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Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, The (Blu-ray Review)

12 Aug, 2016 By: John Latchem

Street 8/16/16
Shout! Factory
$34.93 Blu-ray
Rated ‘PG’
Stars Peter Weller, Ellen Barkin, John Lithgow, Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Lloyd, Vincent Schiavelli, Dan Hedaya, Clancy Brown, Carl Lumbly, Robert Ito, Yakov Smirnoff, Jonathan Banks, Ronald Lacey.

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai is one of those movies that if you didn’t know it existed and someone tried to describe it, you might think they were making it up.

Buckaroo Banzai (Peter Weller) is a jack-of-all-trades who begins the movie testing a rocket car modified to pass through a mountain by phasing through multiple dimensions, one of which contains alien life. This attracts the attention of Dr. Lizardo (John Lithgow), whose failed attempt to do the same thing in 1938 resulted in his being possessed by an alien named Lord John Whorfin, leader of the Red Lectroids (Christopher Lloyd, Vincent Schiavelli and Dan Hedaya, wearing alien makeup modeled after a lobster tail), who were banished to the 8th dimension after losing a war to the Black Lectroids. Whorfin freed some of his followers before being locked away in a mental institution, and the group plans to steal Banzai’s technology so they can free the remaining Red Lectroids to gain revenge against those who banished them.

The Black Lectroids contact Banzai and tell him that if he doesn’t stop Whorfin they will destroy Earth, so Banzai and his band, the Hong Kong Cavaliers (which includes, among others, Clancy Brown and a cowboy-clad Jeff Goldblum), work to track down the Red Lectroids and save humanity.

Meanwhile, Banzai encounters his deceased wife’s amnesiac twin (Ellen Barkin), who gets caught in the middle of his struggle against the Red Lectroids.

That fact that it is so bizarre lends a bit to its reputation as a cult classic, but equally significant is how loaded it is with what would turn out to be a cast of all-star performers.

By the time of the film’s release in 1984, John Lithgow was probably best known, having earned Academy Award nominations in the preceding years for supporting turns in The World According to Garp and Terms of Endearment.

For the title character, producers wanted an actor who could seem both heroic and intellectual, and cast Peter Weller after seeing him in Shoot the Moon. Weller’s best-known role would come three years later in Robocop.

Jeff Goldblum was coming off The Right Stuff and The Big Chill the year before, and was two years before his breakout role in The Fly.

Christopher Lloyd, best known before then for his TV role on “Taxi,” a year later would play the iconic Doc Brown in Back to the Future (which drew significant inspiration from Buckaroo Banzai). Interestingly, just a few months before Buckaroo Banzai opened, Lloyd had another role in which he was slathered in alien makeup, playing the Klingon heavy in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.

And for you "Breaking Bad" (and "Better Call Saul") fans, keep an eye out for Jonathan Banks, who has a small role as an orderly at Lizardo's mental hospital.

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai is the first Blu-ray in Shout! Factory’s new Shout Select imprint focusing on cult favorite and historically significant films, and they deliver a package that should make the film’s fans salivate. In addition to the shiny HD master, the centerpiece is an eight-part feature-length retrospective documentary that demonstrates the story behind the film is almost as interesting as the film itself, driven by a back and forth between director W.D. Richter and a studio honcho over the film’s creative vision, which led to the cinematographer being replaced before the bigwig lost interest in following the production’s day-to-day activities (a story that involves a strategically placed watermelon).

Another nice touch is an audio commentary with Banzai fans Michael and Denise Okuda, longtime members of the “Star Trek” behind-the-scenes crew who would include several Banzai references on “Trek” sets over the years (Buckaroo’s famous quote, “No matter where you go, there you are” became the dedication plaque motto of at least two different starships). They provide a lot of wonderful details from a fan’s point of view.

The set also includes a number of legacy extras ported from earlier DVD releases. The movie includes a second commentary, provided by Richter and screenwriter Earl Mac Rauch, who talk as if the movie is based on actual events.

This gag carries over to a previously released featurette called “Buckaroo Banzai Declassified,” in which Richter describes the movie as a docu-drama as he talks about how it was made. (The DVD that this extra and the commentary originally came from was structured around the idea that the film was a true story.)

(“Declassified” and the other legacy extras are included on a second disc that is a standard DVD, not a Blu-ray, likely due to the lack of HD sources for these materials).

Other extras include a number of deleted and extended scenes, plus an alternate opening featuring footage of Buckaroo’s parents — his mother having been played by Jamie Lee Curtis.

The deleted scenes contain references to a subplot that would have paved the way for the sequel teased at the end, Buckaroo Banzai Against the World Crime League, that never happened due to the film’s low box office tally. Evidently, the World Crime League’s leader, Hanoi Xan, was responsible for the death of Buckaroo’s parents. Maybe that story will play a part in the “Buckaroo Banzai” series Kevin Smith is producing for Amazon.

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