen it without resorting to any heavy-handed edge enhancement. In addition, the vast majority of physical defects and blemishes have been removed leaving an almost pristine picture. There is a constant degree of fine film grain but that is inherent in the source elements and doesn’t detract from the image.
Colors are very vibrant and I do mean very as scenes featuring New Jersey’s bright red cowboy shirt are almost painful to watch. But at no time does even that harsh color ever bloom or bleed. A few scenes suffer from faded colors but all in all the palette is quite consistent. Black levels are good as well with the many dark interiors showing up in fine detail. This new video transfer is a real winner offering up a beautifully rendered widescreen image.
Audio is presented in a new English Dolby Digital 5.1 mix as well as a mono French dubbed track. The new 5.1 track doesn’t try to do too much with the original stereo source elements so purists shouldn’t find much to object to. Dialogue is firmly anchored to the center speaker with the rest of the front speakers used to open up the musical score and sound effects. Surrounds are used to good effect and never sound intrusive. Dynamic range is somewhat limited but there is a bit of deep bass here and there and no noticeable distortion. All elements of the soundtrack are well-balanced and the end result is an engaging but non-obtrusive audio experience.
"The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension" is presented on DVD as a full-blown special edition and the creation of this disc was an obvious labor of love. But be forewarned, just as the movie itself always plays it straight, so too do the numerous bonus features. Everything from the director’s commentary to the behind-the-scenes documentary play up the angle that Buckaroo Banzai is in fact a real-life hero and that this film was merely a biopic of his life. From beginning to end this DVD is one big inside joke that fans will find delightful but more casual viewers will likely just find confusing.
First up is a commentary track with director W.D. Richter and writer Earl Mac Rauch who takes on the persona of Team Banzai member Reno Nevada. In keeping with the overall theme of the disc, the commentary offers some insight into the filming of the feature but really focuses on enhancing the Buckaroo Banzai mythology by offering up numerous tidbits regarding the famed adventurer and his pals. From beginning to end the track is deadpan serious and will either be a real hoot or just plain annoying depending on the level of fandom of the listener.
In addition to the commentary there is also a subtitle track filled with further factoids about Team Banzai. Presented as "Pinky Carruthers’ Unknown Facts," this subtitle stream offers up even more essential Banzai info from Pinky, the Keeper of the 47,000 Unknown Facts.
Next is the film’s alternate opening which offers up some much needed background information about Buckaroo Banzai’s childhood and the death of his parents. Presented as home movie footage and featuring Jamie Lee Curtis as Buckaroo’s mom, this short introduction can be accessed by watching the extended version of the film or by selecting this feature from the special features menu. Die-hard fans are likely to turn up their noses at this attempt to offer the audience some small degree of background information but I for one like the bit and appreciate the effort.
"Buckaroo Banzai Declassified" is a new 22-minute documentary which opens with some vintage interview snippets with the cast and crew. But the bulk of the feature revolves around a present-day interview with W.D. Richter which takes place at the Banzai Institute. This is a decent enough feature and offers a wealth of behind-the-scenes information without the director ever once slipping out of character.
Next up are 14 deleted scenes culled from the original workprint. These are rough extensions of existing scenes and, while of some interest, really don’t amount to much.
The film’s original teaser trailer (really just the end credit sequence without the text) and what’s billed as a "New Jet Car Trailer" are also presented. The Jet Car trailer is a CGI teaser meant to promote the supposed Buckaroo Banzai television series which has yet to go into production.
Next are Buckaroo Banzai Personal and Character Profiles providing some zany background info on Dr. Banzai and the members of Team Banzai. Again, in keeping with the nature of the disc, no mention of the actors or their filmographies is made anywhere on the DVD.
"Jet Car All Access" offers up some technical info and images of the Jet Car while the "Photo Gallery" presents a whole slew of production stills.
Rounding out the bountiful bonus features is the "Banzai Institute Archives." This catch-all feature includes promotional and marketing materials such as previous home video cover art, computer game packaging, the covers of the original and newly re-released paperback books, a radio interview, text reviews of the movie (by film critics who very much "got it"), and much more.
The disc also contains some Nuon features for those with supporting DVD players but I’m not able to access that functionality so you’re on your own.
Not only is "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension" a packed special edition, it is also a DVD squarely targeted at the film’s core legion of fans. While casual viewers will be greatly confused by the "serious" tone of the supplemental materials, those who know and love Buckaroo Banzai are in for a real treat as this disc is for them and them alone.
MGM is to be commended for going all out on this DVD. The new widescreen transfer is a sight to behold, the new 5.1 soundtrack is solid, and the extras are wonderfully insane. This DVD was created by fans for fans and the rest of the world can just lump it. I hesitate to give "Buckaroo Banzai" a blanket recommendation as I hazard to guess that the majority of the populace will not like, understand, or appreciate this cult classic. But fans of the film, and those who seem likely to fall under its spell, are in for a real treat and one of the best presentations of a 1980s cult movie to appear on DVD.