Howdy all you Supercultists out there on the interwebz! I’m Bad Movie Professor Cameron Coker (BS in “Christopher Lloyd” with a minor in “The 8th Dimension”) and I’ll be posting my hype-tacular speeches every week along with some long lost speeches from past Supercult Shows!
This week Supercult wonders why that watermelon is there and watches Buckaroo Banzai!
Physicist, neurosurgeon, test pilot, racecar driver, and rock musician Dr. Buckaroo Banzai has just completed his latest invention, the “oscillation overthruster”, a device that will allow him to drive through solid matter by passing through the 8th dimension! Little does he know that his interdimensional jaunt has attracted the attention of the evil Red Lectroids from Planet 10. Now it’s up to Buckaroo and his crime fighting team, The Hong Kong Cavaliers to stop them! These are the Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension!
Released in 1984, Buckaroo Banzai is an adventurous sci-fi / rom-com directed and produced by W.D Richter (one of the screenwriters behind such films as Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Stealth, and Supercult classic Big Trouble in Little China) and written by Earl Mac Rauch. Richter approached Rauch after reading his debut novel in 1974, and invited him to collaborate in L.A. It took several years, during which time Richter made a name for himself as a screenwriter, before the pair finally met and Rauch told Richter about a character named Buckaroo banzai that he was thinking of writing a screenplay about 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 Rauch wrote several Banzai stories that he “would get thirty or forty pages into a script, abandon its storyline and write a new one” and Rauch apparently started and never finished a dozen potential Buckaroo scripts that way. Rauch’s original 30-page treatment entitled, “Find the Jetcar, Said the President – A Buckaroo Banzai Thriller” while another draft was called “The Strange Case of Mr. Cigars, about a huge robot and a box of Hitler’s cigars.
Later in 1980, Richter joined forces with Neil Canton to create their own production company and decided that Buckaroo Banzai would be their first film. Under their supervision Rauch produced a new treatment called “Lepers from Saturn” and after many failed attempts to shop the project around to financiers, settled on 20th Century Fox who agreed to make it for a modest $12 million budget.
In truth, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai was Richter’s producing and directorial debut and it quickly became obvious that his new production studio had a lot riding on the success of their quirky, untested first film.
That being said, Buckaroo banzai has a star-studded cast. Peter Weller, 3 years before he would star in Robocop, plays the hero Buckaroo. John Lithgow less than a year after his role as one of the parental villains in Footloose is the conniving Lord John Whorfin aka Dr. Emilio Lizardo. Ellen Barkin as resident damsel in distress Penny Priddy, and Supercult Saint Jeff Goldblum, 2 years before his starring role in Supercult classic The Fly, plays New Jersey, while Christopher Lloyd a year before he would play Dr. Brown in Back to the Future, plays the alien John Bigbooté.
Okay, so it wasn’t so much a star-studded cast as much as a cast that had yet to earn it’s stars, but the raw talent was definitely present!
For the alien Lectroids production designer Michael Riva spent two years developing their look and costumes before filming taking inspiration from everything from African tribal markings, contemporary Russian garb, Lobsters, and one Canadian anthropologist’s extrapolation of what dinosaurs might’ve evolved into if they had survived. The Oscillation Overthruster used in the film was created out of a gyroscope and would later be used as the basis for the Flux Capacitor in the Back to the Future films as well as be reused as a prop on a number of Star Trek episodes.
For the soundtrack sound designer Bones Howe worked with composer and session musician Michael Boddicker, who had performed with Michael Jackson, Earth Wind and Fire, Kenny Loggins, and many others and had just won a Grammy for one of his songs from the film Flashdance. Though the pair chose, composed, or arranged the majority of the music, the film’s star Peter Weller played guitar, pocket trumpet, did his own vocals, and learned to mime piano playing for all of his music scenes. Meanwhile Richter compiled a 300-page book called ‘The Essential Buckaroo’ consisting of every incomplete script Rauch ever wrote as well as copious notes and back stories for the characters by the time of filming.
In other words, they had the tools, they had the talent, and they were more pure, unadulterated moxy than most first-time filmmakers could ever hope to have…so why is Buckaroo Banzai Supercult worthy?
Because Buckaroo Banzai is so damn silly!
Buckaroo Banzai is a space-faring version of Our Man Flint, a Flash Gordon-esque version of They Live!, and a somehow LESS coherent mashup of Big Trouble in Little China, Ice Pirates, and the Last Starfighter. This is a film where Jeff Goldblum, the chaos theorist, human fly, Hahahrawrrahaha Jeff Goldblum…is the straight man! This is a movie with dialogue like, “Laugh-a while you can, monkey-boy!” and “I’ve been ionized, but I’m okay now,” and “Buckaroo, The White House wants to know is everything ok with the alien space craft from Planet 10 or should we just go ahead and destroy Russia?”
Much of the aforementioned silliness comes from Dr. Lizardo played by John Lithgow. Lithgow 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 the accent Lithgow spent time with an Italian tailor that worked at MGM and recorded his voice reading the dialogue from the script. Lithgow would then practice his lines using the recordings as reference. Lithgow then got the tailor credit in the movie as a dialogue coach for his help.
In other cases the team was simply shafted by the producers. The original director of photography of the film was Jordan Cronenweth, who famously shot Blade Runner a few years earlier. The filmmakers specifically wanted their film to be rich in color and texture, which Cronenweth was specifically known for. However, several weeks into filming, producer David Begelman had Jordan Cronenweth replaced with Fred J. Koenekamp against the wishes of the director and crew in order to give the film its campy, flat visuals.
When it came time to film the end titles sequence, where Buckaroo and pals are walking around a dry L.A. aqueduct in step to the music, the music wasn’t ready so the composers told the film crew to use the song, “Uptown Girl” by Billy Joel as a placeholder because it was the exact same tempo. Those scenes were filmed with “Uptown Girl” blaring from a boom box tied to the back of the camera truck.
20th Century Fox made no attempts to sell the film to a mainstream audience with traditional promotion. tudio 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!”
Despite their best efforts Buckaroo Banzai was a financial failure bringing in roughly $6.3 million from its initial budget of $17 million. The end of the movie invites the viewer to watch for the upcoming film “Buckaroo Banzai vs. The World Crime League” which was the real title for a planned sequel that the infant studio planned to make if Buckaroo Banzai film had been successful. Instead, Richter and Cantor’s studio went bankrupt and Buckaroo Banzai never got the sequel it rightfully deserved. However, it unsurprisingly developed a massive cult following for its sheer over-the-top awesomeness.
Buckaroo Banzai has a 6.4 on IMDB and a 72% on Rotten Tomatoes. Jeffrey Anderson of Combustible Celluloid says, “There’s so much going on here and so much fun to be had, I’ve never really been sure what the plot was.” While Rob Vaux of Mania.com calls it, “A one-film franchise that never was, too daft and marvelous to expand any further.”
Remember Supercultists…no matter where you go, there you are.
The Supercult show is proud to present, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension.