Reviews of the Buckaroo Banzai DVD


The following reviews of the Buckaroo Banzai DVD were published around the web at the time it was released. Check out the official Buckaroo Banzai DVD page on MGM's website at http://www.mgm.com/buckaroobanzai.

A review of the new Buckaroo Banzai Special Edition DVD (written by Mark Keizer) was posted on the http://www.dvdfile.com website on 11/16/01 and you can read it here : http://www.dvdfile.com/software/review/dvd-video_4/adventuresofbuckaroobanzai.html or here (reposted with permission) :

"THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI - ACROSS THE 8TH DIMENSION
MGM Home Entertainment / 1984 / 103 Minutes / Rated PG
Street Date: January 4, 2002

Reviewed by Mark Keizer on November 16, 2001.

To define the cult film is to paraphrase former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's opinion of pornography: you can't describe it, but you know it when you see it. To fans, either you're in their secret society or you're on the outside, wondering what all the fuss is about. Consider what is arguably the ultimate cult film, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. To those on the outside, Rocky Horror fans aren't just laughing at a joke you'll never understand, they're certifiably nuts. However, the thing with The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai, which MGM has given loving and comprehensive treatment on DVD, is that it violates the cardinal rule of cult filmmaking: it tries to be a cult film. This renders it an amusing curiosity: a film that's telling me it's wacky and trying hard to convince me it's wacky, but in the end, is just lighthearted nonsense.

In The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai(which, if you believe the filmmakers, is based on a true story) Peter Weller plays the title character, a world-renowned brain surgeon, scientist and rock star. As the film begins, Buckaroo is taking his supersonic Jet Car, equipped with his sophisticated Oscillation Overthruster, on a historic trip into the Eighth Dimension. He returns with proof that this Eighth Dimension contains evil Red Lectroids in exile from Planet Ten. As far as I can tell, in 1939 a select group of these Red Lectroids, under the cover of Orson Welles' War of the Worlds radio broadcast, used the Eight Dimension to come to Earth. Now, if they can steal Buckaroo's Oscillation Overthruster, they can free their friends from exile in the Eight Dimension and conquer Planet Ten. The problem is that Planet Ten's benevolent Black Lectroids would rather destroy the Earth then let the Red Lectroids achieve their goals.

The plot of Buckaroo Banzai is like a train that lays it's tracks as it moves along: it makes sense from moment to moment, but by the end, you have absolutely no idea where you are or how you got there. But really, The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai is not about the plot, it's about everything around the plot. For instance, Buckaroo's trusted inner circle is a group called The Hong Kong Cavaliers. With names like New Jersey (played by Jeff Goldblum) and Perfect Tommy, they are his backup band and his crime fighting sidekicks (and with the exception of Goldblum, they all dress like they belong to a Huey Lewis and the News cover band). Of course, a film like this is only as good as it's villain. And here, the evil Red Lectroids are led by John Lithgow, who chews copious amounts of scenery as Dr. Emilio Lizardo. And with Weller purposely playing Buckaroo so flat, the movie needs Lithgow's manic and liberating line readings and he gives the most enjoyable performance in the film. Of course, any movie featuring an 80's era Christopher Lloyd has to be a little off it's rocker and here he plays John Bigboote, one of Lizardo's evil henchmen (in one of the funnier gags in the movie, all of Lizardo's henchmen are named John).

The one thing the film does very right is deposit you in a world that is fully and confidently realized. Good movies make you feel as if the characters existed before the film started and they'll continue to live after the film is over. It's this quality (along with quotable lines like "no matter where you go, there you are" and "laugh while you can, Monkey-Boy!") that has garnered the film a small, but loyal following. Yet the fact remains that Buckaroo Banzai is simply not as good as you remember it. Although the pieces are there, the film never comes together as well as it should. Some were bored by Peter Weller's performance: personally, I'm not sure how else he could have played it, but there are times when he does cross the line into bland. There's also a certain snap and spark that's missing from W.D. Richter's direction. And there's a generous helping of cheese in the movie, some of it helps and some of it hurts. The film could also have used a stronger score: obviously, not a lot of money was spent on the music and although Michael Boddicker contributes a catchy main theme, the rest is lacking.

Even with its faults, it's difficult to hate a film that tries so hard to be liked. After all, its heart is in the right place, there are some fun performances and some quippy dialogue. I don't know what twisted version of planet Earth Buckaroo Banzai lives on, but someday it would be nice to return.

Video: How Does The Disc Look?

The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen and the result is much more impressive then I expected. The picture is surprisingly clean and bright; there are plenty of newer films that look worse. Grain is kept at a wonderful minimum. Banzai is a fairly colorful film, and every hue is represented well. Most difficult are the deep reds, which tend to cause chroma noise, but here they are solid and rich. Fleshtones are spot-on. Black levels are dark and consistent, however contrast falls off on the low end. In fact, generally the interiors suffer in terms of contrast and shadow delineation. Mysterious laboratories and dank hallways show occasional flicker and are a tad too dark. And even though the picture is admirably clean, dirt is occasionally visible in shots of blue sky and white walls. I found no artifacting and not much in the way of edge enhancements. Detail is pretty good, but the overall picture is a tad soft. Still, somebody kept the original source material in damn good shape, because Banzai has never looked better.

Audio: How Does The Disc Sound?

The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai comes with a nice Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. Although not nearly as impressive as the picture quality, the audio gets it done, with a couple of bells and whistles thrown in.

Overall fidelity is fine: sound is not overwhelmingly full and while all the lows and highs are utilized over the course of the movie, it's an average enveloping track. Luckily, there is absolutely no hiss, distortion or dropout. Dialogue was a different story: emanating mostly from the center channel, the dialogue was thin at times and occasionally even a bit hard to understand. This is probably because there wasn't a lot of money for ADR, so the production sound was used more than the filmmakers would have preferred. Still, in mixing the DVD, someone should have rode the dialogue levels a little harder. Surrounds are employed amply. Lefts and rights are sprinkled liberally for the synth score, high-speed vehicles and the beeping of various pieces of computer equipment. Rears are employed occasionally and there is some imaging, but again, nothing that creates a fun, campy, enveloping sci-fi experience. Bass kicks in nicely for spaceship rumblings and various other sound effects. In all, while a stronger mix would have really made the film rock, the mix provided is fine.

The disc also features a French audio track and French and Spanish subtitles, and English Closed Captions.

Supplements: What Goodies Are There?

Remember when your parents tried to get you to quit smoking by making you inhale cigarette after cigarette until you were ready to throw up? A similar feeling may come over you after you see the boatload of extras MGM has unloaded onto this disc. To fans, it's a dream come true, although I defy any Buckaroo booster to read some of this stuff more than once. Admittedly though, it is amazing how detailed the Banzai universe is.

First, there is a scene-specific audio commentary with director WD Richter and writer Earl Mac Rauch. The conceit here is they both treat the film as if Banzai actually existed, referring to the film as a "documentary" or "docudrama." I'm willing to buy into that as long as they keep the real behind-the-scenes tidbits coming, but they really don't. Richter admits he hadn't seen the movie in about six years, and while the commentary is interesting in spurts, as a whole it's disappointing.

The same can said for a feature called Pinky Carruther's Unknown Facts. In the film, Pinky (played by Billy Vera) was one of Buckaroo's Blue Blaze Irregulars, a group of assistants who work at the Banzai Institute helping Buckaroo do whatever the hell it is he does. Here, using the subtitle track, Pinky gives us scene specific information about the film, but like the commentary, he treats Buckaroo and the Institute as real. It gets tiresome after a while.

The disc also features a 23-minute Declassified Documentary on the making of the film. It's presented in widescreen and features a new interview with WD Richter, who of course, treats the whole affair as if Buckaroo actually lived. What makes this enjoyable is behind-the-scenes footage of makeup tests, clay models and jet-powered cars. There is also some footage of the 1984 EPK featuring the actors.

Next are 14 deleted scenes, which are presented in anamorphic widescreen and preceded by a chyron page explaining where the excised footage fit into the movie. The material is from WD Richter's personal collection and was taken from a VHS copy of a workprint. However, considering the years it spent sitting in a box in Richter's attic, the footage looks fine. Just be aware that there's no color correction and some scenes have a fair amount of dirt. The sound is acceptable most of the time. Only one scene features sound so muffled it's difficult to understand. Most scenes run less than a minute and are just extensions of existing scenes. In terms of the Banzai canon, nothing interesting is gleaned, except we learn that Buckaroo's wife was killed by someone named Hanoi Xan of the World Crime League.

The most important deleted scene is the Alternate Opening, which features Jamie Lee Curtis as Banzai's mother. The scene is perfectly restored and looks as good as the rest of the film. It can be viewed separately or seamlessly integrated into the theatrical cut as a prologue. In the scene, we see home movie footage of a 5-year old Buckaroo in the desert watching his parents perform a test using the Jet Car. Annoyingly, in his commentary, Richter claims the scene was deleted because Banzai didn't want footage of his now-dead mother used in the film.

Next on our hit parade of extra features are two theatrical trailers. The first is the 1984 teaser trailer for the film. Presented in anamorphic widescreen, the trailer looks as good as the movie, except for a speck or two. The other trailer was created in 1998 as a sales tool for a proposed Buckaroo Banzai TV series called "Ancient Secrets and New Mysteries." The trailer is 100% computer animated. The first half shows the Jet Car being pursued by bad guys across icy terrain. The second half portrays the Space Shuttle, it's nose gear destroyed, landing on the Jet Car. Considering it's only two minutes, I thought it was kinda cool.

There are also text profiles of the Hong Kong Cavaliers and all the other heroes and villains in the film. Surprisingly, the profile of Buckaroo's girlfriend Penny Priddy (Ellen Barkin) mentions that two years after the film was made, she was murdered by Hanoi Xan. For Ms. Barkin, what an odd way to find out your character has been killed off. The most elaborate profile is saved for Buckaroo. His includes fancy menus along with text and some moving video. Unfortunately, there is no bio information on the actors who actually played these roles. "Jet Car All Access" is a comprehensive look at the vehicle that broke through to the Eighth Dimension. Like Buckaroo's character profile, this supplement features it's own menu system, along with moving video and a statistical analysis of the automobile.

Into the homestretch, we also have a still gallery dozens of photos of Buckaroo and his friends throughout the decades, starting with the 1930s. For those silly enough to be interested in the making of the film, there are some Behind-the-Scenes photos as well. But there is nothing here you'd watch more than once. The Banzai Institute Archives are a (much too) detailed look at the Banzai universe. All text, it includes diary entries, schematics of the Hong Kong Cavaliers tour bus and an interview with Buckaroo.

DVD-ROM Exclusives: What do you get when you pop the disc in your PC?

No ROM extras have been included.

Parting Thoughts

If you're a fan of The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai, this new DVD is an obvious purchase since, let's face it, nothing will stop you from buying it anyway (especially at a retail price of only $19.98). Luckily, MGM Home Video has given the film solid three-star treatment that befits its cult status. The picture looks wonderful and there is an exhaustive array of extras that, while overkill to non-fans, will be manna from Heaven to followers of the Banzai legend. For those who've never seen "Buckaroo Banzai", the film is definitely worth renting, if only to see what all the fuss is about. And much of that fuss is warranted. For all its flaws, the film is funny and likable, with a light, comic book touch. "Buckaroo Banzai" was obviously (some would say, too obviously) created to spawn comic books, arcade games, sequels and TV spin-offs that, rightly or wrongly, never happened. So considering this is probably all the world will ever know of Mr. Banzai, DVD owners are hereby advised to do what they can to maintain his hard-fought status as cult hero.

DISC FEATURES

Specifications
- DVD-Video
- DVD-14
- Region 1

Aspect Ratio(s):
- 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Dolby Digital Formats:
- English 5.1 Surround
- French 2.0 Surround

Subtitles/Captions:
- English Closed Captions
- French Subtitles
- Spanish Subtitles

Standard Features:
- Interactive Menus
- Scene Access

Additional Features:
- Screen-specific audio commentary with director WD Richter and writer Earl Mac Rauch
- Pinky Carruther's Unknown Facts subtitle track
- "Declassified Documentary" featurette
- 14 Deleted scenes
- "Banzai Institute Archives" and character profiles
- Still gallery
- Theatrical trailers

List Price: $19.95"


This Buckaroo Banzai DVD review is by Glenn Erickson, who actually worked on the DVD, and his original review was posted on 12/2/01 and can be found at http://www.dvdtalk.com/dvdsavant/s365banzai.html.

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension: SE
MGM/UA // PG // $19.99 // January 2, 2002
Review by DVD Savant | posted December 3, 2001
Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Does not street until January 2, 2002

One of your more interesting cult titles, Buckaroo Banzai has grown a small but fanatically loyal following in the 17 years since its boxoffice flopparoo in 1984. By inventing a franchise hero who combines Doc Savage, The Lone Ranger and a rock'n roll superstar in one, writer Earl Mac Rauch would have been on the top of a mountain of sequels, tie-ins and merchandising had this first feature succeeded. Purposely confusing and sometimes laboring too hard to be off-the-wall flippant, Buckaroo Banzai nevertheless shapes up as a fun adventure along the lines of a Republic Serial - but with a hip attitude.

Synopsis:

Surgeon, rock musician, particle physicist and leader of the Hong Kong Cavaliers, Buckaroo Banzai (Peter Weller) comes back from a trip to the 8th dimension with the ability to see the villainous Red Lectroids who have come from that alternate reality and are living among us. They've taken possession of Doctor Emilio Lizardo (John Lithgow) who now goes by the name of Lord John Whorfin. Together with Red Lectroids John Bigboote (Christopher Lloyd) and John O'Connor (Vincent Schiavelli), they steal the ocillation overthruster invented by Professor Hikita (Robert Ito) to return to the 8th dimension. Unfortunately, the benign Black Lectroids don't want them back, and Black Lectroid John Parker (Carl Lumbly) brings a message from leader John Emdall (Rosalind Cash) that distills into blackmail: Earth will be destroyed unless Buckaroo and his Cavaliers stop the Red Lectroids in time. Buckaroo enlists stalwarts Reno (Pepe Serna) and Rawhide (Clancy Brown) and enlists new members New Jersey (Jeff Goldblum) and Penny Priddy (Ellen Barkin) into the crusade to make the Earth safe from the Red Lectroid scum.

What makes a cult film? Buckaroo Banzai certainly qualifies, even if its makers planned for such status from the beginning. Decidedly not hip   1 but refreshingly cool   2 , the Hong Kong Cavaliers are a collection of nerds and pretty boys with true-blue devotion to their leader and the United States of America, in that order. Perhaps Buckaroo's time has come, although I think America's probably more ready for DC Comics' Blackhawks to strut their quasifascist stuff.   3

As a movie, Buckaroo Banzai could perhaps be better, but could also be an awful lot worse. Remember, the decade after Star Wars brought forth rubbish like The Ice Pirates, camp epics that tried to emulate Lucas and fell on their faces. Director Richter animates Rauch's world with energy and commitment, embracing every awkward situation (the discovery of Penny Priddy crying in a cabaret audience) and making sure every cornball dialogue line is delivered as if it were the most serious utterance ever heard in a movie theater. Even the manic Emilio Lizardo is played straight. The wackiness is unified into something we can care about - a consistently earnest tone, the maintenance of which is no mean feat.

Deadpan Peter Weller puts just enough ironic curve on his delivery to have fun with his role without condescendsion; he's also vulnerable enough to be an interesting hero. His Cavaliers are interestingly orchestrated, personalities with varying combinations of the cool and the klunky that allow actors like Pepe Serna and Clancy Brown to be distinctive without reams of 'character color' written into their dialogue. Jeff Goldblum is amusingly green, and Ellen Barkin interestingly waifish, even when striding about in a scarlet cocktail dress.

The villains on view are mostly a pack of clowns, led by the wonderful John Lithgow's Lizardo. A tight bundle of goofy mannerisms and extreme facial expressions, Lizardo is wonderful working with the tightass Christopher Lloyd and sub-moron Red Lectroids Schiavelli and Dan Hedaya.

As icing on the cake, the imaginative special effects include interesting organic spaceships, giant flying seashells that look as if they were grown instead of constructed. A handful of different effects shops that sprang up after Star Wars participated in the wide variety of effects that were needed, and these are scaled nicely to the show without overwhelming it. Some of the effects and special makeup actually barely make the grade, yet seem just perfect.

The only real detriments to Buckaroo Banzai are the action scenes and the settings. Without a budget for large sets, altogether too much of the film takes place in (yawn) derelict factories, with endless games of tag being played in nondescript corridors and hallways. The movie also seems a bit shortchanged for rough stuff, and doesn't pay off on the action promised by all the guns, martial arts and samurai hardware brandished by the Cavaliers. On the other hand, this may be a plus for fans sick of the so-called 'science fiction' movies that are really lame action films.

It's fun watching the oddball characters interact and bounce off one another, and the self-conscious cornball factor is a big plus. Scooter Lindley (Damon Hines) rushes out to tell his father Casper (Bill Henderson) that Buckaroo needs help, and receives a 'Say What?' that usually brings down the house. Obnoxious Perfect Tommy (Lewis Smith) is constantly being put in his place for being such an egoist, or placated with reminders that he is, after all, perfect. When all the Cavaliers function as a working unit, blending their technical expertise towards a common goal, the picture becomes a kind of Utopia for young adult males: coolness, hi-technology, guns, and rock music. You can imagine the Fox executives sweating when screenings were greeted with mostly smiles and chuckles instead of belly laughs. Word of mouth was good but this isn't the kind of crowdpleaser that studios understand, then or now.

MGM's DVD of Buckaroo Banzai presents a fine new transfer of the standard 1984 cut, in 16:9 and letterboxed for the first time on video. There was an early laserdisc that was a collector's treasure even though its squeezed and pan'n scanned image looked terrible. The transfer is so good, some of the special effects shots are shown to have optical dirt printed in, a flaw that could have been cleaned up digitally, one could suppose. This Special Edition has a number of unusual extras that will either thrill fans or frustrate them, depending on what they expect from their special edition DVDs.

The extras address one of the main problems that hurt the show when it was new. At the last minute, extraneous background plotting was removed that would have helped some of the relationships make better sense. Thinking the movie too complicated, they jettisoned a prologue that explained Buckaroo's name and heritage, the genesis of the overthruster, and the relationship between Penny Priddy and Buckaroo's dead wife, who looked just like her. Losing this background info (which was presented in a fairly exciting manner) robbed Buckaroo of a lot of needed depth, while alienating literal-minded viewers who wanted all the plot details to add up to an even number.

The special edition DVD was not scaled big enough to take in the entire production. Also, although reels of star interviews and behind-the-scenes video were shot, none was retained by anyone except director W.D. Richter, who only had VHS tape copies, often with time-code windows.

But Richter and Rauch were anxious to use the Special Edition to promote new life for their one-shot 'franchise' and gave the project much valuable assistance. The extras are consistent with their take on the show, and account for the tongue-in-cheek tone that pretends that Buckaroo is a real historical figure and that the movie is simply an attempt to popularize, for the big screen, a small fraction of his many exploits. This conceit is maintained well by Richter and Earl Mac Rauch, who pretends to be the real-life Reno on the main commentary track; hopefully it won't be taken as too taxing by fans who'd prefer a straight approach. Savant himself has no use whatsoever for prank commentaries as found on discs like Blood simple. Besides including BTS looks at the miniatures (with Greg Jein, Savant's old boss in special effects) and the ferocious functioning Jet Car, the extras include the missing deleted scenes that explain Buckaroo's backstory and introduce the all-important unseen character Hanoi Xan (pronounced Shan).

The only extra piece of footage that was found intact on 35mm (instead of VHS) and was therefore able to be reintegrated into the film was an alternate opening that takes the form of the Banzai's home movies from 1954. A series of outtakes of Clancy Brown's narration were found and a new audio opening cut from them, as no track was located.   4 This alternate opening, which features James Saito and Jamie Lee Curtis (!) as Buckaroo's parents, is offered both as a stand-alone extra, and as an alternate seamless branch during DVD playback. It bears the original title, just plain Buckaroo Banzai. It's funny that original distributor 20th-Fox wanted to simplify the story, but opted to complicate the title into the desperate-sounding final concoction. Can't anyone learn from The Fearless Vampire Killers, or pardon me, but your teeth are in my neck? It was once the elegant Dance of the Vampires.

The Internet Movie Database lists a director's long cut, as if Buckaroo Banzai had been finished with these scenes and others intact. It wasn't, and none of the 35mm workprint elements for longer cuts were found in the scraps and snips of trims and outs still archived for the film. They were undoubtedly carefully set aside, and .... who knows. The fact that Buckaroo was an independent handed off to a series of rights holders and libraries before coming to MGM didn't simplify the research process. Therefore, the only element for the missing scenes was Richter's own VHS of a workprint-in-progress transferred to let the sound cutters get a head start. This is the original for the many bootlegs, so at least it's good VHS quality. Every snipped section is presented with handles that help place it in context within the film. A couple of unused scenes that didn't even make the workprint are included, from 35mm workprint trims; the sound on these was poorly transferred to mag film and is therefore almost inaudible.   5 The project producer hoped to reconstitute more of the scenes Richter would have liked to reinstate, but found only the prologue. The audio for that had to be reinvented from scratch.

Savant still finds Buckaroo Banzai to be amusing and diverting; his kids think it's great. It's certainly out of the ordinary, which in these cookiecutter days of entertainment, is high praise. Finally available in a good widescreen transfer, it's really worth checking out.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension rates:

Movie: Good
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Docu: Buckaroo Banzai Declassified, alternate opening, deleted scenes
Packaging: Amaray case
Reviewed: December 3, 2001

Footnotes:

1. Defined as fashionable, narcissistic and exclusionary, as in Our Man Flint. Radiating Hipness always carries the implication that others around you are not hip. Return

2. Coolness on the other hand, is simply being at ease with one's individuality and uniqueness. You aspire to the right appearance and behavior to be Cool, although the fastest route to Coolness is just aggressively being yourself, assuming you're a positive individual. On the other hand, misfits and outcasts can be Cool just by being true to their natures. The Frankenstein monster is a beautiful person, man, and is as Cool as they come ... without an ounce of Hipness. Return

3. Among movies that had a chance for DVD release before 9.11, and probably no longer do, are Fistful of Dynamite and Viva Maria!. Both glorify heroes who would be labeled Terrorists today. Return

4. This accounts for the different wording from the much-circulated VHS workprint, and a different year named for the demise of Buckaroo's parents. Return

5. Savant cut the docu and the alternate opening, and helped compile the video extras on the disc, so take all his comments with that in mind. I've tried to be as objective as possible. Return


This review from the Digital Bits website (http://www.thedigitalbits.com) can be found at (http://www.thedigitalbits.com/reviews2/buckaroobanzai.html) and was posted on 12/31/01.

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension Special Edition - 1984 (2001)
20th Century Fox (MGM)
review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Film Rating: B
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B/B+

Specs and Features

82 mins, PG, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single sided, RSDL dual layered (layer switch at 43:03, in chapter 6), keep case packaging, audio commentary with director W.D. Richter and writer Earl Mac Raugh (in the guise of the real Reno), Pinky Carruther's Unknown Facts subtitle track, alternate opening featuring Jamie Lee Curtis, Buckaroo Banzai Declassified featurette, 14 deleted scenes from the work print, new Jet Car trailer, teaser trailer, Buckaroo Banzai personal profile, other character profiles, Jet Car details, photo gallery, Banzai Institute Archives (containing schematics, photos of movie tie-ins, badges and Hong Kong Cavaliers CD covers, details on the filming locations, text interview with Buckaroo Banzai, Banzai Radio interview with Terry Erdman, Banzai Institute history and Hikita's diary entries), several Easter eggs, Nuon features, animated film-themed menu screens with animation and music, scene selection (16 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1) and French (DD 2.0 mono), subtitles: French and Spanish, Closed Captioned

"Laugh while you can, monkey boy!"

You know... there just aren't many films like Buckaroo Banzai. In fact, about the only other film that I can think of that even comes close is Big Trouble in Little China. Put yourself in the 1980s campy, quasi-SciFi mindframe, and you're in the right ball park. Sort of.

Our story starts as the infamous Buckaroo Banzai (played by Peter Weller) is preparing to test his suped-up, high-powered Jet Car (but not before consulting on an intricate brain surgery - Buck's a man of many talents). Buckaroo climbs into the cockpit of the car and installs a strange device - an Oscillation Overthruster. Then the car blasts down range on a faster-than-sound test run. But something goes wrong... or so it seems. The car careens off the test track and heads right for a mountain. But just as it looks as if Buckaroo's about to bite it, he suddenly engages his Overthruster... and the car drives right through solid rock, blasting through the mountain and into the mysterious Eighth Dimension. News of this scientific breakthrough is quick to spread, and it soon reaches the maniacal Doctor Emilio Lizardo (John Lithgow), who has been confined to a mental hospital in New Jersey since one of his experiments went horribly wrong years ago and drove him crazy. But it seems that he isn't really crazy... just possessed by the spirit of an alien Red Lectoid named Lord John Whorfin. Whorfin wants to free his Evil Red Lectoid comrades, who are trapped in the Eighth Dimension, and he needs Buckaroo's Overthruster to do it. So with his loyal henchmen John Bigboote (Christopher Lloyd) and John Gomez (Dan Hedaya), he sets out to steal the Overthruster... and hopefully destroy Buckaroo in the process. But Buckaroo never stands alone - he's got the hard-rockin', atom-crackin' Hong Kong Cavaliers on his side. And if things really get desperate, he can always call upon his worldwide network of Blue Blazer Regulars. When they're not busy fighting the World Crime League, of course.

Buckaroo Banzai is one of those films that you either already love, don't get or have just never seen. I first caught it during its theatrical run back in the 80s, and its off-kilter brand of absurd-yet-straight-laced humor hit me right square between the eyes. As a fan of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Airplane and the shenanigans of Monty Python, I took to it immediately. If you enjoyed John Lithgow and Christopher Lloyd in 3rd Rock from the Sun and Back to the Future respectively, you'll love absolutely love their over the top performances here. Other cast highlights include Jeff Goldblum as New Jersey (in a role that's very much hinted at in his later appearances in ID4 and Jurassic Park) and a very young Ellen Barkin as Penny Priddy, Buckaroo's hair-teased femme fatale. You even get Yakov Smirnoff in a bit part - no kidding.

But Buckaroo Banzai is not a great film by any stretch. Its major flaw lies in its direction and editing - this is not a well-paced film. It doesn't build on the humor (there are some VERY funny throw away gags here) and it doesn't build much tension either. It also doesn't help that the film's soundtrack is a lot hokey - a cheesy, early 80s brand of synthesizers and drum machines. You'll either love Buckaroo Banzai or hate it. But I dig it and, for me at least, this DVD's been a LONG time in coming.

Thankfully, the wait was by and large worth it. The video on this DVD looks surprisingly good, given the film's new anamorphic widescreen transfer. The contrast is very nice, with deep, detailed shadows, yet the brighter areas of the picture are never overblown. Most impressive is the color, which is surprisingly rich, accurate and vibrant, while never bleeding or otherwise falling short. The print itself also looks quite good. It's occasionally soft, and there's moderate grain visible at times, but the print is in great shape - very clean and free of dirt, dust and other blemishes once you get past the opening credit sequence. You may occasionally notice compression artifacting and edge enhancement, but they aren't too much of a distraction. Overall, this is a very good, but not great transfer. Fans should be quite happy with it. You've certainly never seen Buckaroo looking this good before.

The disc's audio is also generally quite good, available here in a newly re-mixed Dolby Digital 5.1. I would have appreciated the inclusion of the film's original stereo track, but the new mix is enough to satisfy. The track sports a surprisingly wide and smooth front soundstage, with good ambience created in the rear channels. The film isn't really too active in terms of surround sound effects, but when they're needed, the mix handles them just fine. Mostly, you get ambience reinforcement from the surround speakers, which accomplish that task well. Dialogue can occasionally sound a little flat, and low frequency is a little wanting at times. But like the video, the audio is much improved here and should please fans of the film, if not surround sound connoisseurs.

Here's where my first major complaint about this disc comes in. There are no English subtitles. And at a couple of points in the film, some of the dialogue is a bit tough to understand. I suspect it's just the way the dialogue was recorded and mixed originally. But when I went to check the subtitles, I discovered they're only available in French and Spanish. Doh!

Now for the extras. Here's the schtick of this DVD, and I think it's pretty funny: this disc was assembled as if it were produced by the actual Banzai Institute. That means that the material here is rife with in-jokes. Only fans are going to get all of them. But if you are a fan, this disc is a real treat. To start with, you get a tongue-in-cheek audio commentary with the film's director W.D. Richter and the real Reno from the Banzai Institute (it's actually writer Earl Mac Rauch, but play along here). The two dissect the film and talk about how the "real" Buckaroo Banzai liked the film. You see... the further schtick here is that the film itself is a dramatization of "real" events, so the people you're watching on screen are only actors playing the "real" Buckaroo Banzai and the Hong Kong Cavaliers. If you buy into it, it's pretty funny. There's also subtitle track of Pinky Carruther's Unknown Facts (Carruthers being a character in the film played by musician Billy Vera, although again, it's Rauch who wrote all this stuff). It's filled with funny bits of trivia, again in keeping with the gag. Fourteen deleted scenes are available here too, taken from the film's work print (so they're not anamorphic and the quality is poor... but they're here, so no complaining). And there's even the film's alternate extended opening, which features Jamie Lee Curtis as Buckaroo Banzai's mother. You can view this separately, or you can choose to view it not quite seamlessly restored to the film itself (when you go to play the film, you choose between the theatrical cut and the extended). I say not quite seamlessly, because the switch from the alternate opening to the rest of the film triggered a long pause in my player - my other major complaint about this disc. But hey... it's fun to see regardless.

Hang on there, Blue Blazers! We're just getting started. This disc also includes the film's original teaser trailer (in anamorphic widescreen) and a new Jet Car promo trailer that was created by the folks at Foundation Imaging to sell the idea of a Buckaroo Banzai TV series. The idea never flew, but it's cool to have the trailer here (it's otherwise only been seen at SciFi conventions). You get a behind-the-scenes featurette on the making of the film from the 1980s, Buckaroo Banzai Declassified, along with a detailed profile of the "real" Buckaroo Banzai. Then there are profiles of most of the characters in the film, a look under the hood at the Jet Car, an extensive gallery of photos (broken down by subject) and some Nuon features no one cares about (because only like three people have a Nuon-enhanced player to access them). I doubt you're missing anything if you can't view them. And then there's a fun section called the Banzai Institute Archives. This is filled with schematics of the Tour Bus and Complex BB, photos of movie tie-ins, badges and CD covers by the Hong Kong Cavaliers (gotta love Your Place or Mayan?), a list of the film locations, the text of a pair of reviews of the film, a text interview with the "real" Buckaroo Banzai, a history of the Institute, entries from Hikita's diary and even a ten minute Banzai Radio interview with with Terry Erdman (who was the Fox publicist for the film back in 1984). Finally, there are several Easter eggs hidden throughout the disc's menu screens, including quotes, alternate DVD menu designs and alternate DVD cover designs (oh, how I wish they'd been used). There's even a funny bit about the watermelon - 'nuff said. They're funny and pretty easy to find if you search around.

The bottom line is that a lot of care has gone into this disc, and if you're a fan, you're really going to love it. A lot of other people are going to completely miss the gags and be left scratching their heads. Screw 'em! This baby's aimed at you diehards anyway, and it's got plenty of mojo. So fire up your Oscillation Overthrusters and enjoy.

By the way... when I tried to reach Buckaroo Banzai himself, to see what he thinks about the DVD, turns out he was still working on that World Crime League sequel and so was unavailable for comment. His publicist at the Banzai Institute did, however, send over this statement: "Nothing is ever what it seems, but everything is exactly what it is." I'm still not sure if he meant the DVD or the sequel, but there it is...

Bill Hunt
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com


Additional Buckaroo Banzai Special Edition DVD reviews from 1/9/02 :

http://www.cinescape.com/0/editorial.asp?aff_id=0&this_cat=Video+%26+DVD&action=page&obj_id=32108

http://www.aintitcool.com/display.cgi?id=11158

http://www.dvdreview.com/fullreviews/the_adventures_of_buckaroo_banzai_across_the_8th_dimension.shtml


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