|The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||W. D. Richter|
|Written by||Earl Mac Rauch|
|Music by||Michael Boddicker|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Box office||$6.3 million|
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, often shortened to Buckaroo Banzai, is a 1984 American science fiction film produced and directed by W. D. Richter and written by Earl Mac Rauch. It stars Peter Weller in the titular role, with Ellen Barkin, John Lithgow, Jeff Goldblum, and Christopher Lloyd. The supporting cast includes Lewis Smith, Rosalind Cash, Clancy Brown, Pepe Serna, Robert Ito, Vincent Schiavelli, and Ronald Lacey.
The premise centers upon the efforts of the polymath Dr. Buckaroo Banzai, a physicist, neurosurgeon, test pilot, and musician, to save the world by defeating a band of inter-dimensional aliens called Red Lectroids from Planet 10. The film is a cross between the action-adventure and science fiction film genres and also includes elements of pulp fiction, comedy, and romance.
After screenwriter W. D. Richter was introduced to novelist Earl Mac Rauch and hired him to develop a screenplay of Mac Rauch's new character Buckaroo Banzai, Richter teamed with producer Neil Canton to pitch the script to MGM/UA studio chief David Begelman, who took it to 20th Century Fox to make the film. Box office figures were low and less than half of the film's production costs were recovered. Some critics were put off by the complicated plot, while others like Pauline Kael enjoyed the film, with Vincent Canby calling it "pure, nutty fun." Buckaroo Banzai has been adapted for books, comics, and a video game and has attracted a loyal cult following.
Buckaroo Banzai and his mentor Dr. Hikita perfect the "oscillation overthruster", a device that allows one to pass through solid matter. Banzai tests it by driving his Jet Car through a mountain. While passing through it, Banzai finds himself in another dimension, and on returning to his normal dimension, he discovers an alien organism has attached itself to his car.
News of Banzai's success reaches Dr. Emilio Lizardo, currently held at the Trenton Home for the Criminally Insane. In 1938, Lizardo and Hikita had built a prototype overthruster, but Lizardo tested it before it was ready, and became stuck between dimensions. Though freed, being stuck between dimensions caused him to go insane. Aware that Banzai has succeeded in passing through that same dimension, Lizardo breaks out.
Banzai and the Hong Kong Cavaliers are performing at a nightclub when Banzai interrupts their musical intro to address a depressed and suicidal woman, Penny Priddy, in the audience. During a song he performs especially for her, she attempts suicide, which is mistaken for an assassination attempt upon Banzai. After bailing her out of jail, he finds she is the long-lost twin sister of his late wife. Later, Banzai holds a press conference about his rocket car experience, the overthruster, and the specimen of alien/transdimensional life he obtained while traveling through the 8th dimension. Strange men disrupt the event and kidnap Hikita. Due to an electrical shock from an unknown source, Banzai sees these men as reptilian humanoids and gives chase, managing to rescue Hikita before being discovered. Banzai manages to evade the men long enough to be rescued by his allies.
While planning what to do next, Banzai and the Cavaliers are met by John Parker, a messenger from John Emdall, the leader of the peaceful Black Lectroids of Planet 10, currently in Earth's orbit. Emdall explains that they have been at war with the hostile Red Lectroids for years, but had managed to banish them to the eighth dimension. Lizardo's failed test of the overthruster in 1938 allowed the Red Lectroids' leader, John Whorfin, to take over Lizardo's mind and enable several dozen others to escape. Now that Banzai has perfected the overthruster, Emdall fears Whorfin and his allies will try to acquire it to free the other Red Lectroids. Emdall had shocked Banzai previously to allow him to see the Lectroids for who they are, and now tasks him with stopping Whorfin; otherwise the Black Lectroids will fake a nuclear explosion in Russia to start World War III, annihilating Earth and the Red Lectroids with it. The Cavaliers track down the Red Lectroids to Yoyodyne Propulsion Systems in New Jersey, finding that their arrival in 1938 was told by Orson Welles' broadcast of The War of the Worlds until the Lectroids forced him to state it was a work of fiction. Yoyodyne has been building a spacecraft to cross over to the eighth dimension under the pretense of a new United States Air Force bomber.
The Red Lectroids invade Banzai's headquarters and kidnap Penny and, unbeknownst to the Red Lectroids, the overthruster, which was in her possession. Banzai and the Cavaliers set off and confront Whorfin at Yoyodyne. At Yoyodyne, Penny refuses to tell the Lectroids where the overthruster is, and they start to torture her. Banzai arrives in time to save her and fight off the Lectroids, though Penny is wounded and unconscious. While the Cavaliers tend to her, Banzai and Parker sneak into a pod on the spacecraft. Without Banzai's overthruster, Whorfin insists they use his imperfect model, which fails to make the dimensional transition and instead breaks through the Yoyodyne wall, flying off into the atmosphere. Banzai and Parker are ejected, in the pod, from the main craft, but manage to activate it and use its weapon systems to destroy Whorfin and all the other Red Lectroids. Banzai parachutes back to Earth while Parker returns to his people. With the situation resolved and war averted, Banzai finds Penny didn't survive her injuries. When he goes to give her a final kiss, Emdall causes another brief shock to Banzai, reviving Penny.
The ending credits announce an upcoming sequel called Buckaroo Banzai Against the World Crime League, but this was never produced.
In 1974, W. D. Richter's wife read a review of Dirty Pictures from the Prom, the debut novel from Dartmouth College graduate and writer Earl Mac Rauch, and recommended it to her husband. Richter, also an alumnus from the college, read the book, loved it, and wrote Mac Rauch a letter. The two men began corresponding. When the writer told him about his interest in becoming a screenwriter, Richter offered him an open-ended invitation to visit him in Los Angeles where he was attending the University of Southern California and working as a script analyst for Warner Bros.
Years passed and Richter became a successful screenwriter. Mac Rauch took Richter up on his offer and arrived in L.A. Richter proceeded to introduce the writer to producer/director Irwin Winkler who gave Mac Rauch rent money for the next six months. Over several dinners, Mac Rauch told Richter and his wife of a character named Buckaroo Bandy about whom he was thinking of writing a screenplay. Richter and his wife liked the idea and paid Mac Rauch $1,500 to develop and write it. According to Mac Rauch, his script was inspired by "all those out-and-out, press-the-accelerator-to-the-floor, non-stop kung fu movies of the early '70s". Richter remembers that Mac Rauch wrote several stories about this character, then he "would get thirty or forty pages into a script, abandon its storyline and write a new one". Mac Rauch recalled, "It's so easy to start something and then--since you're really not as serious about it as you should be--end up writing half of it ... You shove the hundred pages in a drawer and try to forget about it. Over the years, I started a dozen Buckaroo scripts that ended that way."
Mac Rauch's original 30-page treatment was entitled Find the Jetcar, Said the President - A Buckaroo Banzai Thriller. Early on, one of the revisions Mac Rauch made was changing Buckaroo's surname from Bandy to Banzai--but he was not crazy about it. Richter convinced him to keep the name. The Hong Kong Cavaliers also appeared in these early drafts, but, according to Richter, "it never really went to a completed script. Mac wrote and wrote but never wrote the end". Another early draft was entitled The Strange Case of Mr. Cigars, about a huge robot and a box of Adolf Hitler's cigars. Mac Rauch shelved his work for a few years while he wrote New York, New York for Martin Scorsese and other un-produced screenplays.
In 1980, Richter talked with producers Frank Marshall and Neil Canton about filming one of his screenplays. Out of this meeting, Canton and Richter formed their own production company and decided that Buckaroo Banzai would be the first film. Under their supervision, Mac Rauch wrote a 60-page treatment entitled, Lepers from Saturn. They shopped Mac Rauch's treatment around to production executives who were their peers, proposing that Richter direct it, but no one wanted to take on such unusual subject matter by two first-time producers and a first-time director. Canton and Richter contacted veteran producer Sidney Beckerman at MGM/UA, with whom Canton had worked before. Beckerman liked the treatment and introduced Richter and Canton to studio chief David Begelman. Within 24 hours, they had a development deal with the studio. It took Mac Rauch a year and a half to write the final screenplay; during this time, the Lepers from the treatment became Lizards and then Lectroids--from Planet 10. Much of the film's detailed character histories were taken from Mac Rauch's unfinished Banzai scripts.
The 1981 Writers Guild of America strike forced the project to languish in development for more than a year. Begelman left MGM as several of his projects had performed poorly at the box office; this put all of his future projects, Buckaroo Banzai included, in jeopardy. Begelman formed Sherwood Productions and exercised a buy-out option with MGM for the Banzai script. He took it to 20th Century Fox who agreed to make it with a $12 million budget. Mac Rauch ended up writing three more drafts before they had a shooting script.
When considering the role of Buckaroo Banzai, Richter wanted an actor who "could both look heroic with grease all over his face, and project the kind of intelligence you would associate with a neurosurgeon and inventor". The studio wanted a recognizable film star, but Richter and Canton wanted to cast a relatively unknown actor. Richter looked in New York City because he assumed that an actor with experience on stage and small films "would be able to completely interact with props". He had been impressed by Peter Weller's performance in Shoot the Moon and met with him. At first, the actor was hesitant to take the role because he was unclear on the overall tone of the film. "Would it be campy? Would it be a cartoon? Or would it be the sort of wacky, realistic film that would catch people sideways--and not be a cartoon", Weller remembers thinking. Richter told Banzai's story to Weller and convinced him to do the film. The actor stated that he based his character on Elia Kazan, Jacques Cousteau, Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, and Adam Ant.
For the role of Dr. Emilio Lizardo, the studio wanted to cast an unknown actor, but Mac Rauch had written the role with John Lithgow in mind. Like Weller, Lithgow was not sure about the character, but Richter convinced him by "claiming what a real feast for an actor this wonderful Jekyll and Hyde character was", Lithgow later said. He told an interviewer, "I have had roles where I came very close to going over the top. In Twilight Zone I almost went over the top several times. But this role is completely over the top. It makes the role in Twilight Zone seem like a model of restraint. I do it in a wild, red fright wig and rotten false teeth with a thick Italian accent. It's wild." For Lizardo's accent, Lithgow spent time with an Italian tailor at MGM and recorded his voice. He changed his walk to that of an "old crab, because my alien metabolism is supposed to be messed up". Lithgow said of his character, "playing Lizardo felt like playing the madman in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari."
Ellen Barkin, who played the romantic interest "Penny Priddy", describes the film as "if Terry Southern had written Star Wars. None of the characters are quite what they should be--just my kind of thing." Richter's only choice to play John Bigbooté was Christopher Lloyd, who agreed to the role. Richter first met Jeff Goldblum on Invasion of the Body Snatchers and wanted him to play the character New Jersey; the actor admired the script and was eager to work with the cast the director had assembled. Lewis Smith was asked to dye his hair blond; it took eight hours, and he saw it go from red to orange to fluorescent yellow to white.Clancy Brown said that his character is "very common sensical. He's the everyman of the film".Robert Ito was so determined to get the role of Dr. Hikita, that he disguised himself as an old man, designing his own makeup job to age himself 30 years.
Production designer J. Michael Riva had worked with Richter before and spent two years working on the look for Banzai. He and Richter studied many kinds of art and literature for the film's look, including medical journals, African magazines, and Russian history. The inspiration for the look of the Lectroids came from Riva sporting a lobster on his nose. He based the Lectroids' alien form on a Canadian anthropologist's extrapolation of what dinosaurs might have evolved into if they had survived, but modified the concept because it would have required prosthetics that would have immobilized the actors. Their makeup consisted of 12 separate pieces of latex appliances per alien. Each actor's makeup was unique, with casts taken of their faces. For the Red Lectroids, Riva consulted Russian history to give them a "baggy-suited, Moscow bureaucrat sort of image"; their outfits were influenced by contemporary Russian lifestyles and they went with greens, blues and yellows because, according to Riva, they are "sick and anemic." Richter wanted the Black Lectroids to have a "warrior-like demeanor, but in an elegant, not fierce fashion"; their costumes came from African tribal markings. For Buckaroo's and his Cavaliers' look, the costume designer gathered Gianni Versace, Perry Ellis, and Giorgio Armani sports jackets, suits, and ties.
Richter and Riva did not want metal spaceships and opted for a more organic look like a deep sea oyster shell. Gregory Jein, Inc. and Stetson Visual Concepts built the spaceship models and worked off sketches by production illustrator Tom Cranham and used seashells as guides. Richter purposely wanted the film to have an unpolished look because the "real world appears ramshackle--because people constantly repair whatever's around them".
By the time of filming, Richter had a 300-page book called The Essential Buckaroo that consisted of notes and had every incomplete script Mac Rauch wrote over the years. Principal photography began during the second week of September 1983 on locations in and around South Gate, an industrial suburb of L.A. Buckaroo's neurosurgery scene with New Jersey was shot at the Lakeview Medical Center in the San Fernando Valley. The jet car sequences were shot in October on a dry lake north of the San Bernardino Mountains. The vehicle was designed and built by Riva, art director Stephen Dane, and Thrust Racing owners Jerry Segal and George Haddebeck. Segal started with a Ford F-350 truck, reinforced the frame assembly, added the front end from a Grand National stock car, borrowed air scoops from a DC-3, and a one-man cockpit modeled after a Messerschmitt fighter plane. Under the hood, Segal modified the Ford engine with an oversized carburetor and nitrous oxide injectors. Northrop University loaned the production a working GE turbojet engine. The oscillation overthruster was created by Riva and visual effects supervisor Michael Fink out of a gyroscope to which a metal frame, wires, circuits, and tiny strobe lights were added.
Cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth was initially hired as the film's director of photography but, halfway through production, producers replaced him with Fred J. Koenekamp. Several scenes shot by Cronenweth, including the iconic nightclub scene, are included in the final cut, though Cronenweth goes uncredited.
The Banzai Institute exteriors were shot in Rustic Canyon, Los Angeles, with the interiors filmed in an Art Deco house designed in 1931 by MGM art director Cedric Gibbons for his wife, Dolores del Río. Deserted rooms at Brentwood's V.A. hospital were used for Dr. Lizardo's room at the Trenton Home for the Criminally Insane. Lizardo's 1938 laboratory was filmed at a deserted industrial site, Alpha Tubing. The set decorators rented a collection of 1930s electrical props originally used in the original Boris Karloff Frankenstein films. The interiors of Yoyodyne Propulsion Systems were shot in the abandoned Firestone tire factory. Wilmington's Department of Water and Power provided the location for Dr. Lizardo's shock tower and served as the Yoyodyne exterior, while the Armco Steel Plant in Torrance housed the Lectroid launch hangar. Weller remembers that during the scene where his character is tortured by Dr. Lizardo, "I was laughing at the banter between [Christopher] Lloyd and [John] Lithgow ... I never laughed so hard in my life! They had to stop takes over and over on that segment." Finally, 12 weeks of filming were done on the backlot and soundstages at MGM. The film's closing scene, in which the characters join each other to walk as the credits play, was shot at the Sepulveda Dam, adjacent to the concrete LA River bed.
The film's music coordinator and sound designer Bones Howe began working with musician Michael Boddicker on the film's theme music and sound effects, as they had worked together on the soundtrack for Get Crazy. Boddicker was Howe's first choice to write and perform the film's score. Boddicker had just won a Grammy Award for his song "Imagination" on the Flashdance soundtrack. In addition to composing the score, Boddicker also produced the alien sound effects, while Alan Howarth was hired to create the sounds of the 8th Dimension.
Howe selected the source music for the club scene and put together a special arrangement of "Since I Don't Have You" that Buckaroo sings to Penny Priddy. Weller, an accomplished musician, played the guitar and pocket trumpet, did his own vocals, and learned to mime piano playing. Howe and the filmmakers decided not to go with a rock music score for the film and opted for an electronic one instead. Howe wanted to "integrate music and sound effects so that everything would merge on the soundtrack with no distinction between music and sound."
Fox hired Terry Erdmann and a team of publicists including Blake Mitchell and Jim Ferguson to promote the film at Star Trek conventions with a few film clips and free Banzai headbands, which have since become highly sought-after collector's items by fans of the film. The studio made no attempts to sell the film to a mainstream audience with traditional promotion, although there were some magazine advertisements (primarily in Marvel Comics) and related licensing which served as viral advertising in limited venues. Studio publicist Rosemary LaSalmandra said, "Nobody knew what to do with Buckaroo Banzai. There was no simple way to tell anyone what it was about--I'm not sure anybody knew". Lithgow said, "I've tried to explain the story line to people and it takes about an hour. I mean it; it's that complicated. But it's terrific. Every time I tell people about it, I get so excited that I end it by saying, Buckaroo Banzai, remember where you heard it first!"
Buckaroo Banzai was originally scheduled to be released on June 8, 1984 but was pushed back to August 15. It opened on 236 screens and faced stiff competition against the likes of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (also featuring Banzai co-star Christopher Lloyd), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Ghostbusters. It made US$620,279 on its opening weekend before finally grossing $6.2 million in North America, earning back less than half of its production costs.
Although reportedly "dismissed by many critics as 'strange' and 'unintelligible'" at the time of its release, the film received positive reviews from 69% of 39 surveyed critics on Rotten Tomatoes. Bill Cosford of The Miami Herald praised it as "an unusual film": "Its comedy springs from that odd combination of self-effacement and self-absorption ... [it] is basically a comic strip, relentlessly hip ... an adventure in the Buck Rogers mold." Dave Kehr, in the Chicago Reader, wrote, "Richter seems to have invented an elaborate mythology for his hero ... but he never bothers to explicate it; the film gives you the mildly annoying sensation of being left out of a not very good private joke". In his review for The New York Times, Vincent Canby wrote that Buckaroo Banzai "may well turn out to be a pilot film for other theatrical features, though this one would be hard to top for pure, nutty fun". Richard Corliss, for Time, wrote, "its creators, Earl Mac Rauch and W.D. Richter, propel their film with such pace and farfetched style that anyone without PhDs in astrophysics and pop culture is likely to get lost in the ganglion of story strands. One wonders if the movie is too ambitious, facetious and hip for its own box-office good". In The New Yorker, film critic Pauline Kael wrote, "I didn't find it hard to accept the uninflected, deadpan tone, and to enjoy Buckaroo Banzai for its inventiveness and the gags that bounce off other adventure movies, other comedies. The picture's sense of fun carried me along".
Danny Bowes, writing a retrospective in 2011 for Tor.com, said that the film "is paradoxically decades ahead of its time and yet completely of its time; it's profoundly a movie by, for, and of geeks and nerds at a time before geek/nerd culture was mainstreamed, and a movie whose pre-CG special effects and pre-Computer Age production design were an essential part of its good-natured enthusiasm. What at the time was a hip, modern take on classic SF is now, thirty years later, almost indistinguishable from the SF cinema that inspired it in terms of the appeal to modern viewers: the charmingly old-fashioned special effects, and the comparatively innocent earnestness of its tone."
Buckaroo Banzai was first released for home media on VHS and Betamax in 1985 by Vestron Video, in 1990 by Video Treasures, and in 2001 by MGM Home Entertainment. The film was released on DVD on January 4, 2002 by MGM.Entertainment Weekly gave the DVD release a "B+" rating and wrote, "Fans will drool over the extras, including some illuminating deleted scenes (of particular note is an alternate opening detailing Buckaroo's tragic childhood, featuring Jamie Lee Curtis as Banzai's mother) and director Richter's commentary, which reveals some colorful behind-the-scenes battles with studio execs."IGN gave the DVD their highest rating and was "thrilled by the special edition treatment that this landmark cult film has received at the hands of MGM. The video is great, the sound is great, there are tons of extras". For the Blu-ray format, the film was featured as part of Shout! Factory's Shout! Select Blu-ray line in August 2016; the Shout! Factory release contains a two-hour retrospective documentary featuring interviews with Weller, Lithgow, Brown, Serna, Smith, Vera, Lloyd and director W.D. Richter, among others. A Blu-ray was also released in the United Kingdom by Arrow Video.
Buckaroo Banzai has since attracted a loyal cult following and has been popular on home video. Richter said, "It has had the most dramatic reactions of anything I've worked on. Some loathe it and others are willing to die for it". The director feels that the film failed commercially because the narrative was too complex. He would like to have had more coverage for certain scenes. He could have edited the film better and there were too many master shots and two-shots that left little for the editor to work with.
Wired Magazine, in 2009, celebrated "the 25th anniversary of the release of a film near and dear to many geeks who came of age in the '80s. The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension was a great, adventurous, geeky movie, with enough silly science fiction and great characters to fill any three lousy summer blockbusters these days ... and it gave us so many great, geeky lines to quote." Cosford, in his 1984 review: "I suspect that Buckaroo's odd musings, particularly the one about being there no matter where you go, are about to enter the popular argot on the scale of "Where's the beef?"; his prediction has been proved right.Entertainment Weekly ranked Buckaroo Banzai as No. 43 in their Top 50 Cult Movies. The film was also ranked No. 21 on the magazine's "The Cult 25: The Essential Left-Field Movie Hits Since '83" list.The Guardian has also cited Buckaroo Banzai as one of their "1,000 films to see before you die".
The film's ending scene, in which Banzai and an ever-growing group of his friends and associates walk together triumphantly while the closing credits roll, was copied for the ending of the 2004 film The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. (Jeff Goldblum appears in both scenes.)
The current incarnation of the comic strip Dick Tracy has seen two subtle references to the film in the storyline. In a strip dated October 22, 2013, there is a reference to a business named "Emilio Lizardo Crematorium". In a strip dated November 7, 2013, Dick Tracy's granddaughter Honeymoon tells him she will be attending a Hong Kong Cavaliers concert with the hope of getting Perfect Tommy's autograph.
The film was novelized by creator Earl Mac Rauch in 1984 titled Buckaroo Banzai, published by Pocket Books and released in conjunction with the film. It was reprinted in 2002 to coincide with the release of the film on DVD. In the foreword, Mac Rauch mentions that the Buckaroo Banzai series would be continued in a series of novels.
Also in conjunction with the film's 1984 release, Marvel Comics published a comic book adaptation by writer Bill Mantlo and artists Mark Texeira in Marvel Super Special No. 33. The adaptation was also released as a two-issue limited series.
Moonstone Books began publishing comic books in 2006 depicting earlier and further adventures of Buckaroo Banzai and the Hong Kong Cavaliers. The first story, Buckaroo Banzai: Return of the Screw, was written by creator Earl Mac Rauch. The black-and-white preview edition of the comic was released in February 2006, featuring a behind-the-scenes article by Dan Berger regarding the transformation of the rejected Buckaroo Banzai television pilot script Supersize those Fries into the present comic book limited series. The three issues of this comic have been collected into a trade paperback. In December 2007, Moonstone released a new Banzai comic story "A Christmas Corrall" in the Moonstone Holiday Super Spectacular compilation, also written by Rauch and drawn by Ken Wolak. A two-issue prequel to the film was released in early 2008 called Of Hunan Bondage. It was written by Rauch with art by Superman Returns storyboard artist Chewie. Moonstone released Big Size in early 2009, a special oversize one-shot comic written by Rauch with art by Paul Hanley.
In conjunction with the film's 1984 release, the interactive fiction game The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai: Across the 8th Dimension was released for the Apple II, Atari 8-bit family, Commodore 16, Commodore Plus/4, Commodore 64, IBM PC compatibles and ZX Spectrum. It was created by Scott Adams and published by Adventure International.
In late 1998, the Fox Network announced development of a Buckaroo Banzai TV series entitled Buckaroo Banzai: Ancient Secrets and New Mysteries, but it was never released. The special edition DVD contains a short computer animated sequence by Foundation Imaging made as a test reel for the series. The clip depicts a Space Shuttle trying to land with broken landing gear; Dr. Banzai maneuvers his Jet Car under the Shuttle and uses it to take the place of the broken gear.
In May 2016, Kevin Smith announced he would be adapting the film for television through MGM Television.Amazon Studios indicated a deal was being negotiated to produce the series. However, by November, during a Facebook Live Stream, Smith revealed that he would be walking away from the project after MGM filed a lawsuit against the original creators.
Parzival, the main character of the film Ready Player One, appears in a Buckaroo Banzai costume for a date. Aech says to Parzival, "You're going to wear the outfit from your favorite movie." His date Art3mis responds to his costume with, "I like Buckaroo Banzai!"