The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984)

I’m going to start this one off on a slightly personal note. I’m a normal person who just happens to watch a lot of movies. The great thing about the internet is I need no qualifications whatsoever to write and “publish” whatever I think and feel about everything I watch. Potential audiences can choose to read it or not, and I owe nothing to anyone. This blog originally started as a place to log my impressions of everything I watch, because frankly I tend to forget details. It’s now turned into its own kind of monster, with actual, faithful readers (thank you, readers!) So, I guess I’ve decided to take it a little more seriously, especially when a particular film warrants a little more attention. Recently I’ve come across quite a few flicks that I feel deserve more than just a quick write-up, and The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension is definitely one of them.
In an interview with The Onion’s AV Club, Peter Weller, who plays the titular hero, said of the film: “I had no idea what that movie was about, I still don’t, but I had a ball making it.” That comes pretty close to my experience watching it; I had no idea what it was happening, but I loved every minute of it. The first time felt like such a whirlwind I had to sit down and watch it a second time just to make sure I had my bearings enough to write about it! Even so, I’m certain to get some of the finer plot points wrong; there is an awful lot going on. I will try to stick to the basics.

Buckaroo plays piano for Penny Priddy

Buckaroo plays piano for Penny Priddy

Within the first ten minutes or so, we are introduced to Buckaroo’s many talents: namely surgeon, physicist, and rock star, but let’s not forget he’s hobnobbing with the President of the United States on a regular basis, and happens to be a comic book hero as well. He’s long been part of a scientific experiment led by Professor Hikita to use a handy-dandy thingamajig called an oscillation overthruster which reorders the particles that make up solid matter in such a way that people should be able to pass right through them. The overthruster has been tested before by Hikita and his former colleague Dr. Emilio Lizardo (John Lithgow), but not with much luck (in fact, Lizardo ended up in the loony bin as a result), so the whole research team is biting their collective lip as Buckaroo gets behind the wheel of a mega-racecar and drives at extremely high speeds towards a giant mountain.

The perpetually suave and cool Buckaroo of course makes it, and he sees some pretty wacky shit in there too. He even brings back a strange creature from the 8th dimension, which he reveals to curious onlookers, particle physics enthusiasts, journalists, and undercover Red Lectroids at a press conference after the successful event. What’s an Red Lectroid? Well, that’s where it gets a little complicated…

A Black Lectroid

A Black Lectroid

Enter Planet 10, where years ago a civil war raged between the Red Lectroids and the Black Lectroids. The Black Lectroids won, and banished some of the most evil Red Lectroids to the 8th dimension, including their leader John Whorfin. When Dr. Lizardo failed to pass through the wall all those years ago, he was possessed by Whorfin; that’s why he’s so bonkers. Because of Lizardo, the Red Lectroids caught wind of the oscillation overthruster’s potential capabilities, and infested earth in hopes of gaining its technology and releasing their imprisoned comrades from the 8th dimension. Years of failed experiments seems to have paid off, now that Buckaroo has successfully proved the thing works. Now all the Red Lectroids have to do is steal it.

A transmission from the Black Lectroids helps get Buckaroo and his backup band The Hong Kong Cavaliers up to speed and tell him if they don’t succeed in destroying the Red Lectroids, they will simulate a nuclear missile headed for Smolensk; an act the Soviets will obviously see as an act of American aggression. It’s now up to Buckaroo and his crew to save the world from destroying itself!

The Electric Emilio Lizardo

The Electric Emilio Lizardo

Though no one in their right mind would call a four-paragraph plot synopsis “succinct” it might actually be the appropriate word to use here – there is still so much going on that I have left out! Either way, the plot is really just a vehicle for great performances and hilarious jokes. It’s no secret that I think Peter Weller is the man, and his role as Buckaroo Banzai is no exception – he is fantastic; totally cool the movie through. John Litghow as John Whorfin/Emilio Lizardo is exactly the opposite; a totally over the top villain, hamming it up every chance he gets (and that accent!). The Red Lectroid crew (Christopher Lloyd, Vincent Schiavelli and Dan Hedaya) are hilariously incompetent as they fumble towards the overthruster. Other notable performances include Ellen Barkin as Penny Priddy and Jeff Goldblum as “New Jersey”, but it’s not just the big names that make this movie – everyone plays their part to a tee.

For some terribly sad reason, I never watched this movie as a kid, and as a result have been left out of the culty joke for too many years. It’d been floating around as a possible viewing option for a year or so, but my husband had a hard time marketing it to me, just as, I have read, they had a hard time marketing it to kids in 1984. This is totally understandable: a movie as all-over-the-place as this one is pert-near unmarketable. No matter, over the years it has carved out a nice little following for itself, and deservedly so; it’s an extremely quotable film with plenty of in-jokes, the perfect recipe for an underground hit. I see evidence of its reach in some recent films: it’s quoted directly at the end of Beyond the Black Rainbow, and though I might be reaching, that Jamaican dude from John Dies at the End reminds me an awful lot of a Black Lectroid!

Forever dorky, New Jersey.

Forever dorky, New Jersey.

The good news is, even if you’re late to the game there’s still a spot for you on the team. Buckaroo Banzai is as much fun to watch as an adult as I imagine it might have been for me as a kid. My husband wrapped up the sentiment in a pretty neat package when he said: “you’d have to have a soul to not like this movie.”  I completely agree. I get the feeling that this is the kind of movie that only gets more charming the more you watch it, and it can undoubtedly withstand multiple viewings; I think husband noticed at least two or three little jokes that he never had before the second time we watched it together – and he’s no Banzai novice. And, let’s get real, any movie that ends like this has got to be irresistible.


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