"The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai," an action-packed science fiction adventure-comedy about a multi-talented hero who pushes himself beyond the bounds of known science, opens __________ at the ___________ Theatre.
The Sidney Beckerman Presentation of a Sherwood Production stars Peter Weller, John Lithgow, Ellen Barkin, Jeff Goldblum and Christopher Lloyd under the direction of W.D. Richter. The executive producer of "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai" is Sidney Beckerman, and the producers are Neil Canton and W.D. Richter. Earl Mac Rauch is the screenwriter who concocted this unusual blend of reality and imagination.
Peter Weller stars as scientist-adventurer Buckaroo Banzai, who is plunged into his most hair-raising adventure when he drives his high-speed Jet Car through the side of a mountain, thus proving the existence of the mysterious 8th Dimension and precipitating a battle with evil red aliens from Planet 10.
Joining Weller ("Shoot the Moon") is a distinguished cast including Ellen Barkin ("Tender Mercies") as Buckaroo's sweetheart Penny Priddy and Jeff Goldblum ("The Big Chill") as New Jersey, a recent recruit to Buckaroo's rock 'n roll commando group, The Hong Kong Cavaliers.
The forces of evil include two-time Academy Award nominee John Lithgow ("The World According to Garp," "Terms of Endearment") as Dr. Emilio Lizardo and "Taxi" star Christopher Lloyd, who recently played the evil Klingon Commander in "Star Trek III: The Search for Spock," as the villainous John Bigboote.
The special world in which Buckaroo and his friends battle the forces of evil was created by production designer Michael Riva, with a team of Hollywood's top special effects artists collaborating on the visual effects, which include a glimpse of the eerie universe of the 8th Dimension. The exciting synthesizer score is by Michael Boddicker, winner of a 1983 Grammy for his song "Imagination" in "Flashdance."
"The Adventure of Buckaroo Banzai" is a Twentieth Century Fox release.
Buckaroo Banzai, top brain surgeon, scientist/ adventurer and rock performer, is caught with his trusted allies, the Hong Kong Cavaliers, in a battle to the death between evil red aliens and good black aliens from Planet 10. An army of red aliens have escaped their prison in the formless 8th Dimension and established a base on earth disguised as human beings. Buckaroo Banzai unwittingly gives them the opportunity to return home when he successfully breaks into the 8th Dimension with his Oscillation Overthruster. Lead by demonic dictator John Whorfin, who has taken over the body of Italian scientist Dr. Emilio Lizardo, the aliens try to get the Overthruster back from Buckaroo Banzai. But the good black aliens are willing to destroy earth rather than let these renegades return to their planet. Even the good aliens have heard of Buckaroo Banzai --- so they give him the chance to save his planet. If he doesn't stop the red aliens, good-bye Earth!
Texas, 1984: Representatives from the government, military and news media have assembled to watch Buckaroo Banzai test his new, phenomenally fast (over 800 m.p.h. in 6 seconds) Jet Car. But Buckaroo hasn't arrived. Buckaroo's trusted allies, the hard-rocking Hong Kong Cavaliers, assure the crowd that he'll be along soon. He's just finishing up a last-minute brain operation.
Using a laser, Buckaroo (PETER WELLER) is repairing some nerve damage in his patient's brain. Dr. Sidney Zwibel (JEFF GOLDBLUM) had begun the unprecedented operation, but the brilliant physician lost his nerve and called on old medical school colleague Dr. Buckaroo Banzai for help.
The operation is a success, and as Buckaroo photographs his handiwork, he invites Dr. Zwibel to join his team. "Can you sing?" he asks. "A little -- I can dance," replies Zwibel. The newest recruit to the Hong Kong Cavaliers has no idea what an adventure is in store for him.
Buckaroo helicopters to the test site, straps himself into Jet Car and wraps a kamikaze scarf around his head. The car shakes mightily as Buckaroo readies his Oscillation Overthruster -- danger lights flash -- Buckaroo hears mission control request: "Abort. Advise, abort Phase Two." Buckaroo replies, "No can do," as the Secretary of Defense (MATT CLARK) asks the control room, "What the hell is Phase Two?"
All watch as the Jet Car heads straight for a mountain. Buckaroo hits a switch marked "Oscillation Overthruster," and the Jet Car disappears as Buckaroo flies into the 8th Dimension! Weird sights and sounds assail his senses; something cracks the windshield; the car heats up wildly; Buckaroo pushes the button again and materializes into the thin air on the other side of the mountain and brakes to a halt. He dives out of the red-hot vehicle, then carefully inspects it, finding an alien object under the chassis.
At a home for the criminally insane, Dr. Emilio Lizardo (JOHN LITHGOW) watches the jet Car test on television. He mutters "The Overthruster!" and wires himself up for a shot of electricity. The television announcer recalls a similar test, in 1938:
We flash back to a cavernous 1938 laboratory. The young, dark-haired scientist Dr. Lizardo straps himself into a wheelchair rocket-sled aimed directly at a metal wall. He is assisted by a young Professor Hikita (ROBERT ITO). As electromagnets pulsate, Lizardo throws a knife switch and his wheelchair speeds down the rails. Hikita tries to stop him, but it is too late -- before the blue laser has done its work, Lizardo pitches into the wall and winds up stuck smack between two dimensions! Hikita looks down the laser beam and sees into the 8th Dimension, where grotesque creatures are grappling with Lizardo's body. Hikita and his assistants pull Lizardo back into the room, but his hair has turned orange and he's gone stark raving mad.
Forty-six years later, the present-day Lizardo kills his guard, smashes a Buckaroo Banzai arcade video game and calls John Bigboote, head of operations at Yoyodyne Propulsions Systems in Grover's Mills, New Jersey. Lizardo identifies himself as John Whorfin. "The time has come," he tells Bigboote "Banzai and Hikita have done it! Get their Overthruster, and Hikita too."
Princeton, New Jersey. Artie's Artery, a nightclub. Backstage, Buckaroo and his Cavaliers examine a piece of the alien specimen in a spectroscope. They're called onstage and descend in a rickety elevator to the awaiting fans. The lights come up and Buckaroo Banzai and his Hong Kong Cavaliers launch into driving rock 'n roll -- not the best band in the world, but they have heart. Buckaroo soars on lead guitar, Perfect Tommy handles rhythm, Pinky Carruthers plays bass, Rawhide pounds the ivories and Reno wields a mean sax.
But someone in the audience isn't having a good time. Buckaroo stops the music. "Who are you?" he asks of the young woman in pink clutching a bottle of Vat 69. "Penny Priddy," she says. "I'm a nobody." "Nobody's a nobody," says Buckaroo, and he reminds the audience, "No matter where you go, there you are." He moves to the piano and sings her a soulful tune. The Cavaliers are confused-what is it about this girl? Did she say her name was Peggy? In the middle of the song Penny pulls out a revolver and points it at her head, but a waitress jars her hand and the gun fires harmlessly at the ceiling. The Cavaliers instantly surround their leader, guns ready. Penny is dragged off to jail.
The Cavaliers and Buckaroo take off in the Buckaroo Banzai bus to check Penny out at the local jail. When he talks to her, Buckaroo realizes she means no harm and has her released into his custody. outside, the Cavaliers meet new recruit, Dr. Sidney Zwibel and quickly nickname him "New Jersey." Then they assemble downtown for a press conference.
At the press conference, Buckaroo tells the listeners about his parents' and Hikita's quest to find another dimension within solid matter. The conference is interrupted by a message: The President is on the line for Buckaroo. When he gets to the phone, the line is dead, except for a strange electric crackling. Suddenly Buckaroo receives a massive electric shock and rolls writhing to the ground. The Cavaliers can't touch him -- he's ionized! Buckaroo starts wildly scribbling something on his hand. He has received a message from Planet 10, explaining a whole set of circumstances and letting him see certain things as they really are. When he returns to the press conference, he points at two ordinary mortals, apparently reporters, and yells that they are evil, pure and simple, from another dimension. The two men run away. From Buckaroo's point-of-view, they are ugly red aliens, but to everyone else they look perfectly normal. Another man in a stocking mask jumps on the dais and kidnaps Hikita, and Buckaroo gives chase. He makes off with a nearby motorcycle and pursues a Yoyodyne Propulsions Systems van into the countryside. Buckaroo radios Rawhide on his go-fone and instructs him to check out Yoyodyne.
Two duck hunters are curious -- and scared -- when a large, strangelooking spherical object lands in a nearby tree. They approach and give it a poke -- sparks rain down, and then the thing nearly rolls on top of them! A Rastafarian dressed in strange clothing emerges out of the top and falls down, hitting his head. He is carrying the latest Buckaroo Banzai comic book. When they see his face again, he has become an ugly alien. A second Rastafarian escapes the pod unnoticed, carrying a pink parcel.
The Yoyodyne van drives toward the crash site, hearing Planet 10 distress signals. John Bigboote, John O'Connor and John Gomez--the three men from the press conference -- investigate the thermopod; an officer tries to get them to leave it alone. When he leaves, they pound it mercilessly. Overhead, high above New Jersey, a spiky alien space craft hovers. Inside, the black aliens say good-bye to the alien left inside the thermopod, who self-destructs before the bad aliens outside can get to him.
Buckaroo watches the aliens and then goes into the van after Hikita. He imprints the formula from the palm of his hand onto Hikita's forehead -- and sends him back to the Institute on the motorcycle to begin working on an antidote formula so that the Cavaliers can see the aliens as they really are; the aliens have scrambled their brain waves. Hikita takes off; the aliens find Buckaroo and give chase. A truck looks sure to run Buckaroo down, but luckily the Cavaliers have radioed to local Blue Blaze Irregulars Casper and Scooter Lindley that Buckaroo is in trouble, so a waiting helicopter scoops Buckaroo out of danger and brings him home. When Buckaroo arrives at the Institute with Blue Blazes Casper and Scooter, his friends are in a tizzy.
New Jersey and the Cavaliers tell Buckaroo what they've found out: back in 1938, a massive alien invasion took place in Grover's Mills, New Jersey -- during Orson Welles' famous "War of the Worlds" broadcast about Martians. "Maybe it wasn't a hoax," says New Jersey. Plus, they have broken into the Yoyodyne computer and discovered applications for social security cards from a list of men with no backgrounds -- all named John. And they have received a strange hologram message. They assemble in Buckaroo's office to watch.
Sporting bizarre goggles, they watch the hologram from Planet 10: The leader of the black Lectroids, the stunningly beautiful John Emdall (ROSALIND CASH), whose ship is hovering over New Jersey, tells Buckaroo how to save his planet. Back in 1938 a band of evil red Lectroid criminals, lead by bloodthirsty butcher John Whorfin, broke out of their prison in the 8th Dimension into Grover's Mills, New Jersey, thanks to the Lizardo/Hikita experiments. Disguised as humans, they formed Yoyodyne Propulsions Systems and have been trying for the last forty years to get back to their planet. Now they may be able to, thanks to Buckaroo Banzai's Oscillation Overthruster. But the Father Ship above is quite willing to destroy earth rather than allow the Lectroids to return home. if the red Lectroids get the Overthruster, the Father Ship will dispatch a missile aimed at Smolensk, Russia, which will in turn force the Soviets to retaliate and in twenty minutes the world will be dust. "Get John Whorfin before sunset," warns John Emdall, "if you fail, we will be forced to help you destroy yourselves."
Back in his bedroom Buckaroo shoulders his holsters. Penny emerges from the bathroom wearing one of his silk kimonos and clutching a picture of someone who looks just like her -- Peggy. "Who is this?" she asks. Buckaroo tells her gently that his dead wife was her twin sister.
Meanwhile, the evil triumvirate from the press conference is on the premises. They murder the jet car mechanic, Sam, and break into the amazing speed machine, but find no Overthruster. Perfect Tommy reports this to Buckaroo, and the Cavaliers, armed and ready, take off in pursuit.
Buckaroo and the Cavaliers run to Hikita's lab, where they find him gone and a lab technician dead on the floor, a lethal stinger in his neck. They take off in different directions. Buckaroo finds Rawhide lying on the floor as an alien disappears down an air chute; Rawhide says he's ok and Buckaroo takes off in hot pursuit. Buckaroo chases Bigboote, who is looking for Hikita and the Overthruster.
When Penny hears something and wanders downstairs, she meets Hikita, who passes her the Overthruster. Then Penny has the bad luck to bump into John O'Connor (VINCENT SCHIAVELLI), who takes her away. (The Overthruster is in her purse.) Professor Hikita and the other Cavaliers converge around the still prone Rawhide as New Jersey pulls a stinger from his back. Buckaroo realizes his friend is dying. At that moment, gate-tender Pinky Carruthers arrives with Rastafarian John Parker (CARL LUMBLY), the bearer of the hologram message, and Parker tells Buckaroo the stinger has no antidote. Perfect Tommy cries as Rawhide dies.
The aliens steal the Lindleys' helicopter with Penny aboard. The Cavaliers arm themselves and board the Buckaroo Banzai bus. Buckaroo briefs them and calls the President as New Jersey and Hikita work to perfect the antidote serum- that will allow the Cavaliers to penetrate the aliens' disguises. President Widmark (RON LACEY) is with his Secretary of Defense (MATT CLARK), General Catburd (WILLIAM TRAYLOR), Senator Cunningham (MARICLARE COSTELLO) and National Security Advisor (YAKOV SMIRNOFF). Buckaroo tries to explain, with John Parker's help, the peril facing the planet. The President agrees to go on alert and Buckaroo promises to keep him posted. The Cavaliers locate the space ship hovering over New Jersey on their scanners -- a strange, spiky, electric mass.
Dr. Lizardo/John Whorfin calls Buckaroo from Yoyodyne, where he has John O'Connor torturing Penny with red ants and honey, while John Bigboote goes through her purse. Lizardo tells Buckaroo to come with the Overthruster or Penny will die. "He'll come," says Lizardo. "I know his type." O'Connor drags Penny to The Pitt.
Buckaroo plans the attack on Yoyodyne. He'll go first in the Jet Car. The rest of the team will follow in the bus to mop up. The antidote filters are ready. New Jersey inhales deeply and turns to look at John Parker, seeing him as an alien for the first time-an unsettling sight.
The Jet Car rolls into Yoyodyne and Lizardo/Whorfin yells, "Where is your Overthruster?" When Buckaroo indicates he doesn't have it, Lizardo takes him to the Shock Tower.
Penned inside a maze of wires and ancient circuitry, Buckaroo watches TV monitors of Penny being tortured by a Snott Monster controlled by John O'Connor. It oozes along a ramp leading to her face, its two piercing antennae aiming at her eyes ... Buckaroo writhes with pain with each jolting volt of electricity administered by Lizardo. "I want that missing circuit now!" Lizardo screams.
Meanwhile, the Secretary of Defense climbs aboard the bus as the Cavaliers take off for Yoyodyne. They arrive, and the Secretary distracts the gate-tenders while the bus pulls in. The Cavaliers start to search for Buckaroo and Penny. Alarms go off! Lizardo abandons Buckaroo and yells at Bigboote to prepare the ship and his makeshift Overthruster for takeoff. But it won't work!" yells Bigboote. Lizardo insists. They board the spaceship with John O'Connor. Buckaroo escapes from the Shock Tower and tries to find Penny. He runs into New Jersey, and together they shoot their way through a maze of dark corridors.
The Secretary of Defense spots John Bigboote and follows him through a series of increasingly bizarre environments until he gets to the Pitt. The Secretary ignores Bigboote's personal habits - all he wants is to know what's become of the Truncheon Bomber Yoyodyne was supposed to be building for the United States of America. Bigboote lifts him by his necktie and says "It's not my damn planet, monkey boy." He drops the Secretary and leaves. The Secretary pays no attention to the motionless Penny and rifles her purse for the Overthruster, which he pockets.
Elsewhere in the plant, Reno and Perfect Tommy are leading their troops through enemy stingers and gunfire. They come upon a mesmerizing alien contraption. An alien drops on Perfect Tommy from above! But John Parker swiftly cracks the creature's neck.
Buckaroo and New Jersey come upon Penny in the Pitt. New Jersey attends to her and sends Buckaroo after John Whorfin. Buckaroo and John Parker join Reno and his men in the launch hangar. Dodging stingers and fire, Buckaroo and Parker ascend the bizarre spacecraft and enter a small thermopod. Suddenly, the ship gives a might heave! Inside the main cabin, Lizardo is at the controls and Bigboote and O'Connor are belted into their swinging flightsuits. Bigboote protests "It won't work!" Lizardo replies, "John Bigboote you are the weakest individual I have ever known!" Bigboote flips him the finger and yells "Bigboote! te, te. Lizardo cooly turns around and shoots him dead.
O'Connor activates controls on Lizardo's poorly designed Overthruster as the ship starts up, but its Overthruster beams don't project the right vectors and the massive space ship smashes through the wall and out into the sunny skies of New Jersey. Buckaroo and John Parker, meanwhile, try to figure out how to work the alien thermopod. "Inferior craftsmanship," comments Parker, who as a diplomat never made flight school. Buckaroo figures out how to separate from the main ship; and they zoom off over Grover's Mills. The black Lectroid Father Ship, meanwhile, concludes that Buckaroo has failed and orders an atomic beam aimed at Smolensk.
Back at Yoyodyne, little Scooter Lindley finds the Secretary of Defense fussing with the Jet Car. He holds him up with his rifle and demands the object in his hand. The Secretary tries to dissuade him, but even a twenty dollar bill won't make Scooter give up his precious overthruster.
Buckaroo and John Parker successfully blast Lizardo's ship out of the sky, and the Father Ship deactivates the particle beam. John Parker returns to his Father Ship and Buckaroo parachutes to earth where the Hong Kong Cavaliers greet him joyfully. A few minutes later little Scooter delivers the Oscillation Overthruster to Buckaroo, who returns to the bus and greets a sad-faced New Jersey. "How is she?" asks Buckaroo. New Jersey shakes his head. Buckaroo goes into his private quarters and sees Penny covered with a sheet. He lifts it and looks at her pale, lifeless face. He kisses her. A spark flies from his mouth to hers...
"The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai" is the first Buckaroo Banzai movie. Some of you may have heard vague rumors about a shadowy figure named Buckaroo and his daring exploits and adventures into the unknown. His trusted allies and musical collaborators the Hong Kong Cavaliers have achieved a certain notoriety around New Jersey. Many ingenious inventions have originated at New Brunswick's Banzai Institute for Biomedical Engineering and Strategic Research, which also handles such sidelines as the Banzai Publishing Company (comic books, novels), The Banzai Record Plant (albums, cassettes, compact discs) and the monthly newsletter for member of the loyal Buckaroo Banzai Fan Club. And the medical world knows of Dr. Buckaroo Banzai, neurosurgeon at the top of his field.
Persons interested in learning more about the special world in which Buckaroo and his friends live, love and battle the forces of evil should consult the published sources from which these notes were compiled:
Buckaroo Banzai, by Earl Mac Rauch, published by Pocket Books in 1984, is the story of Buckaroo's battle with the inhabitants of Planet 10 as told by Reno, a key member of Team Banzai and author of all the Buckaroo Banzai books.
Some Hard Facts and Persistent Rumors About Buckaroo Banzai by W.D. Richter (December, 1983) is an invaluable compilation of the director's own notes, a personal memoir by Professor Hikita, a brief autobiography by Dr. Banzai and background information on the Hong Kong Cavaliers assembled by Mrs. Johnson, the archivist of the Banzai Institute.
Moving Through Matter with Buckaroo Banzai, by Dr. Cary I. Sneider of the Lawrence Hall of Science at Berkeley, confirms the scientific theories behind Buckaroo Banzai's Oscillation Overthruster and presents a scientific basis for the existence of an 8th Dimension. The paper was first presented in April, 1984, to members of the National Science Teachers Association in convention in Boston.
Copies of Hard Facts and Persistent Rumors and Moving Through Matter can be obtained by writing the Banzai Institute for Biomedical Engineering and Strategic Information, c/o 20th Century Fox, P.O. Box 900, Beverly Hills, California, 90213.
Born in London in 1950, the son of two scientists: Masado Banzai, a brilliant Japanese research physicist whose work in theoretical quantum mechanics is reported to have "rattled" Einstein, and Sandra Willoughby, the daughter of the eccentric Scottish-born Texas mathematician Edward McKay Willoughby. Sandra Willoughby fell in love with Masado Banzai when she was sixteen and married him twelve years later, after becoming an expert in her own right in the field of negative mass propulsion. The couple fled Japan at the outbreak of World War II and eventually settled in Texas. Their son grew up in Colorado and Arizona and was named "Buckaroo" because of his father's love for the American West.
In 1946 Masado Banzai and Sandra Willoughby joined forces with Masado's old friend and colleague, Professor Toichi Hikita, who shared their belief that one day man would be able to pass unharmed through solid matter. Their researches culminated in 1953 in the Texas desert, when Dr. Banzai took the controls of a jet car equipped with an early version of the oscillation Overthruster. But the experiment ended tragically: Buckaroo Banzai's parents were killed in an explosion as the four-year-old child looked on. Hikita raised young Buckaroo, using the entire world as his classroom, and the boy grew up to be, among other things, an extraordinarily skilled neurosurgeon.
"Dissatisfied with a life devoted exclusively to medicine," Richter writes, "Buckaroo Banzai perfected a wide range of skills. He designed and drove high-powered automobiles. He studied bujitsu and particle physics. His skill with a sixgun was reputed to eclipse that of Wyatt Earp. He spoke a dozen languages and wrote songs in all of them. His band, the Hong Kong Cavaliers, was one of the most popular, hard-rocking bar bands in east Jersey, though its members were not professional musicians at all but rather cartographers and botanists, linguists and propellant engineers, an entomologist and an epidemiologist. All of these experts in the oddest fields of endeavor were drawn to Buckaroo, and all of them came and went like the wind on the prairie -Rawhide, Reno, the Swede, Perfect Tommy, Big Norse, Pecos."
Descriptions of Buckaroo Banzai are rare, but in Buckaroo Banzai, Reno recalls his first meeting with him as follows: "I have always found it remarkable how a confident and open person can make a strong lasting impression in the space of a single moment, but that was just what I found to be the case with B. Banzai. A ready smile and a firm handshake attached to a body that seemed to be made entirely of sinew captivated me immediately. I suggested that we walk outside, and he agreed.
"In the sunshine his face is smooth, unmarked. A smile plays constantly around his lips, but the eyes are deep and thoughtful, of an unusual color I cannot readily describe. Neither can I recall who spoke first, a phenomenon I have found common among others when they have been asked to recall their first encounters with the man. I tend to believe it is the eyes, of such an unusual hue and hypnotic intensity that they could make one believe almost anything. In short, within the first minute of our meeting I believe I had decided to follow him anywhere without the slightest hesitation."
Later in his book, still recalling that first meeting when he was inducted into the Cavaliers, Reno adds this observation: "Buckaroo, like most true geniuses, was utterly without arrogance, a simple man in the best sense of the word. Decency toward others was not something he had to work at; it was as involuntary with him as breathing. On the other hand, I have seen him an hour after killing a man and found him to be perfectly composed." The contradiction, Reno concludes, is apparent only to the Western mind.
Precious light is shed on the mystery of the man's personality by the following laconic note, which is apparently the only time Dr. Banzai has discussed himself in print:
"It was quite by chance that I became involved in scientific investigation and began to study the psychology of crime. Although I was born in London during a visit of my parents to England, I spent my early days on the vast ranges of Colorado and Arizona and there was taught how to ride and shoot by the redskinned Sioux warriors, who strangely seemed to enjoy showing an Amerasian boy their tricks. Until I was fourteen I went to school in Denver and later I continued my education in Massachusetts, Texas and England, taking my medical degree from Harvard. In this way a love of travel and the craving for excitement and danger were stimulated in me from childhood.
"After my first introduction in Monte Carlo to the forces which wage unceasing warfare against the shadowy underworld of crime, I realized that in their ranks was a possibility of escaping from the dreaded monotony of a life of routine. BUCKAROO BANZAI"
Over the years a group of close friends and collaborators has grown up around Buckaroo: the Hong Kong Cavaliers. The Cavaliers form the inner circle of Team Banzai, and they are sometimes joined by the Blue Blaze Irregulars, ordinary men and women who go about the normal routine of their lives until the call to action is sounded. Their motto: "Treat me good, I'll treat you better. Treat me bad, I'll treat you worse."
Says Richter: "A highly placed source in Washington (who asked not to be identified) recently described Buckaroo and his trusted inner circle to a senator I know rather well. 'They are,' he told this senator with a mixture of admiration and frustration, 'a bunch of amateur international do-gooders who spend half their time battling man's inhumanity to man in every corner of the globe and half their time playing that goddamn primitive rock 'n roll music so loud you can't even hear yourself scream.' My friend the senator pointed out quite rightly that we need more people like them. 'If they're amateurs,' he said, 'so be it. The word means those who do something for the love of it.'"
Mrs. Johnson, the Banzai Institute's indefatigable archivist, supplied the following thumbnail sketches of these key team members:
Founded in 1972, the Banzai Instituter according to its official brochure, is "an independent non-profit research organization of ranking scientists ... located an hour from New York City in Holland Township, New Jersey. Overlooking a truly panoramic expanse of the Delaware River Valley, it is a hundred-and-twelve-acre haven for scholars of all disciplines, but the sciences in particular."
Living conditions at the Institute are Spartan; each intern is lodged in a small cell furnished with a futon atop a wooden bunk. Yet the Institute draws a wide range of iconoclastic talents. The attractions of such a place were summed up by Buckaroo when he invited Reno to join him.
"'I'm Offering you an internship to the Banzai Institute.' Buckaroo said. 'The stipend isn't a lot -- Only five hundred dollars a month, plus your lodginga nd meals -- but you'll learn to fight, shoot, and handle a lasso. And if you make it to resident, you'll have the full resources of the Institute at your disposal. You can study in depth whatever topics you choose, alongside some of the finest minds in the world.'"
"I balked, momentarily awash in self-pity. 'Do you think I can make the grade?' I asked.
'Humanity demands it,' he said."
For Reno, a fugitive from a government think-tank, and for others like him, the advantage of the Institute was freedom from the capriciousness of government funding and demands to show "hard results" to justify research: "Promising researchers," he wrote, "would be given the time and freedom to focus their full energies on their topics of interest without the necessity of championing themselves in their roles as fund-raisers. It was believed and has been demonstrated that the Institute could be self-supporting if both researchers and staff lived frugally and in a familial atmosphere, donating a percentage of their royalties from any commercial applications and patents which might arise from their work within its walls.... At the Banzai Institute, it is the candidate who is appraised and not the proposal."
Interns at the Institute devote themselves as much to strategic games and "thought experiments" as to practical research, and some of the projects developed there -- like Pecos' plan to string a cable from an orbiting satellite to function as a "space elevator," or Rawhide's quest to develop a high-protein livestock feed out of houseflies -- are aptly classified in Institute jargon as "moonbeams." But the list Reno gives of the Institute's practical achievements is impressive: "Cellular radio, (employed by Team Banzai as their handy go-fone), the development of the drug Interferon, the comuter program later adopted by NASA for assessing survival probabilities of its missions, the Numerical Aerodynamic Simulator, the invention of Kevlar (five times its strength to weight), DATA-SAT, the first data of steel, transfer satellite (capable of carrying the entire contents of the Library of Congress into space, to be accessed by any home computer), and many more, from robotics to gene technology." Inventions like these and Perfect Tommy's adaptation of the Sony-Watchman have added many dollars and yen to the Institute research coffers. Most impressive of all, however, is the development in its final form of the Oscillation Overthruster, the key to the 8th Dimension.
The first experiments exploring other dimensions were instigated by Professor Toichi Hikita and Dr. Emilio Lizard (q.v.), attempting to prove Hikita's theory that it is possible for a man to move through the empty spaces composing most of solid matter. Their famous 1938 experiment failed when Lizardo, strapped to a speeding wheelchair/rocket sled, slammed headlong into a metal wall before Hikita's Overthruster beam could fully break the dimensional barrier. Lizardo hung half-in, half-out of the new world while Hikita for a few seconds glimpsed horrible beings grapling with his friend's body. When they pulled Lizardo back into his laboratory, his hair had turned orange and he was totally insane.
Texas, 1953: Professor Hikita tries the experiment again, this time with the aid of top Japanese scientist Dr. Masado Banzai and his Texas-born scientist wife, Dr. Sandra Banzai. As the test vehicle's motor whines at an incredible speed, something goes wrong. Hikita shields the eyes of the four-year-old Buckaroo Banzai as the Jet Car vaporizes with both Banzais aboard.
One can imagine Professor Hikita's trepidation when the orphan boy he had raised, Buckaroo Banzai, climbed into a new version of the Jet Car, equipped with an improved model of the Oscillation Overthruster, to attempt the same dangerous feat...
As Buckaroo subsequently explained to the press, travel through matter is possible because matter is comprised mostly of empty space; subatomic particles take up only one quadrillionth of an atom's total volume, "like a bee in the middle of St. Peter's Cathedral," notes Berkley physicist Dr. Cary I. Sneider. "According to quantam field theory, as initially developed by Yukawa and many others in the 1930s (when Buckaroo's father first began his experiments), the forces between particles are created by exchanges of other particles. The electromagnetic force is carried by the exchange of particles called 'virtual photons.' In other words, the empty space between the electrons and protons in normal material is full of virtual photons. Furthermore, if virtual photons fail to travel all the way between electrons and the nucleus, atoms would no longer be prevented from passing through each other.
"Since virtual photons have no mass, they are able to travel the full distance between electrons and protons. If virtual photons had mass, they would be restricted to a very small region around the elementary particles that make up the atoms. This would reduce the ability of these particles to 'see' each other, in effect creating truly empty space within and between atoms. The passage would be clear for Buckaroo Banzai and his Jet Car to pass through matter."
The key to the door of matter, Dr. Sneider continues, lies in the poorly understood mechanism of "spontaneous symmetry breaking," which imparts mass to virtual photons, and it is on this principle that the functioning of the Oscillation Overthruster depends: "It consists of two colliding beams, one of electrons, and one of positrons, which annihilate each other when they collide. Each annihilation produces a burst of particles, including intermediate vector bosons. These are separated and focused into a beam by magnets..
"When focused on solid matter, the beam produces a small region of high energy density. Inside the target, spontaneous symmetry breaking imparts mass to the photons, reducing the range of the electromagnetic force to far less than a quadrillionth of a centimeter. From this small region a shock wave of broken symmetry propagates outward. Behind the shock wave matter interacts only weakly, providing for Buckaroo and his Jet Car to move through matter. The car must travel very fast (at least miles per hour) to allow free passage before the material reverts to its normal state."
As for the 8th Dimension, according to Dr. Sneider, is also to be found in the sub-atomic realm: "In 1921, Theodore Kaluza, and later Oskar Klein, speculated that there may be minidimensions to space that we do not perceive. Here we are working in the realm of the very small, so we need to consider the geometry of space at a scale that is even smaller than the nucleus of an atom.
"Dimensions are usually diagrammed as infinitesimally thin, mutually perpendicular lines. In the Kaluza-Klein theory, these lines become cylinders with a radius much less than that of an atomic nucleus. In other words, each dimension of spacetime is in fact two-dimensional: a cylinder of finite radius but infinite length. There would then be a total of eight dimensions, in which the eighth dimension is the sister dimension of everyday time, but at the subnuclear level.
"Why can't we perceive all eight dimensions like Buckaroo Banzai? Because when we move along a mini-dimension, we are moving around the perimeter of the cylinder, which instantaneously leads us back to where we started. In other words, we move through eight dimensions all the time, but we just don't know we've made the trip because it was so short! Therefore, we don't have time to perceive it.
"When Buckaroo is moving through the mountain, he is permeated with an electromagnetic force that is acting at an extremely small, subnuclear range. With a little effort, we can imagine that would allow Buckaroo Banzai to experience these four additional minidimensions which are hypothesized to exist at the same subnuclear scale."
Reno eloquently sums up the new view of the cosmos implicit in these speculations, and the vistas opened for mankind by the heroic few who risked all in the search for the 8th Dimension: "It had been B. Banzai's contention, along with Professor Hikita, for a least a decade that consciousness was a particle-wave akin to light, and in the manner of a radio transmitter, broadcast on our planet on a single frequency, although it was mathematically probable that the exact frequency would vary throughout the cosmos. The reader will jump ahead to the next conclusion without any prodding from me: namely, that most humans are aware of receiving fuzzy signals of alien consciousness from other worlds, other dimensions, but for reasons of psychological resistance or biological limitation cannot interpret them clearly ....
"In effect, our so-called sophisticated brains are obsolescent radio sets without tuners. Locked into a single station, we miss the other ninety-nine hundredths of the dial .... If consciousness was found to be a force within the atom, like the strong, weak, and electromagnetic forces, as he believed, then in the process of bending these forces with Oscillation Overthruster, the entire bandwidth of consciousness would become clear."
Little is known about Planet 10, the existence of which was first posited by Perfect Tommy, who wasn't sure if it was a planet or a moon of Pluto. But the members of Team Banzai had ample opportunity to learn about Planet 10's most unpleasant inhabitants, the red Lectroids. Studying the speeches written by their leader John Whorfin (q.v.) in his madhouse cell, Reno was able to piece together the following account of these obnoxious creatures' habits:
"The typical Lectroid is above all in awe of power. Power for its own sake is his raison d'etre, and he is obsessed with its attainment and exercise. To his underlings he is devoid of mercy, indeed has no sense of such a concept, whereas to his superiors, i.e., those holding power over him, he is obeisant and servile to the point of eagerly sacrificing his own life, as we have seen. The Lectroid does not thirst for knowledge or beauty, has no record of intellectual attainment, has never produced a single notable figure in any area of endeavour, save one: the field of battle. His attitude toward such things as history and culture, even his own, which he does not bother chronicling, is one of the utmost indifference. All that matters in his scheme is lust for power, his single-minded will to possess a thing by destroying it.
"Insofar as his personal habits are concerned, the Lectroid is filthy by preference, it being common for him to bathe but twice in a lifetime, viz. at birth and after his wedding night. It is evidently a belief of theirs that washing shortens one's life and is 'unmanly,, and having encountered many of them in close combat, I can vouch from firsthand experience that both as a tenet of faith and as a practical matter there is much to be said in favor of their squalid appearance. With a heavy coat of decorative grease paint on top of layer upon layer of encrusted dirt thick enough to be spooned out of their palms, added to their already thick hides, they are able to withstand all but the most powerful blows and projectiles.
"They have apparently but a single fear, and that is the fear of ridicule. They lack the most elementary sense of humour and are, unless of a mood to fight, quite reserved, even somnolent. For this latter trait, I am most grateful; otherwise, having not caught many of them napping, the scales of our engagement might not have tipped so propitiously in our favor.
"By and large carnivorous, they are wont to supplement their intake of smoked meat with large doses of electrical current, although the years on our planet have seen them grow to rely increasingly on what is called 'junk food,' many of them foregoing their traditional diet entirely in favor of sweet cakes and candy bars in bright cellophane. As a result, they were by this time mired in lethargy which, compounded by the gravity problem, had caused their normally robust physiques to deteriorate to an appalling degree, although in this also we were fortunate."
Much less is known about the Adders, the more evolved, darkhued alien inhabitants of Planet 10 who bred the bellicose red Lectroids expressly for fighting wars of planetary defense, then found themselves in a death-struggle for control of their own world.
NOTE: All the inhabitants of Planet 10 took the earthly first name "John," which, according to Reno, sounds like a form of greeting they commonly use "comparable to the use of 'che' in Argentine or, to a lesser extent, our own 'hey.'" Their surnames are either phonetic approximations of their real names or common Earth names chosen at random from the pages of the phonebook found in the Grover's Mills, New Jersey, social security office.
When brilliant neurosurgeon/physicist Buckaroo Banzai (PETER WELLER) drives his high-speed Jet Car (equipped with oscillation Overthruster) straight through a mountain -- proving the existence of the mysterious 8th Dimension -- he unwittingly opens a Pandora's Box of epic proportions. The planet is doomed unless Buckaroo, backed by his commando team the Hong Kong Cavaliers, can close that box in time.
As Buckaroo and his Cavaliers recover from their harrowing day by performing hard-driving rock 'n roll in a New Jersey nightclub, strange things are starting to happen:
Dr. Emilio Lizardo (JOHN LITHGOW) escapes from a home for the criminally insane, ordering John Bigboote (CHRISTOPHER LLOYD) of Yoyodyne Propulsions Systems to "get that Overthruster";
Sexy Penny Priddy (ELLEN BARKIN) breaks down crying in the nightclub, provoking unusual behavior in Buckaroo, who seems to be experiencing deja vu -- then she hauls out a pistol and starts shooting;
And high above New Jersey's cloud cover, a spiky alien space craft ejects a small thermopod, which crash-lands in a New Jersey swamp, emitting an emissary with dreadlocks (CARL LUMBLY) who carries a message for Buckaroo Banzai.
When Buckaroo and his Cavaliers begin unravelling these mysteries, the solutions involve Orson Welles' 1938 "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast, an alien invasion from the hitherto unknown Planet 10, aliens on earth disguised as human beings, and the help of a good Rastafarian.
or is he a Rastafarian?
"The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai" is an action-packed sciencefiction adventure comedy about a multi-talented hero who pushes himself beyond the bounds of known science -- and into hair-raising adventure.
This unique movie stars Peter Weller, John Lithgow, Ellen Barkin, Jeff Goldblum and Christopher Lloyd under the direction of W.D. Richter. The ensemble cast is joined by an equally talented team of creative artists behind the cameras. Sidney Beckerman is executive producer of "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai," Neil Canton and Richter its producers, and Earl Mac Rauch the screenwriter who concocted its unusual blend of reality and imagination. A Sidney Beckerman Presentation of a Sherwood Production, "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai" is a 20th Century Fox release in the U.S. and Canada and is distributed by the Producer's Sales organization overseas.
Buckaroo Banzai was hatched in the fevered imagination of Texas-born writer Earl Mac Rauch about nine years ago. He mentioned his idea to his friend, screenwriter W.D. Richter. "He was fascinated," remembers Rauch. "I wanted to write this pulp adventure inspired by serials and seventies' kung fu movies. Rick's eyes sort of lit up." Richter and his wife Susan immediately commissioned Rauch to develop a screenplay featuring his wild character, Buckaroo Banzai. The adventures -- Rauch would embark on one after another without ever finishing them -- had titles like "The Strange Case of Mr. Cigars."
Rauch had come to Los Angeles not long before at Richter's urging. "Rauch was living in Texas working on mobile home finance contracts," says Richter. "Susan and I read about his second novel Arkansas Adios in the Dartmouth alumnae magazine. We sent away for it and loved it." Richter wrote to the author, who responded enthusiastically. One night the Richters received a phone call from a motel near the airport: Rauch had arrived.
They became fast friends. As Richter continued his successful screenwriting career ("Slither," the Academy Award-nominated "Brubaker"), Rauch launched his ("New York, New York"). The Buckaroo Banzai screenplay was commissioned soon after Rauch's arrival, and he worked on it for over eight years between other projects before Richter lassooed him into focusing on one story.
It was 1980; Richter had been talking with producers Frank Marshall and Neil Canton about filming one of his screenplays. The movie didn't materialize, but Richter and Canton decided to join forces and form their own production company, Canton-Richter Productions.
"I gave Neil a big thick compilation of material I had stored in a box over the years," says Richter. Rauch laughingly describes Richter's pack-rat habits. "He has everything I've ever written," he says. "If I can't find something, he'll always have it right there." Canton remembers Rauch's Buckaroo stories as special.
"As soon as Rick and I became partners we asked Mac to write a treatment. He delivered a sixty-pager called 'Lepers from Saturn.' We shopped the project around to production executives who were our peers, but no one wanted to take on something so unusual. We realized that since we were two first-time producers and Rick was' a first-time director, we needed an executive producer. So we went to Sidney."
Canton had worked with veteran producer Sidney Beckerman ("Red Dawn," "Cabaret") as his vice-president of production several years back. "He called David Begelman, who was at MGM at the time," recalls Canton. "David and Sidney both loved it. A few days later Sidney got a phone call and we were in development."
It's a unique movie," comments Canton. "We always felt that somehow someone would see that. And David Begelman always believed in the project, taking it with him from M.G.M. to U.A. to Sherwood."
It took Rauch a year and a half to write the final screenplay. The title metamorphosed into "Buckaroo Banzai," and the lepers from Saturn became lizards and then lectroids from Planet 10, while the villain became Dr. Lizardo. Some of Rauch's Hong Kong Cavaliers didn't make it into the final screenplay, along with many other things which luckily he was able to cram into his novelization of the movie, available from Pocket Books.
The screenplay went through several drafts: Richter worked closely with Rauch. "I like to hear other people's ideas," says Rauch, "and incorporate them. Rick kept me in line and brought some common sense to the project. Although he likes crazy things, he is a very sane and pragmatic person."
Rauch provided the written universe for "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai," the characters and their world, the unusual blend of science fact and fiction, action and drama, comedy and adventure. Now it was up to the filmmakers to fashion a movie out of the whole thing.
"The Buckaroo Banzai movie is hard to put into words," says Rauch, "because there are so many different elements in it. You have to emphasize the comedy, the totally bizarre nature of a couple of the characters, like Lizardo and Bigboote". And then there's the plot level, which reads like an adventure movie. It's a romp, but not a light-headed romp."
Richter describes the movie as "dense in conception and dense in execution. It's a movie that's a little strange around the edges," he says. "It's the real world taken one step beyond. The point is to make you believe that it's possible for aliens to walk among us undetected for years. Everything's a little off-center. We've deliberately gone for a strange kind of naturalistic quality. The comedy isn't just jokes -- it comes from character, from the outrageousness of the way we live. In 'Buckaroo Banzai' we're trying to make sense of all the different things going on in our fragmented world."
Richter and Rauch talked Buckaroo Banzai thoughts for eight years. Along the way, they were joined by others including Canton, Beckerman and production designer Michael Riva. "The movie created itself after a while," says Richter. "We used the things in the physical world that intrigued us. We tried to catch the spirit of a world that's slightly out of control, where nothing is what it appears to be."
"You have to suspend disbelief," adds Rauch. "Science fiction is just a compendium of things in the real world. You bring it together in an unusual way and create a whole new world."
With the project green-lighted for production, the filmmakers began to assemble their cast and crew. Michael Riva had worked with Richter on "Brubaker," and was seeing the world with "Buckaroo eyes" for two years before going into pre-production. Sketches, clippings and scribbled notes littered his and Richter's offices. The two men studied a wide spectrum of art and literature as inspiration for the film's look, including medical journals, African magazines and Russian histories. Riva, who also designed "Ordinary People" and "Stranger's Kiss," recruited a team of experts to design "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai." They include:
Visual effects supervisor Michael Fink, who designed effects for "War Games," "One from the Heart," "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and "Star Trek: The Motion Picture";
Costume designer Aggie Guerard Rodgers, who designed costumes for "Return of the Jedi," "American Graffiti" and "The Conversation," met Richter while working on "Invasion of the Body Snatchers";
And set decorator Linda DeScenna, who earned two Academy Award nominations for her work on "Blade Runner" and "Star Trek: The Motion Picture."
Other equally respected members of "Team Banzai," as the film crew came to be called, include cinematographer Fred Koenekamp, who received an Academy Award for "Towering Inferno" and was nominated for "Islands in the Stream" and "Patton"; editor Richard Marks, who edited "Apocalypse Now" and "The Godfather, Part II" and received an Academy Award nomination for "Terms of Endearment"; music coordinator Bones Howe, a 1969 Grammy winner for The Fifth Dimension's "Let the Sun Shine In," who has been nominated for seven Grammies and produced or engineered albums for artists as diverse as Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Tom Waits, with whom he produced the "One from the Heart" soundtrack album; and composer Michael Boddicker, a renowned synthesizer wizard who has written and performed electronic music for the likes of Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones, Lionel Ritchie and Donna Summers, and received a 1983 Grammy for his song "Imagination" on the "Flashdance" soundtrack album.
"A lot of people took a lot of risks on this movie," says Richter. ".We had a rich screenplay, and top-flight people in every area. We cast a wonderful ensemble of actors who were a pleasure to work with; they created an eccentric collection of genuine characters you want to get to know." Some parts fell into place easily, while others were a challenge to cast. "We purposely went after actors of the highest quality, not just stars," says Richter, "They had to be able to play their roles straight, making the audience believe it's all true and really happening."
Buckaroo Banzai, clearly, was the most important piece of casting. "Buckaroo is a neurosurgeon," says Richter. "And neurosurgeons are very aggressive, achievement-oriented, restless. Buckaroo likes mechanical objects, reassembles the world around him, plays rock 'n roll. It's for release, for fun, like Woody Allen playing jazz -- or Einstein, who played piano. He has an inquisitive mind and keeps scribbling strange notes, like Leonardo DaVinci. He's involved in high-energy particle physics. There's a Japanese side to him which he inherited from his father, along with his mother's Western willingness to explore the unknown. He's just like you or me," Richter protests, laughing. "He's an average American guy who hangs out with his friends and builds a Jet Car in his garage with-spare parts. He isn't the best of any one thing: he's got a good bar band, and he's a good brain surgeon. He's going in a million directions at once."
How in the world to cast such a character and have him be believable? "I didn't want an established star for Buckaroo," explains Richter. "We had to discover him in the film, like James Bond. He had to be a strong leading man who'd crossed into his 30's, who we could believe was both heroic and intellectual, someone who both could feel fear and be a threat, not a cartoon."
Richter had been impressed with Peter Weller's performance in "Shoot the Moon," and as soon as the filmmakers met with Weller, they knew they'd found their Buckaroo Banzai.
Weller has an unusual combination of attributes that made him perfect for the role. An experienced New York theatre actor who has won raves for his performances in such plays as "Sticks and Bones" and "Streamers," he was physically right, "with a bone structure that, along with his black hair, suggests something other than a pure American lineage," says Richter. Richter also admired his stage craft: "He has a terrific hands-on interaction with sets and props that helps to build character." Weller's own personality and experience made him a believable Buckaroo: Weller is well-read, a trained musician and a talented athlete, with varied interests ranging from science and cooking to karate and jazz. "He's an inquiring person by nature," says Richter, "inquisitive and restless."
When Weller met with Richter and his wife Susan, "They told me the story and sold me on it before I'd even read the script," he says. "I also fell in love with them."
The rest of the Buckaroo Banzai ensemble is equally inspired casting: the crucial role of the criminally insane Lizardo/Whorfin was always intended for John Lithgow, winner of two Academy Award nominations for "The World According to Garp" and "Terms of Endearment" and many New York theatre plaudits, including a Tony for his Broadway debut in "The Changing Room." Richter wanted Lithgow because "Mac produced an amazing piece of writing for that character and there aren't many actors who could make it funny and believable the way John has. I had great hopes for what John would be able to do with Dr. Lizardo; he went beyond anything I'd imagined."
The filmmakers went to New York for actress Ellen Barkin, who plays the lovely Penny Priddy; Barkin, who had received kudos for her work in "Diner" and "Tender Mercies," was delighted to take the plunge into the unpredictable Buckaroo Banzai universe.
Richter sought Jeff Goldblum for New Jersey, the newest recruit
to the Hong Kong Cavaliers, and was tickled with the results:
"Jeff brought something special to the part," says Richter.
Goldblum is well-respected for his work in such films as "The
Big Chill," "The Right Stuff" and "Invasion
of the Body Snatchers" (for which Richter wrote the screenplay).
Christopher Lloyd, who is currently riding a wave of success from his inspired performance as Captain Kirk's Klingon enemy in "Star Trek III: The Search for Spock," was another first choice for Richter. Lloyd plays Yoyodyne's Propulsion Systems chief executive officer John Bigboote; he has received an Emmy for his role as Reverend Jim in the television comedy series "Taxi, and has appeared in such films as "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," "Mr. Mom," -"To Be Or Not To Be" and "Goin' South."
The Cavalier ensemble includes Lewis Smith, a 28-year-old Tennessee native, as Perfect Tommy; Clancy Brown, a Chicago recruit, as Rawhide; Pepe Serna, an industry veteran after 24 films in 14 years, as Reno; and musician Billy Vera making his film debut as Pinky Carruthers. Bill Henderson and youngster Damon Hines play Blue Blaze Irregulars Casper and Scooter Lindley; and Laura Harrington essays the role of the Banzai Institute's caretaker/archivist Mrs. Johnson. Robert Ito was cast as Buckaroo's sage scientific colleague, Professor Hikita; Vincent Schiavelli and Dan Hedaya portray John Bigboote's wicked henchmen; and Carl Lumbly and Rosalind Cash play mysterious messengers from Planet 10 with a warning for Buckaroo Banzai.
As one of the most talented and resourceful men on the planet, Buckaroo becomes an advisor to the President of the United States. Ronald Lacey plays the President, Matt Clark is his Secretary of Defense and William Traylor his General Catburd; Mariclare Costello appears as Senator Cunningham, and Yakoff Smirnoff, a renowned Russian comic, plays the President's National Security Advisor.
CREATING A WORLD...
Richter and Riva began to look at the world through Buckaroo Banzai eyes. "We looked for things in the real world with those hidden, intrinsic qualities that you don't always see -- the way things are, the way they're put together," says Riva. "We looked at everything differently -- that's the key. We'd go to zoos, parks, look at trees. We went through a lot of books with the Buckaroo eye, compiling folders of clippings and categorizing them. I'd cut things from Scientific American, Omni, Geo."
The two men also researched their hero. "We didn't want to have a cliche superhero," says Riva. "We arranged to meet one of the world's great neurosurgeons, and watched a pineal tumor operation on a nine-year-old boy. The doctor was nonchalant, informal, stood on his feet for eight hours, a real mechanic. He was real cool off-duty and played the cello at home."
The filmmakers also discussed the look they wanted for their movie. Richter wanted a bold, bright visual look for the film, combined with harsh, stark locations. "The movie has a blend of almost believable things happening with a very unsettling, realistic quality," Richter says. "We're not manufacturing things. We're mixing up what's real, changing it. There is debris all around us, and there's a lot of clutter in this film -- it's a jumble of confusion, paperbacks, tapes, radios. It's the world people live in."
The filmmakers were creating not only the Buckaroo universe, but the world of the Lectroid exiles. "Our throwaway items are being used by the aliens, who have a culture all their own," says Richter. He and Riva had a field day with the concept of a band of aliens using a munitions factory as a front since 1938 while they build a ship with which to return to their planet.
Richter and Riva also brainstormed on the appearance of the denizens of Buckaroo's world, both human and Lectroid. They scoured books and fashion magazines, and staged fashion shows for each other incorporating such disparate elements as bead bonnets, big gloves and combat boots.
As inspiration for the look of the Lectroid masks, Riva cooked some shellfish one weekend and showed up for a sketch session sporting a lobster on his nose. With some modifications, the masks were designed for the greatest possible flexibility and character. "We knew from the beginning we didn't want the characters to be totally camouflaged because we had such fine actors," says Riva. "We wanted their faces to be evident under the masks."
As for the Lectroid dress code, Richter and Riva relied on a book featuring contemporary Russian lifestyles. When costume designer Aggie Guerrard Rodgers came aboard, "She fell right into step with the stuff I was designing for the sets," says Riva. "Colors in my walls had to go with her costumes. We were going with greens and blues and yellows for the Lectroids, who are basically sick and anemic. Yellow is the real continuity of the whole film, linking every character, good or bad. Buckaroo's colors are yellow and red, and yet in his private life he has a lot of pastels."
Rodgers raided Los Angeles area stores for the film's wardrobe. "Buckaroo's clothes are progressive," she says, "a little far out, not at all conservative or wild. He certainly isn't a punk, but he is a rock 'n roll musician. His rock outfit isn't Mick Jagger; he wears a Gianni Versace sports jacket and a Perry Ellis suit and tie. For the press conference he wears a recut Giorgio Armani fabric suit. And for Japanese fashion, besides his kimono, he wears a modern Yogi Yamamoto shirt."
"We tried to have a lot of things work linearly in the film, happen again and again," adds Rodgers. "The surgical outfits are very progressive suits actually used in brain surgery, with plastic face guards and hoses that come out of the back of the hoods. This anticipates the hoses on Buckaroo's race car suit; we mocked those up from g-force suit-hoses from the early fifties, which we dyed and put on the new suit so it would look correct and really far out. We also put hoses on the back of Perfect Tommy's commando outfit. So they aren't unique to one character, but they are to the film."
Rodger wanted everything to look correct for the time and the person. "We also wanted to have something a little off so that there's a kick to everything to make it unique. Rick changed something on every outfit."
"Richter," says Riva, "kept the continuity of visual design, performance, levity and comedy. It's an interesting style, not a cliche style. You throw stuff in there that people will recognize. Everything in the film is designed to pull you somewhere else when you get caught up in something, to always pull you away."
During filming, Riva provided a palette of primary colors, which Richter liked to amplify with smoke. "Smoke is atmospheric," says Richter. "It provides richness and depth, gives primary colors an added zip, it takes light and makes it visible like sunlight hitting a beam of dust."
"The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai" was filmed in various Los Angeles locations whenever possible, moving only at the end of the twelve-week shoot to interiors on several huge MGM soundstages. After all, the real world was at the heart of what the filmmakers were trying to explore.
... AND FILMING IT
The first scene was an apt illustration of how the filmmakers created their special world by modifying our own. The location was in the sweltering San Fernando Valley: the Lakeview Medical Center. Rick Richter directed his first scenes on Monday, July 12: Weller and Goldblum, sporting the latest in surgical chic, bend over their patient. Weller wields a hi-tech medical laser which is actually a ball-point pen recircuited by visual effects supervisor Michael Fink and equipped with a tiny strobe light. Clancy Brown as Rawhide watches from the hospital corridor, checking his portable Sony Watchman, another existing object from our world adapted by Fink so that the tiny TV tube extends out with wires and tubing from a waistband holster. Rawhide communicates with his fellow Hong Kong Cavaliers via go-fone; this clever device was assembled by prop master Erik Nelson with a Swiss Army knife and radio parts.
The Jet Car
The first day successfully completed, the company traveled to the high heat of the dry lakes surrounding Victorville to shoot the Jet Car footage, which takes place in Texas. Fire engines, fuel and water trucks and assorted vehicles were decorated with "Team Banzai" logos; technicians, cast and crew doubled as on-screen technicians and observers.
The Jet Car, an amazing vehicle designed and built by Buckaroo and Perfect Tommy in the Banzai Institute garage out of spare parts, was designed and built by Riva, art director Stephen Dane and Thrust Racing owners Jerry Segal and George Haddebeck. "It's a pick-up truck heavily modified with Indianapolis components, says Richter.
"Buckaroo isn't building new aerodynamics," says Riva. "The envelope of influence on the car is created by the Oscillation Overthruster. So we made it interesting, asymmetrical. And we put a real jet on it." The result, complete with parachute packs and spinning radar screens, was part Tom Swift spaceship and part souped-up hobby car.
For the homemade look to be believable on-screen, Richter wanted to construct a car that worked. The job was handed to Segal, co-owner of Thrust Racing, a man who just happens to build jet cars for fun and profit. Said Segal, who was also the Jet Car's stunt driver, "We took their design and made a functioning vehicle which runs between 150 and 200 mph."
Segal started with a Ford F-350 truck. He reinforced the frame assembly, added a front end from a Grand National stock car, borrowed air scoops from a DC-3 and carved out a one-man cockpit, with full instrumentation, that's a perfect double for the pilot's perch in a Messerschmidt. The pit was taken from a Moody aircraft and the cockpit from a World War II German fighter plane. Under the hood, Segal modified a big Ford engine with an oversized carburator and nitrous-oxide injectors for extra speed. Then he installed the jets.
"The jet engine is massive," says Dane. "It puts out smoke and flame that goes back twenty or thirty feet. That's what it's primarily set up for, but it does develop 3,000-4,000 lbs. of thrust which, in real life, gets the thing going up to around 200 mph."
The Jet Car's interior features a hoola girl, an old picture of Buckaroo's parents, and the Oscillation Overthruster, created by Riva and Fink out of a gyroscope, to which a metal frame, wires, circuits and tiny strobe lights were added.
By Friday of the first week the company was back in the Rocky Oaks Park in the Malibu Mountains, shooting the scenes where two lonely hunters come upon a strange flying object that lodges in a tree -- and then rolls down, disgorging several unlikely passengers. The thermopod was constructed out of an inflated eight-foot weather balloon covered with polyurethane foam, which expands and hardens on contact with the air.
Peter Weller, who has contacted the Cavaliers via go-fone and rescued Professor Hikita, is chased by some nasty-looking aliens, escaping onto the ladder of a low-flying helicopter in the nick of time. Weller, whose father was a helicopter pilot, gamely clambered onto the ladder swinging high in the air, but he preferred the motorcycle riding he and various stuntmen performed with a van in Griffith Park, veering around curves and making screeching halts on cue.
Rock 'n Roll
With the exterior action out of the way for the moment, the company switched gears and encamped for a few days at a downtown warehouse on Sexton Street to film the rock 'n roll sequences taking place at Artie's Artery, a club designed by Riva with multi-colored fluorescent lights and lots of garbage bags. The casting people filled the place with New Wave kids, and Bones Howe provided the rollicking cover version of a fifties tune called "Rocket 88."
Music plays an important part in the "Buckaroo Banzai" mix. Bones Howe, the film's music coordinator and sound designer, worked with synthesizer wizard Michael Boddicker, who wrote and performed the original score, providing the catchy theme and many special sound effects as well. Boddicker, Howe and the filmmakers worked long hours to get the six-track stereo Dolby mix layered and perfected.
Howe was involved in the music from the start of production, selecting the source music for the club scenes where Hong Kong Cavaliers perform. Peter Weller, an accomplished musician in his own right, performed his own guitar, pocket trumpet and vocals, and learned his piano fingering, graciously allowing that "piano isn't my forte." Howe provided a special arrangement of "Since I Fell For You," Buckaroo's plaintive song to Penny Priddy.
Billy Vera of the popular swinging Los Angeles Band "Billy and the Beaters" supplied the early model for the Hong Kong Cavaliers rock band and was recruited to play Pinky Carruthers bass guitarist for the band and Blue Blaze Irregular/gatekeeper of the Banzai Institute. Vera brought along band member Jerry Peterson, who plays and later appears as one of the Rug Suckers, part of Team Banzai's crack combat unit. The other Cavaliers gamely learned how to play-act performing music: Pepe Serna and Clancy Brown started from scratch with sax and piano, while Lewis Smith drew on his experience playing guitar in a high school band.
When the time came to put together the soundtrack, Howe and the filmmakers realized they didn't want a rock music score. "It became obvious," says Howe, "that an electronic score was more appropriate. We needed contemporary music, as well as someone who could integrate music and sound effects so that everything would merge on the soundtrack, with no distinction between music and sound." Director Rick Richter agrees: "We wanted the outrageous visual look -- the colors and sets -- to be supported by the music. Strange synthesized sounds were the perfect counter-point to the humor in a scene. We wanted unique sight...and sound. And we got a beautiful, driving exciting score from Michael Boddicker."
Boddicker was Howe's first choice; they had worked together on the soundtrack "Get Crazy." Howe had experience in film design from having worked with designer Richard Becks on the soundtrack from "One from the Heart," and Boddicker was fresh off a 1983 Grammy Award for his song "Imagination" on the "Flashdance" soundtrack. He composed and performed the music in his extraordinary state-of-the-art recording studio, which is full of all the latest in digital and analog synthesizer equipment. Many of Boddicker's "instruments" are so advanced they aren't yet available on the open market. Besides composing the catchy theme and score for the film, Boddicker provided many weird sound effects, most notably for the arrival of the alien thermopod on Earth. The unearthly sounds of the 8th Dimension were created by Alan Howarth.
The Banzai Institute
The company moved to a relatively sedate Rustic Canyon side street for the exterior of the Banzai Institute, a pair of handsome gates with high walls. Billy Vera, making his film debut as Banzai gate-tender Pinky Carruthers, was also riding a horse for the first time. Robert Ito, actually a muscularly fit man in his prime, rose up as ancient Professor Hikita on his motorcycle. When Carl Lumbly as alien John Parker in Rastafarian guise glided up on a bicycle wearing an outlandish silver outfit and carrying a pink cake box, the neighbors didn't know what to make of this movie.
Team Banzai then moved quarters to the first of many industrial Los Angeles locations: Vernon's own Bethlehem Steel.
This huge plant provided several buildings full of long corridors, bizarre, rusty old machinery and equally unusual lab equipment, much of it in the old-fashioned yet state-of-the-art Japanese/American laboratory the filmmakers created for Professor Hikita, housing alien specimens as well as live alien intruders equipped with deadly flying stingers provided by Tom Burman's makeup studio.
Everyone was happy to leave these moody surroundings for the comparatively upbeat pleasures of the Yellin residence in Rustic Canyon, a charming art deco house designed in 1931 by MGM art director Cedric Gibbons for his wife, Delores Del Rio. This house provided the interior of the Banzai Institute, which is also Buckaroo's home and thus reflects his character.
Riva loved the house for its beauty and roundness. "It's very female in a way," he says. "We were trying to get away from macho image stuff. There's a strength about the house that a man who's confident in himself can feel comfortable with." Riva's people filled the house with Banzai memorabilia and props, including Buckaroo's trusty sharpshooter, computer terminals galore and lots of grapefruit.
Buckaroo's study, filmed on an MGM soundstage, was the scene for John Emdall's message from Planet 10: actress Rosalind Cash, with mini-strobe lights in her hair, a battery pack on her neck, and a weighty dress of chain mail sewn together with monofilament thread, stood in a blue laser cone as she delivered her warning to Buckaroo Banzai, rising up out of a yellow record with an alien vehicle driving around on it: a modified version of a device Riva encountered in a toy-shop.
For the Buckaroo Banzai bus, the filmmakers tracked down a Greyhound SceniCruiser, painted it black, and fashioned bright yellow lettering on the side. The interiors were three separate soundstages at MGM.
World Watch One, Buckaroo's AWACS-style communications center, features a multitude of video screens and monitors. Visual effects coordinator Linda Fleischer simultaneously fed original computer graphics of strange hornet's nest space ships and alphanumerics and video playbacks of Buckaroo's conversations with the President into the monitors.
Riva also had fun with Buckaroo's bedroom, where he hand painted the Japanese characters on the Levolor blinds himself
Dr. Lizardo's World
Some deserted rooms at Brentwood's V.A. hospital provided the setting for one of the most colorful -- and cluttered - environments in the movie, Dr. Lizardo's room at the New Brunswick Home for the Criminally Insane. Described by actor John Lithgow as "a bagwoman's lair," the cell was the product of the art department's inspired insanity. "I burrowed in there like a midtown rat," says Lithgow. Lizardo watches an old Philco TV, rigs up an electromagnetic shock-bracelet for himself, and writes mad equations on walls already covered with demented scribblings. In tribute to Lizardo's Italian background, the room features a spectacular black velvet painting of the Last Supper, as well as a diagram of all the popes, including Edgar Allen Pope.
Lizardo's 1938 laboratory was filmed at another deserted industrial site, Alpha Tubing. "It's very dark, very large, very pre-production New World, the old Thirties industrialization of America," says Riva, who designed the two huge Energy and Industry posters himself. For this one, the set decorators rented the old Strickfadden collection of Thirties electrical props used in the original Boris Karloff Frankenstein movies.
Riva and his team created a cock-eyed wheelchair/bobsled rig on a 300-foot track for Lizardo's high-speed vehicle, using old motorcycle wheels and an ancient caned wheelchair. "Some madman made this thing out of recognizable portions of our world," comments Richter. With the Strickfadden globes, arcs, Tesla coils and high voltage induction coils -- "there isn't one microchip," comments Fink -- the whole thing was electrifying. Fink used a 22-watt laser Model 171 for Professor Hikita's Overthruster beam, "the most powerful laser you can get outside the military," he says. "The beam is green and runs through rings into the wall."
The Lizardo wall penetration was put together from several sequences: a stuntman dove through a paper wall, and then again through a special skirt in a solid wall made of neoprine rubber. Later on, Lithgow was filmed in front of a blue screen, grappling with aliens. All of this was cut together to form the final image, both of Lizardo stuck in the wall and Hikita's point of view looking down the laser into the 8th dimension.
Yoyodyne Propulsions Systems was created out of several of Los Angeles' more spectacular industrial locations. "Yoyodyne is a filthy place," says Richter. "This movie takes a sidelong look at the confusion of 20th Century America. Abandoned factories, all those decaying sunset industries -- we were handed Firestone, Armco Steel, Alpha Tubing by our industrial recession, so ironically we're getting a lot of production value out of the consequences of Japanese competition."
Originally the filmmakers had planned to shoot all the Yoyodyne material at Bethlehem Steel, but had to pull out when the big steel firm upped the cost. So they used several colorful locations "full of lots of large spaces with a lot of set dressing already there," says Richter. "It would be impossible to create all those textures on a soundstage, and it wouldn't be cost-efficient, since these locations already exist."
Riva and his art department plunged into Yoyodyne with a vengeance. "Our job was to create the Lectroid world on planet Earth," he says. "These guys are beings with strange, bizarre habits. They love-food full of sugar and red dyes. They're very dirty; they sleep on the floor. The asymmetrical world of the Lectroids and Yoyodyne is very important to the film because Buckaroo's world is a bit asymmetrical, too."
The first Yoyodyne location was the Firestone Rubber Plant in Southgate. The company donned rubber boots en masse for their encounter with its nether regions. No matter how blistering the sun, within the deep confines of the old rubber plant it was cool and creepy. The filmmakers took full advantage of this filthy world to create the alien environment within Yoyodyne, lighting the large areas with unusual colored flourescent tubing and creating tepid water pools with lights flickering on their murky surfaces.
"We put crew cars under black tarps and rented warhead nosecones from Modern Props. We had TV's going all the time. We're throwing a lot of convention out the window," admits Riva. "It's just like the world: weird. If you look twice you'll see it - there are so many different levels."
Veteran cinematographer Fred Koenekamp was stretched beyond his film experience -- which is considerable. "This picture is very unorthodox," he says. "You can try things when the director is saying, 'Make it as crazy as you can.' Sometimes it goes against your normal instincts, but you know you're going to get something different."
Firestone's flooded corridors provided the setting for Ellen Barkin's torture in "The Pitt." "It's dark, wet and awful," says Riva. "We used black plastic, like something out of a bondage dream." Barkin bravely endured her torture, which included not only being strapped in for long hours, but having real tarantulas and other creepy crawlers placed on her bare arms and legs.
Barkin also had to face the dreaded Snott Monster, a truly depraved creation of Riva and the prop department, modeled out of wax and then molded in latex, with a chassis made up of complicated machinery that actually made the body articulate, including the nasty-looking pincers aimed at Barkin's eyes. The Snotty, it's body coated with real clams, leaves a trail of slime as it tortuously makes its way along a ramp toward Penny Priddy's face.
Firestone left a coating of ancient soot residue on everyone in the company, and Team Banzai found that it was impossible to wash the stuff out of their clothes.
Wilmington's Department of Water and Power was much cleaner. The electrical power plant, several abandoned, was fully functioning and on-line while the company was filming: One wrong move on the right lever and there would have been hell to pay. Needless to say, no set-dresser could have duplicated this interior, which was perfect for Dr. Lizardo's Shock Tower, where the evil madman tortures Buckaroo with the very electrical impulses that would render your ordinary Lectroid ecstatic. A combination liedetector and torture chamber, the Shock Tower was assembled with wires and probes and thousands of tiny strobe lights, all controlled by a computer synchronized with the camera's 24 frames per second. Animators enhanced the little strobes in post-production.
The DWP plant also served as the Yoyodyne exterior, as well as providing a series of underground locations featuring long walls lined with snaking high voltage cables.
The Armco Steel Plant in Torrance housed the magnificent Lectroid launch hanger, "deep in the bowels of Yoyodyne," according to Riva, who claims that this is his favorite set. ("You could put Armco, in the Smithsonian," says Richter. "It's an industrial dinosaur.") The art department took the huge space and utilized a giant pulley device, making it the bottom half of the Lizardo spaceship, the top of which was a matte painting/ model added later. They placed red lighting in the caves along the wall, blew in lots of fog, and crammed the place with Lectroid props and artifacts, including an orange plastic aquacycle, big bean bags and foamed polyurethane environments. They reworked the huge wall that the spaceship would break through (in miniature, later), activated a powerful laser beam and put the huge "spaceship" into motion toward the wall, clanking and groaning.
Riva and Richter decided to go a different route from the usual hi-tech look used in most Hollywood movies for spaceships. "Rick and I kept our eyes open, but it was the nature books that gave us the shell," says Riva. "It was a deep sea oyster shell. looked so streamlined and interesting. We share an interest in nature, and we were both tired of hardware films. We didn't want metal spaceships. So we decided to go with organic materials. It might be preposterous to see this big breathing, organic thing flying through the air, but it was also extremely logical."
The shell-like spaceship models for "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai" were built by Gregory Jein, Inc. and Stetson Visual Concepts. The two companies were given sketches by production illustrator Tom Cranham and seashells to use as guides for the models. Jein and company carved the prototype for the Father Ship out of compressed bead styrofoam, which gave the ship a very rough texture. The finished model was detailed with more styrofoam beads -- the kind used to stuff a bean bag chair. Jein also used silver cake decorations, because they happened to be the right size, and made castings of barnacles and used those to add to the "grown" look of the ship.
Mark Stetson and his crew sculpted two Lizardo ships in the more traditional manner out of clay. The Lizardo ship was very large -- more than three feet across. A second Lizardo ship was built for no other purpose than to crash through a miniature wall. Stetson designed the wall and built it as he might a real one, except that each brick was fashioned individually and put together with a special clay slip. When the ship broke through, the bricks flew apart much as they would have in full scale.
"The ships are very exoskeletal," says Riva, "with hard parts outside and, inside, sinewy flesh-like substances.' For the interiors, Riva worked with polyurethane foam, sculpting it into organic shapes and textures. He shot the polyurethane over chicken wire and plywood rims, textured cloth, burlap, newspaper! tape, and wrappings from automobile tires, and built flourescent light fixtures right into the foam so that they would throw light on the ships' surfaces.
For the scenes within one of the Father Ship tentacles, stuntmen were suspended in a special rig with weights so that they could walk upside down in the ship, carrying Day-Glo noodles. The big Father Ship scene with the chess players and head commander was staged in the vast darkness of an MGM soundstage with high foamed stools arranged in varying perspectives. The scene was uncannily identical to Rivals original sketch, including the blue pools of light.
For the thermopods, Riva was inspired by some large trees. "All these big swollen berries were falling from the trees," he recalls. "We were talking about using organic qualities. The thermopod had to be frightening, and I wanted it to be some winged creature so you'd understand why the hunters fire at it.The other thing is that it had to have a brown ball that would fall out of the tree and roll toward them. So I put the ball in the hands of a big winged thing-that gets wounded and lets it go."
The thermopod built by Greg Jein has been described as a plum with batwings and a flying egg, among other things. He carved the ship of dense urethane foam and coated it with carveable wax. He used a two-part expanding foam to give the egg a gnarled surface and detailed it with such domestic objects as hair curlers.
The interior of the friendly aliens' thermopod was created by modeling a block of soft styrofoam into the shape of a whale's vertebrae, adding molars and teeth. Then the styrofoam was covered with fiberglass and resin to produce a solid surface that wouldn't break. It was placed in a steel frame and the styrofoam was scraped out of the fiberglass, rendering it translucent. Riva rigged orange and yellow and red lights underneath that shone through, and covered it with running liquids. "I wanted to suggest a warm environment," says Riva, "one that would tell you that you couldn't have terrible, awful people inside something warm and nice like that."
The other thermopod interior was that of the little space ship that Buckaroo and John Parker crawl into within the Lizardo Father Ship; Riva again used foam but wanted to suggest, as Parker does, that this thermopod is "of inferior design." Under the influence of malnutrition, the Lectroids built this ship out of parts found on Earth. Riva himself fashioned the Lectroid laser gun in the craft, taking apart and altering a normal gun and giving it an alien mount within the pod.
With any film of a science-fiction nature, special visual effects become all-important. Rather than going to one effects house, the filmmakers decided to go to the best in each field for the work they needed done.
The special effects for "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai" confirm Richter's description of the film's world view, "Nothing is ever what is seems." The huge stratocumulus clouds floating in the skies of New Jersey are made of cotton. The 747-size Lizardo ship flying through them is really only about four feet across. The Father Ship that orbits serenely in space miles above the earth was originally constructed of styrofoam and detailed with cake-decorating beads. Buckaroo never saw the thermopod he piloted because it is only about twelve inches long and had not even been built when he stole it.
Dr. Lizardo never built a spaceship, and the one in his hanger is not a model, but a painting. Before it was added to the scene, all the fiendishly mad scientist had for a ship was a couple of two-by-fours with hoses and wires attached. The strange world of the 8th Dimension is really the tongue of a mouse as seen through a scanning electron microscope. The mountain entered by the Jet Car is the size a child might build in a sandbox. Even the laser in Dr. Banzai's high-tech medical instrument is a tiny strobe like the one used in a disc camera.
So nothing is as it appears to be. Everything is an illusion. For visual effects supervisor Michael Fink and his special effects magicians Dream Quest Images, Peter Kuran and John Scheele, the task is to execute the illusion seamlessly and give it a reality all its own.
It may not be nice to fool Mother Nature, but she will have a hard time deciding which clouds were hers and which ones were synthesized in a studio by Dream Quest Images for "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai." Using homemade clouds for background plate photography is something that had never been done before.
Normally, creating a background image or "plate" of cloudy sky for the onscreen action is a difficult and time-consuming venture because a director, understandably, does not want just any cloud. Searching for exactly the right type of clouds to film can take a camera crew around the world with no guarantee of success. And even if the right clouds roll by, spaceships or airplanes must be combined with the background in a matting process, and it is very difficult to match the lighting in all the elements.
In an attempt to circumvent these problems, Richter was open to the suggestion of synthesized cloud plates. Dream Quest experimented with a couple of ideas, but as any child will tell you, cotton makes the best clouds. So DQ built a stage full of 10- to 12-foot-long banks of fiber fill clouds glued to sheets of heat-shaped plexiqlass. The camera was on a track below the clouds and equipped with a special snorkel lens. The clouds were lit to the specifications of the director, and a move through them was programmed into the motion control camera. The same move and the same lighting were used later when the spaceship was shot. The problem of matching elements was solved. Hoyt Yeatman, who supervised the shooting, said, "When you put the clouds together with the model photography, it really makes a difference. The ship and clouds look like they were shot at the same time."
Dream Quest Images also did all the motion control model photography for "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai." It was much more difficult than the normal bluescreen assignment because of the design of the spaceships, which look like spiny seashells.
According to Keith Shartle, production coordinator at Dream Quest, "The big problem in this production was dealing with models with all those little spindly tentacles. They tend to fall apart in the optical matting process." The problem arises because a high contrast black-and-white film is used to make the matte which inserts the spaceship into the background plate of clouds. The film tends to see everything as black or white. It does not register grays well. However, a moving spaceship blurs through the frame, and a blur in black and white is gray. If the grays drop but, the results can make the spaceships look like strobing light.
Dream Quest solved the problem by using a lower contrast film on an ester base and by shooting a double pass on the bluescreen. The ship was shot with production lighting in front of black velvet. The move was repeated on the same piece of film with the ship silhouetted against the bluescreen. This prevented bluescreen contamination of the model. Translated, that means that the synthesized skies of New Jersey could not be seen through transparent holes in the ship.
Dr. Lizardo, in his attempt to return to his home planet, has secretly built a gigantic, spiky spaceship. With the help of his incomplete Oscillation Overthruster, he hopes to open a hole to the 8th Dimension. When he fails, his ship bursts into the skies above New Jersey instead. Filming the crash through the wall of Yoyodyne Propulsions Systems required five cameras running at speeds of 120 to 240 frames per second, a special model and a very delicate wall. A cart was made to carry the small Lizardo ship on a track towards the wall at a speed of 30 miles per hour. The spines on the front of the ship had to be reinforced with steel rods to prevent them from breaking. Special dump tanks filled with debris were rigged to fire just as the ship broke through. One sunny afternoon everything was set up, the cameras rolled and in less than a third of a second the whole thing was over. Cut and print! There was only one chance because there was only one wall.
Rocco Gioffre, whose matte paintings include the Notre Dame Cathedral in a Dr. Pepper commercial and flowers blooming in "Twilight Zone -- The Movie," is the artist behind the first shots of the infamous Lizardo ship. When the live action scenes were filmed at Armco Steel, Gioffre was there supervising plates for his matte paintings. On the set, in place of the ship, was a hanging two-by-four arrangement with hoses and wires connected to it on top of a huge pulley apparatus. But what appears on the screen is the underside of the enormous Lizardo ship -- complete with actors running in front of it. The actors were put in with the painstaking technique that computers have not been able to supplant: rotoscoping frame-by-frame.
Michael Fink, "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai"'s visual effects supervisor, got into films originally because of his electronics expertise. It is a skill which has served him well. On his last film, "War Games," he designed the world's largest strobe lights for the scenes in the Crystal Palace. These huge strobes were used again on "Buckaroo Banzai" to simulate an explosion in the forest. Specifically for "Buckaroo," Fink designed the world's smallest strobe. Incorporating circuitry made for the strobes in Kodak's Disc cameras, Fink's strobe is small enough to be concealed in the palm of an actor's hand. Each one was synchronized with the movie camera to flash at 24 frames per second. The tiny strobe was used throughout the film to simulate flashes of electricity. The flashes served as guides for the animators who later added electrical sparks to the scenes.
Peter Kuran and his company VCE Inc. photographed the liveaction bluescreen for "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai" and also constructed some of the most interesting composites. In one sequence, Buckaroo breaks into the 8th Dimension in his Jet Car by using his Oscillation Overthruster, and then bursts out of a mountainside back into the real world. Normally, one might expect this shot to involve a model car, but Kuran did not have that luxury.
Instead he took existing footage of the full-scale car speeding across the desert at some 600 miles per hour and combined it with a miniature mountain. To get the correct effect, Kuran had to articulate a car that was only a blur on film and make it look as though it were really a part of the scene.
The most amazing and unusual special effects sequence in the film is Buckaroo's trip through the 8th Dimension. The original conception of this unknown place incorporated laser effects. But at John Sheele's suggestion, tests were done on a scanning electron microscope (SEM). Electron microscope photography is nothing new, but it has never before been possible to record any motion when viewing specimens. Scheele, through his association with Greenlite, was able to connect one of his motion control systems to the microscope. Different specimens were tried, but some that looked promising to the human eye proved totally uninteresting when scanned. others, including mouse tongues and beetles, worked very well.
An SEM (Scanning Electronic Microscope) uses no light. A stream of electrons bombards the specimen and the deflection is recorded on a cathode ray tube. The resulting pictures have a very strange highlighted quality. The microscope does not recognize color, so for "Buckaroo," each frame had to be enchanced with animation. Electrical effects were added along with color.
It takes an SEM 90 seconds to register an image on a single frame of film. In the end, after three months of work, Scheele had shot about a minute and a half of film. Twenty-five seconds of the best footage appears in "Buckaroo Banzai" as the 8th Dimension.
Creating the alien makeup for "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai" posed a unique challenge to prosthetic specialist Tom Burman: volume. Not only did Burman have to produce a hundred masks a day -- Burman's delicate facework always broke apart after a day's use -- but in order to give each alien his own character, every mask had to be individually crafted with enough flexibility to allow the actor to transmit his own range of expressions through the prosthetic features. "This is the most latex we've poured since 'The Thing,'" commented Burman.
To mass produce such individualized face masks, Burman started with a head cast of every actor. From the cast Burman fashioned six overlapping molds which together formed the contours of the entire face. Each day he would inject the molds with latex and cook the rubbery batter in a huge oven. When the artificial features cooled, Burman would prepaint all six sections. When the actor arrived, the only step left was to glue the sections onto the actor's head with silicon adhesive. The separation of the mask into sections and the soft pliable nature of the latex allowed for virtually uninhibited facial movement.
Soft rubber was also the chosen material for the stingers the aliens spit out of their mouths and for their otherworldly hands, which literally fit like gloves over the actors' fingers. The alien teeth were also custom-made from dental impressions and fit over their human counterparts, imparting exceptional individuality and expressiveness to the grotesque features of the inhabitants of Planet 10.
ABOUT THE PLAYERS...
None of PETER WELLER's roles in film or theatre could have prepared him for the strange and exciting world of Buckaroo Banzai Weller laughs as he describes the opening of the film: "In the first five minutes a man performs laser surgery on a young boy's brain, saves him, gets in a helicopter, goes to a desert, drives through a mountain- thus proving Einstein's theory of relative mass -- goes to a bar and plays a knock-down drag-out rock session, and goes to a jail to save a woman's life. Then you get into the plot..."
How does an actor approach the role of a multi-talented man who is an advisor to the President, a dabbler in particle physics, a self-taught jet mechanic and traveller to the 8th Dimension, who spends his nights in a jam-packed New Jersey bar blowing off steam with his rocking house band of faithful myrmidons, the Hong Kong Cavaliers? Weller's answer is nonchalant and precise: "I based my character on Elia Kazan, Jacques Cousteau, Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci and Adam Ant."
"No matter where you go, there you are." - Buckaroo Banzai
Weller, who admits to being a compulsively energetic man, is one of the few actors working today who could pull off such a portrait without becoming unbearable. "Buckaroo's an ordinary guy, after all," he grins. "He just uses his time well." In fact, Weller's own life -- barring a trip to the Eighth Dimension bears some striking similarities to Buckaroo's. Co-owner of the Manhattan restaurant Cafe Centrale, Weller practices Zen meditation, studies the art of Katana (Japanese swordplay), plays his trumpet in New York jazz bars, quotes authors from Socrates to Einstein and, when he's not acting, spends hours in his kitchen whipping up frothy gourmet desserts.
Born in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, Weller grew up in a paradoxical household. His grandmother and mother were piano players, his brother was a musician, and his father was an army helicopter pilot. (Weller performed his own helicopter stunts in "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai.") Travelling with his family from base to base, he received a cosmopolitan education, attending high schools in Heidelberg, Germany and San Antonio, Texas.
Weller's earliest childhood ambition was to become -- like Buckaroo Banzai -- a scientist, but music intervened, and by the time Weller enrolled at North Texas University, he was determined to become a jazz musician. Two years later, when he landed a scholarship at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, he decided to pursue a career as an actor. Still, music remains a strong influence -- so much so that he continues to define acting in terms of jazz: "I never idolized actors or directors. The only idol in my life was Miles Davis. Warren Beatty sees actors as piano players; I see them as jazzmen. Jeff Goldblum (Weller's "Buckaroo" co-star) acts like Mose Allison; he's so bent over and into himself as he sings that you say, 'Is he doing that to put me on?' I hope at my best I'm like John Coltrane."
Weller, like a good jazz musician, has spent long hours training, perfecting his acting "chops." He studied with Uta Hagen and became a member of Lee Strasberg's Actor's Studio, but he reserves his highest praise for the director of the David Rabb play "Streamers." "If I have a 'mentor' in the world of acting," says Weller, "it's Mike Nichols."
Though Weller made his Broadway debut in the role of David in the Tony Award winning production of "Sticks and Bones," his performance as the battle-scarred Vietnam veteran in "Streamers" is "what started to kick my career around," he says. More Broadway appearances followed. He co-starred with Alexis Smith in "Summer Brave" and played featured roles in "Picnic" and Otto Preminger's production of "Full Circle."
Weller continued to earn critical raves for his theatre work. The New York Times' Frank Rich praised his work in the Circle Repertory's production of "The Woolgatherer," calling it a "relentlessly volatile, scary, magnetic performance." Weller also received strong notices in such plays as David Mamet's "The Woods," The New York Shakespeare Festival's "Macbeth" and the Hartman Theatre Production of "A Streetcar Named Desire." Moving to television, he quest-starred for CBS in "Nazi" with Ed Asner and for NBC in "The Silence." He also starred in the PBS production of Eugene O'Neill's "Mourning Becomes Electra."
Weller made his movie debut as LeFors in "Butch and Sundance: The Early Years." He played Ali McGraw's callow writer-husband in "Just Tell Me What You Want" and Diane Keaton's young lover in "Shoot the Moon," directed by Alan Parker.
Peter Weller's challenge in playing the character of Buckaroo Banzai was to bring a sense of realism to such a flamboyant role. It helped that Weller was both a musician and a natural athlete. "I really sing and play the trumpet and guitar, and I do all the stunts but one," says Weller.
To prepare Weller to play Buckaroo the scientific genius, one of America's leading neurosurgeons served as a consultant, but the actor's preparation process was more mysterious than imitating "experts." Taking a cue from the oriental aspect of Buckaroo Banzai's character, Weller instinctively tried to "become" the role. "Three months before the production," says Weller, "I started to assimilate the realities of it by osmosis." Reading the script over and over, the character "slowly became more personal to me. I began to close the gap between my experiences and the unreality of the role."
If Buckaroo Banzai is a master of western science, he is also something of a Zen master, bring a meditative calm to the hurlyburly around him. His paradoxical aphrorisms, uttered with impish enthusiasm, balance his deductive powers with an oriental sense of life's ambiguous, shifting realities. Says Weller: "He (Buckaroo Banzai) lives in the West, but much of his guiding philosophy comes from the East." Buckaroo's internal contradictions are worn on his sleeve -- or his Italian suits. "When it comes time for Buckaroo to fight," says Weller, he straps on a Colt .45. "Now isn't that great? You know, on top of an expensive, handmade suit, he puts on an old 5 1/2"-barrel six-shooter. Now there's some real soul in a choice like that."
There's no doubt that Buckaroo Banzai is one of the most flamboyantly talented heroes to appear on the screen in recent years. But Weller and director Rick Richter tried very hard to play the character as a regular Joe. Buckaroo is not superhuman; he just works (and plays) very hard. "For Buckaroo," says Weller, "there aren't enough hours in the day." When Buckaroo takes time out to jam with the Hong Kong Cavaliers, "it's like Einstein playing his piano," says Weller. "In every waking moment there must be a purpose -- life is too short to waste time resting.' As Buckaroo Banzai himself says, "The only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen at once."
If Buckaroo has an Achilles heel, it is his love life. Scarred by the violent deaths of those closest to him -- his parents were killed in a scientific accident and his wife, Peggy, was murdered by his arch enemy, Hanoi Xan -- Buckaroo is "resistant to romance out of fear." Under Buckaroo's flamboyant, cheery exterior, "There is a sadness over love lost and the absence of romance in his life," sighs Weller. It doesn't prevent him from cracking jokes, playing his guitar or saving the world, but it provides a tragic dimension to his character. It makes him more human.
"Buckaroo is not a superhero," emphasizes Weller. "He does not possess qualities that are above the possibilities of any human being walking on the planet today. A hero is something that's present in all of us. We're all potential heroes. Buckaroo's objective is to turn everybody on to that part of themselves. The case in point is da Vinci. You know how could da Vinci be an artist, a scientist, an economist all those things in one lifetime? Well, he used his time well and he had a fascination with what the purpose of the planet was. That's Buckaroo..."
After completing "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai," Weller returned to stage, starring off-Broadway in Lanford Wilson's "Serenading Louis." Most recently, he starred in Michael Apted's "First Born."
Mad scientists have been a fixture in fantasy films since the days of German Expressionism, and it is hard at this late date to imagine anyone breathing new life into that time-honored role. But the mad scientist in "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai" is a little different. For one thing, screenwriter Earl Mac Rauch has devised a reality wilder than any hallucination for the character of Dr. Emilio Lizardo: an eccentric Italian physicist possessed by the mind-of an evil alien named John Whorfin whose mission on Earth is to learn the secret of Buckaroo Banzai's Overthruster, so that he can return to his home world via the 8th Dimension. Equally important, the character is played by JOHN LITHGOW.
Of course Lithgow is experienced at playing people with a dual nature: his performance as Roberta Muldoon, the gentle transsexual tight-end in "The World According to Garp," earned him an Oscar nomination. Nor is this his first foray into the world of madness: last summer he did a memorable turn as the hysterical acrophobe in "Twilight Zone -- The Movie." A renowned stage actor with a growing list of screen credits, Lithgow brings an emotional intensity to his offbeat roles that has made him one of the most sought-after character actors in Hollywood.
The 6'4" actor was born 38 years ago in Rochester, N.Y., the son of a theatre producer and a retired actress. Lithgow spent most of his childhood in Ohio, where his father founded a touring Shakespeare Festival. This theatrical heritage led the young Lithgow to an early stage debut at age six, when he appeared in his father's production of "Henry VI, Part 3," which starred Ellis Rabb.
Throughout high school, Lithgow added to his acting credentials, though his career ambition was to become a graphic artist. When he was awarded a scholarship to Harvard, he helped pay his way by selling his own woodblock Christmas cards. By the time he graduated, however, his desire to act had once more assumed center stage. He used a Fulbright Scholarship to finance his post-graduate work at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts, and when he returned to the United States at the age of 22, he directed his first play for his father's company.
After two years of struggling in bit parts in New York City, Lithgow landed his first big role in the Broadway production of David Storey's "The Changing Room." Recognition was quick to follow -- Lithgow won a Tony for his performance.
Married to schoolteacher Jean Tayton and the father of a son, Ian, Lithgow continued to pile up consistently fine notices for his theatre work in such Broadway productions as "My Fat Friend," "The Comedians," "A Memory of Two Mondays," "Secret Service," "Anna Christie" (with Liv Ullman), "Once in a LifeTime," "Spokesong" and Steven Tesich's "Division Street." There were also off-Broadway bows in the New York Shakespeare Festival Productions of "Hamlet," "Trelawney of the Wells" and "Salt Lake City Skyline."
He continued to direct as well, guiding productions in such important venues as New Haven's Long Wharf Theatre, the Phoenix, Princeton's McCarter Theatre and the Baltimore Center Stage.
Lithgow made his film debut in Brian DePalmals "Obsession," which led to small roles in "All That Jazz," "The Big Fix" and "Blow Out," where he gave a chilling portrayal of a "dirty tricks" operative who goes round the bend and becomes an icepick killer. More recently, he was nominated for an Academy Award for his roles as a mild-mannered Midwestern banker in "Terms of Endearment" and a brooding fundamentalist minister in "Footloose."
On television he appeared on the live broadcast of "The Oldest Living Graduate" with Henry Fonda. He starred opposite Sally Kellerman in the PBS Production of Dorothy Parker's "Big Blonde" and played the father in "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" for Shelley Duvall's "Faerie Tale Theatre."
Still, the performance that continues to draw the most praise for the talented actor is Lithgow's touching portrayal of Roberta Muldoon in "Garp." "I found it an effortless role to play," says Lithgow. "My sister said of all the film roles I'd ever played, it was the most like me. And it was. I didn't want people to be aware of me acting at all. I just wanted to be normal."
Normal is not the word for Dr. Emilio Lizardo. "Roberta Muldoon," says Lithgow, "is straightforward and sane. Lizardo is wildly insane. The closest to this was 'The Twilight Zone' where I spent days staring out a window when there was nothing there. Playing Lizardo felt like playing the madman in 'The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari'."
Like the other performers in "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai," Lithgow was helped into his character by the meticulous detail work of the costumers and art directors under the supervisory eye of director Rick Richter. For Lizardo's voice, Lithgow recalls, "I spent some time with an Italian tailor at MGM and recorded his accent." And for the look of the demented professor, Lithgow collaborated with makeup man Tom Burman. III wear two upper and lower teeth -- old and hideous," says Lithgow. "I cannot tell you how different that makes you feel. It makes you act and move differently, trying to talk through these clumpy great choppers. I walk like an old crab, and because my alien metabolism is supposed to be messed up, I wear three layers of clothing all the time -- I was hot!" To convey the sense of wild disarray about the character, production designer Michael Riva conceived of a set that "looked like a bagwoman's lair; I burrowed in there-like some midtown rat."
Lithgow says he enjoyed himself enormously on "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai" because he played two characters in one - "both totally deranged. When Lizardo is in his room at the insane asylum, he tips the guy with lire," the actor laughs. "For better or for worse Rick Richter and I have the same sense of humor."
The character of Lizardo also allowed Lithgow to pull out all the stops -- an opportunity he relishes, and a talent which is universally recognized by his collaborators. "Steven Spielberg (Lithgow's producer on "Twilight Zone -- The Movie") paid me a wonderful compliment. He said, 'Lithgow is an actor who can go over the top and still be right.' I'm an exuberant actor, an excessive actor. It's a tendency of mine I have to watch like a hawk. My motto is, if it's worth doing, it's worth overdoing."
While digging deeply for his emotions, Lithgow is still able to shape and articulate his performances so finely that they can be savored over and over again. Acting, he says, is like "putting wild horses into a chariot race and getting through the race. You have to marshall your emotions. It's very volatile stuff." This happy mixture of passion and control permits him to maintain a surprisingly workmanlike attitude toward his profession. He calls himself a "working stiff" who, at the end of each day, likes to leave his roles at the "office." "I feel that what I do is put on masks," he explains, "which makes the break between life and art a bit cleaner."
Unmasked and off the set, Lithgow is a dedicated family man. Divorced from his first wife at age thirty, Lithgow met his second wife, UCLA History professor Mary Yeager, four years ago on a blind date. "I fell in love instantly," he rhapsodizes. After a brief cross-continental romance -- Lithgow was an ardent New Yorker -- they were married in 1981, and when Mary received a tenured appointment at UCLA, John moved to Los Angeles. They were married in December of 1981. They share a Beverly Hills apartment with their two-year-old daughter Phoebe, nine-month-old Nathan, and twelve-year-old Ian, who visits frequently from New York.
Lithgow continues to be a triple-threat, moving easily from theatre to features to television. After costarring with Richard Dreyfuss in the Long Wharf Theatre revival of "Requiem for a Heavyweight," he returned to Hollywood to play a scientist in "2010: Odyssey Two," Peter Hyams' sequel to the classic '12001: A Space Odyssey," and starred with Margot Kidder and James Garner in HBO's film adaptation of Joseph Wambaugh's novel about Hollywood, "The Glitter Dome." Most recently, he appeared in Michael Laughlin's independent feature "Mesmerized," in which he starred with Jodie Foster.
ELLEN BARKIN plays Penny Priddy, a mysterious young woman who enters Buckaroo's life with a bang.
A New York-based actress, Barkin made an impressive film debut in Barry Levinson's "Diner." She has continued to elicit praise in her recent roles as Robert Duvall's daughter in "Tender Mercies!" a television reporter in "Eddie and the Cruisers," Timothy Hutton's wife in Sidney Lumet's "Daniel" and Robbie Benson's pregnant girlfriend in "Harry and Son."
A lifelong New Yorker, Barkin was born in the South Bronx, the daughter of a chemical salesman and a hospital administrator, and later moved with her family to Kew Gardens Hills in Queens. Barkin attended New York's famed High School of Performing Arts, but it wasn't really her idea. "I never woke up one day and said, 'I'm going to be an actress,'" she recalls. "They care around and asked who was auditioning for Performing Arts. I said I was and just did it."
The incident is typical of how atypical Barkin's career has been. Her recollections of Performing Arts High are anything but rosy. "It has nothing to do with talent," she explains. "if you're not pretty enough they say, 'Get out, you shouldn't be in this business, it's going to be too hard for you.'"
Following Performing Arts, Barkin spent a half-day at college before deciding it wasn't what she wanted. ("When you're from a Jewish middle-class family," she says, "you don't not go to college.") Instead, she worked at a variety of jobs -- waitress, receptionist, secretary -- and took acting courses at night. Finally she enrolled at Hunter College, studying English and history as well as theatre, though "I never took any of my recquirements, like science."
She can now boast of a string of popular and critical successes (New Yorker critic Pauline Kael has likened Barkin's dramatic skills to those of Marlon Brando), but Barkin was initially reluctant to audition for any parts in New York. "I wasn't ready yet," she insists. "So I studied acting privately with Marcia Haufrecht for three more years after leaving Hunter." During that period, she frequented New York's off-Broadway theatres, regularly scanning the listings for open calls, but never tried out for any roles until, as a member of the now-legendary Ensemble Studio Theatre, she was "discovered" by a director seated next to her in the audience one evening.
Since then, Barkin's star has risen steadily, revealing an actress of extraordinary range and intense personal commitment. In addition to her film roles, Barkin has made strong contributions to television, appearing in "Murder, Ink," "We're Fighting Back" and "Kent State." On Broadway she played opposite Susan Sarandon in the original production of "Extremities."
Barkin has earned a reputation as an artist capable of taking on a variety of roles and investing each with a rare authenticity. Barry Levinson, who directed her in "Diner," speaks enthusiastically of her "indescribable" gift. "She can give all kinds of unexpected shadings to a line, convey strength and weakness simultaneously." Similarly, Sidney Lumet notes Barkin's "incredible ability to seem tough and vulnerable at the same time. You don't have to coax it from her," he says. "It's just there as soon as the cameras roll -- open and injured, and yet proud. It's a singular ability." Or, as Levinson puts it, "It's what makes some actors special."
Distinguished directors like Levinson and Lumet aren't the only ones who have noticed something special about Ellen Barkin. Reviewing the highly regarded Bruce Beresford film, "Tender Mercies," Pauline Kael described Barkin's scenes as the "high points of the movie," noting that she "has something rare in a young actress: power." For her part as Robert Duvall's daughter in that film, Barkin spent two weeks on the road, getting a feel for her character's background, her attitude, her emotions. "I talked to every girl in Texas I could meet," she remembers. "I had about ten young girls record their voices for me so I could choose between their accents. I went out every night with a girl I thought might have gone to school where my character went to school."
Preparing for her role as Penny Priddy entailed a somewhat different approach for Barkin. No amount of travel or research, after all, could help her familiarize herself with the world of Buckaroo Banzai. "It's a down-to-earth space fantasy," she explains. "It's as if Terry Southern had written 'Star Wars.' None of the characters are quite what they should be -- just my kind of thing." Penny, says Barkin, finds herself "plopped down in the middle of this thing. She's just got to run with the ball and figure it out while she's doing it. So I had to stick myself in the middle of this atmosphere and see what's going on -- which is just what Penny does."
For Barkin, playing her part means more than simply learning her lines. In "Buckaroo Banzai," she decided not only what sort of clothes Penny would wear, but how Penny's personality could help weave together a variety of plot elements. Barkin was also willing to do something as an actress that ordinarily a stunt double would be asked to do: submit to crawly-creatures on bare flesh. "I despise bugs more than anything in the world," admits Barkin. "I'll do almost anything, but I said no to the bugs. So the day came and I'm lying there all tied up with barely any clothes on, and at that point I've been there all day long, so what else can happen? Put a tarantula on me, who cares? So I did it, and afterwards they asked me to do the ants. Then I said no."
Having played such diverse roles as a psychopathic murderer, a serious professional woman and a proud but frustrated wife, Barkin is determined to avoid being typecast. "I think it would be a mistake to sit at home and say, 'Oh, I have to be really careful. I can only play leads now that I've played a lead. I can only be beautiful now that I've been beautiful. I can only be sexy now that I've been sexy.' The point," she says with a self-mocking smile, "is to get people to stop asking 'Who's Ellen Barkin?' before they start saying 'Get me an Ellen Barkin type -- but younger.'"
Director W. D. Richter never had anyone but CHRISTOPHER LLOYD in mind for the role of John Bigboote, the villainous head of operations for Yoyodyne Propulsion Systems.
Until recently, Lloyd was best known to audiences for his Emmy-winning role as Reverend Jim in the comedy series "Taxi" Ila living example," he says, "of the failure of the sixties." But a little over a year ago, he traded in his checker cab for a space ship, so he could play two of the most warped hell-hounds this side of the Crab Nebula. In "Star Trek III: The Search for Spock," he gave a critically acclaimed performance as Commander Kluge, the bloodthirsty Klingon warrior in search of Federation prey, a role which required Lloyd to speak "Klingonese" and hide his gentle features behind a wonderfully malevolent mask. In "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai" he undergoes a similar transformation. While masquerading as a human being, the character of John Bigboote looks exactly like Christopher Lloyd. But when his evil, alien nature is exposed, Bigboote's face turns hideous and poisonous stingers start shooting from his mouth.
Playing Bigboote, Lloyd discovered that makeup can actually be a psychological spur to understanding a character. "It was confining," he says of the tight-fitting face mask he wears in "Buckaroo Banzai," "but it really worked. It fit and moved with my face and molded my personality."
Like many members of the cast, Lloyd also derived inspiration for his character from the detailed world created by production designer Michael Riva. "I've never seen anything like it," he says. 'Buckaroo Banzai' is just so bizarre -- the locations, the characters, the conditions, the story's unusualness. 'Star Trek III' was more familiar; it had an established format, theme and set of characters. It was all done in a controlled environment on a studio lot. 'Buckaroo Banzai' was filmed on location in abandoned factories."
Difficult as it is to draw on personal experiences for the role of an evil alien from Planet 10, Lloyd manages to impart a recognizable psychology to Bigboote ("It's pronounced Bigboo-tay! ") , the- dissatisfied subordinate. He makes it almost possible to sympathize with this reluctant invader who, suspecting that his erstwhile leader John Whorfin is stark staring mad, would prefer to pass up returning to Planet 10 in favor of a cushy life as a New Jersey defense contractor.
Working with equal adeptness in theatre, film and television, Lloyd is the ideal character actor, someone who can be villain or straight man, dramatic lead or comic foil. His feature career includes three films with Jack Nicholson -- "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," "Goin' South" and "The Postman Always Rings Twice"; "Butch and Sundance: The Early Years" (with Peter Weller); "The Onion Field"; "Mr. Mom" and "To Be Or Not To Be." An accomplished stage actor, Lloyd appeared opposite Meryl Streep in the Yale Repertory productions of "The Possessed" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and starred with Streep again on Broadway in "Happy End." Off-Broadway, he appeared opposite Christopher Walken in the New York Shakespeare Festival production of "Macbeth.'
JEFF GOLDBLUM plays Dr. Sidney Zwibel, whom the Cavaliers nickname New Jersey. An old medical colleague of Buckaroo Banzai, New Jersey joins forces with the Cavaliers just in time to become a part of their latest adventure. "It's simple," says Goldblum. "I play a brain-surgeon-turned-cowboy-adventurer."
Ever since his role as the mysterious motorcycle-riding magician in Robert Altman's "Nashville," Jeff Goldblum has made a career out of mixing the dignified with the bizarre. In "Annie Hall" he played the earnest meditator who has to phone his guru because he forgot his mantra. In "Between the Lines" he was an idealistic rock critic forced to sell his free promotional albums to make a living. As a NASA recruiter in "The Right Stuff," Goldblum succumbs to seasickness in front of an array of the Navy's finest test pilots. For years, these memorable comic cameos made Goldblum something of a walk-on legend. Then he landed a major role in "The Big Chill," portraying a radical journalist turned writer for People Magazine, and his stardom was assured. Says Lawrence Kasdan, Goldblum's director in "The Big Chill": "I'm a big fan of his. I think he really possesses comic genius."
Born in 1952, in an upper middle class suburb of Pittsburgh, Goldblum entered show business early. From a fifth-grade run in a Gilbert and Sullivan spoof, he graduated to a parlor piano act with his younger sister Pam, who is now an artist living in Paris. Their favorite performance tune was "If You Knew Susie"; Jeff played with his hands, Pam with her nose.
"By the time I got to high school," says Goldblum, "I was obsessed, baying at the moon, praying that I had a future. I told somebody early on that I wanted to be an actor, and they said, 'You?' That was embarrassing. So it became a secret."
Goldblum took his acting aspirations underground -- back to home performances with his sister -- concentrating, this time, on developing his dramatic skills. "Lots of dark dramas," says Goldblum with a nostalgic laugh. "Things like 'A Requiem for Sam and Joe.'"
Goldblum's mother -- the host of her own radio talk show - and internist father did not push him into show business, but they encouraged his enthusiasm. When Carnegie-Mellon turned him down for its drama school, Goldblum's parents found him an apartment in New York City and paid for his apprenticeship at Sanford Meisner's neighborhood playhouse. "They put a lot of stock in a college degree, but they were sympathetic. 'New York? Really?' But when I said I was serious, they said, 'Fine.'"
A year later someone called the Neighborhood Playhouse to ask for a tall man to play a guard in Joe Papp's Central Park production of "Two Gentlemen of Verona." The playhouse sent Jeff Goldblum.
"I didn't know what the Public Theatre was, or who Joe Papp was. When I got there the show was already rehearsing. They told me, 'The director's in there -- shake his hand, say hello.' So I did. 'Mel Shapiro? How are you? Jeff Goldblum.'"
When the show traveled to Broadway, Goldblum tagged along. A few months later, he landed the part of the manic piano player in "El Grande de Coca Cola," which Robert Altman just happened to see one snowy night in 1973. "Altman came to get out of a blizzard, liked the show and said, 'How would you like to come to California and make "California Split"? I'm making "Nashville," too..."
Goldblum was sufficiently impressed by his movie experience on "California Split" to pack up and move to Los Angeles. Thereafter his life took on a storybook quality. Cast in the Wallace Shawn play, "Our Late Night," Goldblum fell in love with the woman who played his wife, Patricia Gaul. "Three weeks later we move in together," recalls Goldblum. "Five years later we get married."
More movie roles followed: the agitated dime-store manager in "Remember My Name," the disco owner in in "Thank God It's Friday" and an evangelical lab technician who designs an artificial heart in "Threshold." On television he played Ichabod Crane in "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and was cast as the star in the short-lived comedy TV series "Ten Speed and Brownshoe."
Goldblum first met then-screenwriter Rick Richter while playing the paranoid poet and mud-bath proprietor in "Invasion of the Body Snatchers." The memory of that collaboration stayed in the minds of both men as the pre-production pieces of "Buckaroo Banzai" started to fall into place. Director Richter was determined to get Goldblum for the role of New Jersey, and Goldblum was only too happy to accept the invitation.
"When I heard that Richter was directing for the first
time, I was terribly attracted to the project because I admired
his writing so much and enjoyed working with him. Also the cast
attracted me to the movie. I'm a big fan of Ellen Barkin, Peter
Weller and Christopher Lloyd. Also John Lithgow, who I thought
was great in "Twilight Zone."
The role of New Jersey had a special appeal to an actor so fond of comic contradictions. "There was a sense of adventure about New Jersey, and the wonderful switch in the character from a life that is so detailed and concentrated -- a brain surgeon - to this cowboy adventurer." Goldblum was encouraged by director Richter from the early stages of this project, he says, "to bring more to the character then was in the script," to make New Jersey a quintessential Goldblum character.
Goldblum recently warned an interviewer that as New Jersey, "What I do is not sidekicking" -- a hard injunction to accept when New Jersey, ne Zweibel, with his chaps, bright red shirt and Hoot Gibson hat, is the visual epitome of the "comic sidekick." But the remark may prove prophetic with respect to his career. After "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai" Goldblum went on to star as Ernie Kovacs in Lamont Johnson's television docudrama "Between the Laughs," and he is currently before the cameras in John Landis' "Into the Night," in which he co-stars withMichelle Pfeiffer.
"Jewish can be highly exciting, sexy, romantic," Goldblum tells another interviewer: "Warriors, adventurers, heroes. Maybe I'll get to do Cohen the Barbarian." With a dead-pan, almost sober expression, he walks imperiously out of the room, leaving his audience laughing, as usual.
LEWIS SMITH plays Perfect Tommy, the Hong Kong Cavaliers' lead guitarist and genius jet mechanic. The most fashion conscious of the Cavaliers and something of a lady-killer, Perfect Tommy changes his hair color as often as his clothes.
Playing a rockin' scientist/adventurer in "The Adventures of "Buckaroo Banzai" must have seemed more than a little to Lewis Smith, who grew up in the backwoods of Tennessee and only within the last five years began considering an acting career.
Smith was born 27 years ago in Chattanooga. His only brush with performing came as a guitarist in a high school rock band, a stint which served him well for his role in "Buckaroo Banzai." Says Smith, "We played sock hops every Friday and Saturday night in the local gymnasium."
After a year of college, Smith dropped out to work for his father in the restaurant/hotel management business. "I went down to Daytona Beach. I was managing a hotel and I had everything I wanted: money, a pool, a future ... But I just dropped everything and came here."
When Smith arrived in Hollywood four years ago, he knew that he wanted to be an actor but had no idea how to become one. The first step, he felt, was to find an acting teacher. "I just looked in the Yellow Pages under 'Acting' and it said, 'See Drama.' There was one box -- Lee Strasberg's -- and it said Paul Newman and Shelley Winters had studied with him, so I thought, 'Well that's referrable.'"
Not knowing any better, Smith simply appeared at Strasberg's studio and signed up for a course. Smith's ingenuous nonchalance fooled the receptionist into thinking that he was a personal friend of Strasberg's.
"When I showed up for the first class, Lee Grant was speaking and Shelley Winters was there; I said, 'I've made a mistake.'"
Initially Strasberg felt the same way. He spotted Smith immediately as an uninvited newcomer. But after talking to Smith for an hour after the first session, Strasberg decided to accept him into his class.
"Six months later he told me why. He said that the reason was that I had no preconceptions of what acting was. It was like picking up a block and sculpting it. He found that fascinating. So that was my first teacher."
Smith was equally fortunate in his first working associations. In his movie debut, the low-budget horror film "The Final Terror," he co-starred with two of Hollywood's most stunning sirens, Rachel Ward and Daryl Hannah, who were also just breaking into the business. Subsequently, Smith appeared in "I Ought To Be In Pictures," "Three Blind Mice" and Walter Hill's "Southern Comfort." on television he appeared in the NBC pilot "Lone Star" and the television film "Kentucky Woman" (with Peter Weller). Smith has also acted in a great many theatre productions including "Billy Liar," "The Rose Tattoo" and "When You Comin' Back, Red Ryder?"
Initially Smith was reluctant to take the part of Perfect Tommy, but a persuasive Rick Richter convinced him to do the role. Once he signed on, Smith underwent a radical transformation at the hands of Richter and company. Whereas Lee Strasberg had sculpted him into a method actor, Richter and his makeup crew tooled and dyed the naturally dark-haired Smith into his role as the Cavalier's blond heart-throb, Perfect Tommy.
"The first time we did my hair, it was the ugliest thing you've ever seen. It took eight hours in a beauty shop ... plastic bags on my hair ... curlers and all kinds of embarrassing things. I saw my hair go from red to orange to fluorescent yellow and then finally white. Then they bleached the eyebrows completely white. I looked in the mirror and I looked like an albino. For four days I just wore baseball caps and sunglasses. I was mortified."
Smith soon got used to his New Wave look, but began to avoid Melrose Avenue, where he was pursued by autograph hounds who mistook him for punkster musician Billy Idol. Smith's father was not so impressed by his son's new look, however. "When I went up to the hotel to greet him, he answered the door, took one look at me and said, 'Damn, that's the ugliest thing I've ever seen.' He was glad when I got my own hair back."
In "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai," the look of the film was especially important to director Rick Richter in determining the character of his actors. Drastic hairdos were one part of the transformation process; Richter also consciously used props and sets to put his actors in a certain frame of mind. Smith, although trained in the internal dialogue of The Method, soon took to the idea of defining his role through his environment.
"There is one scene -- in the labyrinth -- where the script says, 'Perfect Tommy and his group walk through and an alien falls out of the ceiling and attacks him.' That was it. I only had two lines. But when I walked onto the set, I saw this amazing creation of art director Michael Riva's: from that set we made up a whole scene with dialogue."
Lewis Smith appears to be making a career out of expecting the unexpected. His aim, in "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai" as well as his other projects, is to surprise his audience by confounding their expectations. Upsetting stereotypes is what attracted him to the role of Perfect Tommy.
"I want the audience to feel that things are not always what they seem. It's the underlying qualities that are important. You better take another look and don't judge things too quickly. That's the example of Perfect Tommy: he's not at all what he seems."
PEPE SERNA plays Reno, the multi-lingual sax man for the Hong Kong Cavaliers. A recent refugee from a prestigious think tank, Reno is the spiritual guide of the Cavaliers as well as their official chronicler: he writes all the Buckaroo Banzai books.
As far back as he can remember, Pepe Serna has wanted to be an actor. Born in Corpus Christi, Texas, Serna grew up watching friends and neighbors dance and sing old show tunes on his godfather's stage, a backyard boxing ring. When he was six, Serna started acting regularly in his neighbor's home movies and made up his mind to become an actor.
In 1965, after a brief stint in the Marine Reserves, he journeyed to Mexico, where he worked in theatre and as a movie extra at the Churrubusco studios. He arrived in Los Angeles in 1969 and joined the Synergy Trust, an improvisational group. Serna's first film role, in "Red Sky at Morning," landed him a seven-year contract at Universal. A veteran of over 24 features, he has appeared in "The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez," "Vice Squad," "Inside Moves," "The Jerk," "The Day of the Locust," "Johnny Got His Gun" and "Car Wash."
Most recently, audiences have seen Serna in the television mini-series "Sadat," in which he co-starred with Lou Gossett, Jr., as the Egyptian President's brother. He played a gold-running go-between in "Deal of the Century" and met a spectacular, if somewhat bloody, end in "Scarface." He also stars in the upcoming movie "Fandango." His other TV credits include "White Water Rebels," "300 Miles for Stephanie," "Sequin" and numerous series guest star appearances. Serna was in the original cast of the successful stage play "Zoot Suit."
As an actor Serna combines an instinctive, natural quality with a self-taught discipline. "When I was growing up, I spent hours in front of the mirror learning how to move the muscles in my face, so when I started doing improvisation classes, I had already done a lot of the exercises as a kid. I wanted to do the kind of acting that is like a real person talking. Then when I got into the improvisational group in L.A., there was a lot of one-upsmanship -- let's see who's going to be the funniest guy. But I wanted the purest form of improvisation, which is not trying to go for the laugh, but letting the laugh come from reality, from the moment, from life."
In "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai," the character Reno is well suited to Serna's acting approach. Reno is intelligent, but relaxed and soulful. He's an easy-going egghead. "Reno is the most laid back," says Serna. "Any time anybody starts trying to make too much of something, I try to calm 'em down."
Serna's experience in improvisation came in handy working within the outrageous "Buckaroo Banzai" world, because the role of Reno was relatively undefined at the start of production. "I always try to give a realistic quality," he says. "This movie is so fantastic because all these characters are out there -- each one of them -- but it is an ensemble, so we could feed off each other, and what matters is that these guys are great friends having a good time together. And Reno -- he's a guy that ran a think tank, one of the smartest guys around, so I went with the opposite of that. I went with his spiritual quality, which is in me, too: nothing can ever go wrong. If anything goes wrong, if I have a flat tire on the way to work and I'm late, it's flat. If I have no jack, I'll hitchhike. Take it easy. You're going to get there."
Or as Buckaroo Banzai says, "No matter where you go, there are."
Serna is married to the former Diane Paton; they live in a Mexican hacienda in the Los Angeles suburbs.
CLANCY BROWN plays Rawhide, the Cavaliers' ace biologist and rollicking piano player. Buckaroo's oldest friend and trusted right-hand man, Rawhide is quiet and serious, a steadying influence for the group.
At 24, Clancy Brown is the youngest member of "Buckaroo Banzai's" youthful ensemble. Brown was born and raised in Urbana, Ohio. After four years of prep school in Washington, D.C., he headed for the infamous actor's school at Chicago's Northwestern University. Though Brown fully intended to pursue an acting career, his education was funded by a track scholarship, and a sympathetic track coach.
During four years of college, says Brown, "I think I must have picked up the discus maybe four or five times. The track coach called me and said, 'Look, you're a better actor that you are an athlete; just do that and leave me alone.' So I left him alone."
The time not spent in the discus pit was valuably spent hitting the boards of Northwestern's theatre, where Brown appeared in over ten productions, including "The Misanthrope" and "A Streetcar Named Desire." After college, he continued to work in the theatre, piling up a string of credits in plays that ranged from Shakespeare to Sam Shepard. His first movie credit was a big one: he was cast opposite Sean Penn in Rick Rosenthal's "Bad Boys."
Working with Penn was an exciting and provocative apprenticeship for Brown, who still feels that "Sean is the best actor I've ever worked with. He was a rare kind of actor, a stimulus-response type. He would do whatever was necessary to get the proper response out of You." Working on "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai" was a different and very enjoyable experience for Brown. The emphasis was more on the ensemble, not the individual actor. Off-camera, the atmosphere was jovial and easy-going, which helped to create a sense of the Cavaliers' on-screen camaraderie.
To play the soft-spoken Rawhide in the film, Brown's challenge was to underplay the character with enough assurance to be a major presence. "It's never quite clear what he does," says Brown. "He's been with Buckaroo the longest. He understands Buckaroo as a person better than anyone else, and just sort of coordinates everything. He lets Buckaroo take the limelight because he deserves it, then he takes care of all the little stuff that Buckaroo forgets to think about.
"Rawhide's a smart guy, but mostly he is very commonsensical. He's the everyman of the film." In many ways he is the key to audience sympathy, because viewers can identify with him. Says Brown, "I want audiences to see the character and say, well, yeah, that could be me and there's no reason why I couldn't be with this phenomenal group of people."
Brown's idea of "Buckaroo Banzai" is closely connected with the character of Rawhide and his sense of quiet, steady success. "When the audience leaves the theatre, I want to them to think that anything is possible. All the physics has been hypothesized, so why couldn't it happen? Maybe you can go through solid matter.
Clancy Brown's success in "Bad Boys" and "Buckaroo Banzai" has given him another chance to test the boundaries of science and the limits of cinematic possibility: his next role is opposite rock star Sting, who plays the doctor to his Frankenstein monster in Frank Roddam's "The Bride."
ROBERT ITO plays Professor Hikita, Buckaroo Banzai's sage scientific colleague.
Ito was interested in "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai" from the moment he heard the pre-production rumours. Determined to get the Hikita role, he hobbled into his audition, masquerading as an old man. Complemented by thirty years worth of old-age makeup which he designed himself, Ito's preliminary performance was so convincing that director Rick Richter hired him on the spot.
Born in Canada, Ito started his show biz career as a dancer, winning a Vancouver amateur contest at age five. "I did a tap dance routine and the prize was a whopping $25 -- a good sum of money at the time," he recalls.
Thus inspired, Ito went on to join the National Ballet of Canada, where he performed in works like "Swan Lake" and "Giselle" for ten years.
The lure of the bright Times Square marquees eventually led him to New York City where he landed a featured role in the Broadway hit "Flower Drum Song." A good part in "What Makes Sammy Run" convinced him to forsake his dancing career for acting. In 1965 he moved to Los Angeles to concentrate his efforts in film and television.
Ito is best known for his regular role as Sam Fujiyama on the NBC series "Quincy," starring Jack Klugman. His television appearances include the specials "Helter Skelter" and "Pueblo," as well as guest turns in numerous series including "M*A*S*H," "Kojak" and "Six Million Dollar Man." His film credits include "Black Sunday," "Grey Lady Down," "Midway," "Rollerball" and "The Yakuza," with Robert Mitchum.
Ito is married and has two children, Jennifer (21) and Thomas (18).
CARL LUMBLY plays John Parker, a friendly emissary from a faraway planet. On Earth he takes the form of a Rastafarian to conceal an alien appearance too hideous for Earthlings to trust.
Carl Lumbly is another member of the "Buckaroo Banzai" cast who had no early intentions of becoming an actor. He was making a reasonable living as a writer when his natural talent for acting suddenly surfaced during a public audition for an improvisational troupe in Minneapolis.
Lumbly was well-prepared to don the dreadlocks of a Rastafarian, having been born in Jamaica. At an early age he moved to the U.S. with his family and set down new roots in Minneapolis.
For three years at St. Paul's MacAllester College, Lumbly labored as a biology major, intending to become a doctor. one credit short of completion, he abruptly changed course and graduated with a degree in English.
After college Lumbly worked as a writer for the Associated Press and various Minnesota newspapers until he landed a "cushy" job as the writer/editor of the corporate newspaper for the famed international tape dispenser, the 3-M Company. After two years, he quit his editorial post to complete a Master's degree in English. But before he even had a chance to enroll, fate, in the form of a public theatre audition, stepped in and ushered him into his acting career.
"I thought it would be a great story to tell my friends," says Lumbly. "I went down and auditioned for this comedy troupe and it was all improvisation, which I loved." He feels that his writing experience prepared him for this way of working: "In my writing, I like the idea of developing a little piece of fiction from something I've seen." So Lumbly "had a great time" during the auditions. "They kept asking me to come back," he recalls. "Three weeks later they cast me, and I've been acting ever since, much to my parents' chagrin."
After two years in the Minnesota troupe, Lumbly moved to San Francisco with his girlfriend. He continued to land stage roles and eventually moved down to Los Angeles in search of television and film work. He now lives in New York, but the constant demand for his services keeps him thoroughly bi-coastal.
Among his many roles in theatre, Lumbly has appeared in Joseph Papp's "The Tempest" for the New York Shakespeare Festival and the Matrix Theatre production of "The Island." In 1978 he won the Los Angeles Drama-Logue Critics Award for "Statements," and in 1982, the Drama Critic's Circle Award for "Eden." Both productions were mounted by the Los Angeles Actors Theatre.
Lumbly's television and film work has been extensive. In addition to his regular role as Lt. Marcus Petrie on "Cagney & Lacey," Lumbly has appeared on such shows as "Taxi," "Lou Grant," "The Jeffersons," the pilot "Buffalo Soldiers" and the Movie-of-the-Week "Undercover Life in the KKK." "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai" is Lumbly's fourth feature; his earlier credits include "Caveman," "Escape from Alcatraz" and "Hardcore."
Though Lumbly is now an experienced actor, his earlier writing career continues to influence his approach to his newfound profession. To understand his roles better, he writes extensive personal histories for every character that he plays.
These "back stories," as he calls them, supply a wealth of personal detail on which he can draw for his performances. "In the script there is the actual information about my character," says Lumbly, "and then there is what I have to do for myself to make it live. All this stuff, I don't know how much actually gets into what you see, but for me it's critical. I don't pretend well. So I actually have to figure out some sort of believable fiction that I put myself into."
Lumbly had a field day with the role of John Parker, a resident of Planet 10 who is simultaneously adjusting to a new planet and trying to handle an explosive situation. According to Lumbly's "back fiction" for the character, on Planet 10 only musicians can rise to diplomatic status. Parker, in fact, is pulled from a concert performance to receive his earthly mission, which he performs admirably due to his interstellar appreciation of music -- including the freewheeling rock In roll of Buckaroo Banzai and his Hong Kong Cavaliers.
Lumbly enjoyed the opportunity to create the comic impression of a young alien taking a crash course in the mechanics of the human body. "I thought it would be more interesting," he says, "if it wasn't that easy for John Parker to become human -- if there was some sort of struggle between his original form and the new one he inhabits." Parker's strange form is due to the fact that when the passengers of the Planet 10 father ship aimed their beacons at Earth, they scanned Lumbly's birthplace, the island of Jamaica, and thus got the mistaken impression that all Earthlings look like Rastafarians.
ROSALIND CASH plays John Emdall, a messenger with a warning for Buckaroo Banzai. Cash has been seen in the films "Wrong Is Right," "The Class of Miss MacMichael," "Cornbread, Earl and Me," "Uptown Saturday Night," "The Money Hustle," "Amazing Grace" and "The New Centurions." She has appeared in the TV mini-series "The Guyana Tragedy" and received an Obie nomination for best actress for her performance in "Charlie Was Here and Now He's Gone." She recently participated in the summer program for young filmmakers at Robert Redford's Sundance Institute.
RONALD LACEY plays President Widmark, who turns to Buckaroo Banzai for help and advice. Lacey played the evil Nazi in "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and Princess Aida in "Trenchcoat," and he also appeared in "Nijinsky," "Zulu Dawn" and "Firefox." A British actor with many credits on the London stage and in British television, Lacey is familiar to viewers of "The Duchess of Duck Street" on PBS. He recently completed two films: Paul Verhoeven's "Flesh and Blood" and "Prison Dancer," which was filmed in Brazil.
MATT CLARK, who plays the Secretary of Defense, has had roles in "Brubaker" (written by W.D. Richter), "Honky Tonk Man," "Eye for an Eye" and Walter Hill's "The Driver." A prominent Western actor, Clark appeared in "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid," "Jeremiah Johnson," "The Grissom Gang" and "Monte Walsh," among many others. He was also seen in television's "The Winds of War." He recently completed two films for Disney: "Country," starring Jessica Lange and Sam Shepard, and "Return to Oz," in which he plays Uncle Henry.
WILLIAM TRAYLOR plays General Catburd. Traylor has been a familiar face on Broadway, on television and in features since the fifties, appearing in live telecasts such as "Playhouse 90, "The U.S. Steel Hour" and "Kraft Theatre." His films include "The Man With Two Brains," "The Postman Always Rings Twice," "The Long Riders," "Smile," "The Towering Inferno" and "Cisco Pike"; his television appearances include "Strike Force," HBO's "The Rainmaker" and "The Execution of Private Slovak." Traylor appeared opposite Noel Coward on Broadway in "Nude with Violin" and opposite Ingrid Thulin in "Of Love Remembered." His most recent film is "Fletch," starring Chevy Chase.
MARICLARE COSTELLO plays the serious, supportive Senator Cunningham. Costello has been seen in the features "Ordinary People," "The Tiger Makes Out," and "Let's Scare Jessica to Death," and her many television credits include "Raid on Entebbe, "After the Fall" and "The Execution of Private Slovik," as well as regular appearances on "The Fitzpatricks," "Sara" and "The Waltons." Her Broadway and Lincoln Center theatre appearances include "Tartuffe," "The Country Wife" and "Harvey." She recently appeared in the NBC Movie-of-the-Week "Victims for Victims," starring Teresa Saldana.
VINCENT SCHIAVELLI plays John O'Connor, John Bigboote's second-in-command at Yoyodyne Propulsion Systems. Schiavelli joined Lloyd in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" and will be seen in another Milos Forman film, the upcoming "Amadeus." His other films include "Taking Off," "The Great Gatsby," "Next Stop, Greenwich village," "Butch and Sundance: The Early Years" (with Weller and Lloyd), "Taxi Driver," "Night Shift," "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" and "Kidco." He recently completed "Johnny Dangerously," for Twentieth Century Fox, and "The Ratings Game," a made-for-cable film directed by Danny DeVito.
DAN HEDAYA plays the third-ranked Yoyodyne official John Gomez. Hedaya has been seen in the movies "The Hunger," "Blood Simple" and "Reckless" and on Broadway in "The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel" and "MacBeth." He recently appeared on television in episodes of "St. Elsewhere" and "Cheers" and has completed an ABC-TV pilot, "Earthlings." His latest film is "Tightrope," starring Clint Eastwood.
BILL HENDERSON plays Blue Blaze Irregular Casper Lindley, who answers the call that Buckaroo is in trouble and swoops down with his helicopter in the nick of time. Born in Chicago, Henderson has a dual career as an acclaimed jazz vocalist and experienced actor. He has recorded with Horace Silver, Oscar Peterson, Hank Jones, Jimmy Smith and Count Basie and has three albums with his own band on the Discovery Label: "Live at the Times," "A Street of Dreams" and "A Tribute to Johnny Mercer." His films include "Get Crazy," "Paternity," "Continental Divide," "Inside Moves," "Fun With Dick and Jane" and "Silver Streak." On television, Henderson has had recurring roles on "Love Thy Neighbor" and "Harry 0," and appeared in the television films "So Little Cause for Caroline," "Skag" and "Louis Armstrong, Chicago Style." He will be seen shortly in "Dreams," a new CBS-TV series that airs in the Fall.
DAMON HINES plays Scooter Lindley, a youthful member of Buckaroo Banzai's Blue Blaze Irregulars. Damon started acting at age six in a drama workshop and began studying dancing - jazz and tap -- at seven. At age eleven, he has already done numerous commercials and has appeared on television in an episode of "Love, Sidney" and the television films "Still the Beaver," "Scamps" and "Revenge of the Grey Gang," in which he plays Scatman Crother's grandson.
"The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai" was his first feature, and he found it "very exciting." He has since appeared in Albert Brooks' "Lost in America" and Danny DeVito's made-for-cable film "The Ratings Game." He will be seen shortly in the Olympic Arts Festival presentation "Tap America," emceed by Ben Vereen, and recently completed a rock video, "Be Somebody," starring Mr. T.
Native Bostonian LAURA HARRINGTON plays Mrs. Johnson, the archivist of the Banzai Institute. She received excellent notices for her performance in the PBS film "Billy of the Lowlands" and will be seen shortly in two features: "Dark End of the Street" and Martha Coolidge's "City Girl," a starring role which she completed before her appearance in "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai."
Musician BILLY VERA makes his screen acting debut as the irrascible Banzai Institute gate keeper and Hong Kong Cavalier bass guitarist Pinky Carruthers. Filmmakers Canton and Richter discovered Vera at a Billy and the Beaters concert in Los Angeles. They were impressed not only with Vera's music (he writes and sings the songs, arranges the music, and plays rhythm guitar), which can be described as swinging roots-rock, but with him as a performer.
"I thought he was a real actor," comments Richter, "and I wanted him to be in 'Buckaroo Banzai.'" Vera was delight to oblige: "Most people are open to anything that makes them feel good," he says.
Billy and the Beaters became an early model for the rock group The Hong Kong Cavaliers, and Vera helped out with the staging for the band, rode a horse for the first time, and wore pink throughout the movie.
Vera is an apt choice for the iconclastic Carruthers. He has been an American original working in the music industry for over twenty years. His early Sixties hits as an Atlantic Records artist include "With Pen in Hand" and "Storybook Children." Vera has written for many artists over the years, including Rick Nelson ("Mean Old World") and Dolly Parton (her #1 country hit "I Really Got The Feeling"). Legends surround him. He recorded with the Sherelles -- or was it the Ronettes -- or both? -- and is reputed to be the first white man ever to play Harlem's famed Apollo Theatre. Or was that Buddy Holly?
The legendary producer Jerry Wexler, who put Atlantic Records on the map and signed Vera to his first successful recording contract, produced Vera's Eighties roots-rock albums. Billboard wrote : "If success is awarded according to talent, then Billy (Vera) should be huge."
ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS ...
W.D. (RICK) RICHTER who is producing and directing for the first time with "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai," is well aware of the paradox of making his directorial debut with friend Earl Mac Rauch's screenplay. Richter has enjoyed a successful career as a screenwriter ever since his first post-University of California script was produced -- 1973's well received suspense comedy "Slither." "I had enough to do on 'Buckaroo Banzai' without having to worry about the writer," he says.
Right from the beginning, Richter's screenplays revealed a unique comic sensibility. He was able to fashion fresh original scripts out of existing genres, twisting conventional expectations and adding dashes of sophisticated wit and whimsy.
Critic Pauline Kael was not alone in her praises of 1980's "Brubaker": "The script by W.D. Richter has oft-hand dialogue with a warm, funny edge." Richter received an Academy Award nomination for this successful prison drama, which starred Robert Robert under Stuart Rosenberg's direction. Richter's other screenplay credits include genre remakes such as Phillip Kaufman's "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," (1978) and John Badham's "Dracula" (1979), as well as the screwball comedy "All Night Long" (1981), directed by Jean-Claude Tramont.
Born in New Britain, Connecticut in 1945, Richter enjoyed a diet of monster and horror films along with his other more scholastic achievements. He attended Dartmouth College where he graduated three years ahead of Earl Mac Rauch, with a B.A. English Literature. In 1968 Richter moved to Los Angeles to attend film school at U.S.C. He wrote screenplays all the way through school and worked as a story analyst for Warner Bros. for one year.
Richter's first produced screenplay, "Slither," directed by Howard Zieff and starring James Caan and Sally Kellerman, revealed an appreciation for the absurd found in all his later work.
Like many screenwriters Richter has made a good living writing unproduced screenplays such as Zanuck/Brown's "The Ninja," but the ones that have made it to the screen have faired well with critics and audiences alike. "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," Phillip Kaufman's inventive remake of the 50's classic, starred Donald Sutherland and Brooke Adams and introduced Richter to costume designer Aggie Guerrard Rodgers and actor Jeff Goldblum, both of whom came aboard for "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai."
"The Invasion of the Body Snatchers," which was praised for it's "macabre originality," anticipates the paranoid fantasy behind Rauch's "Buckaroo Banzai" screenplay: aliens from another world living on Earth disguised as human beings.
Richter dove into another genre remake with 1979's "Dracula,' directed by John Badham and starring Laurence Olivier and Frank Langella. With "Brubaker," a muckraking drama, based on the Arkansas prison scandals of the late sixties, Richter succeeded at a full-scale dramatic motion picture. It earned an Academy Award nomination for his efforts. on the set of "Brubaker," Richter also met one of "Buckaroo Banzai"'s key contributors, production designer Michael Riva.
Although 1981's "All Night Long," which starred Gene Hackman and Barbra Streisand under frenchman Jean-Claude Tramont's direction, was not a boxoffice smash, it has since developed a cult following and appears often on the repertory cinema circuits. Fondly regarded by some film critics "All Night Long"'s script reveals Richter's comedic sensibility: it features original offbeat characters engaged in an inspired and sophisticated slapstick romp.
Richter clearly shares his comic sensibility with Texas-born screenwriter Earl Mac Rauch. When Richter and his wife Susan, who is his business manager, commissioned Rauch to write the "Buckaroo Banzai" screenplay nine years ago, they hardly anticipated that "Buckaroo Banzai" would become Richter's directing debut. "I always thought it was a great idea," says Richter, "and as Mac worked on it over the years, I began to realize that since so many people debut with simple autobiographical stories, it might be interesting to begin with a complicated story that has nothing at all to do with my youth. Mac and Susan and I talked about it for so long that after awhile the movie started to create itself."
Since he studied at U.S.C.'s famed motion picture school, Richter has had his share of hands-on filmmaking experience and regards the time spent on the sets of the films he wrote as "a terrific education. I tried to work closely with all my directors. Good directing is an extension of writing, finding the right actors, choosing locations that help tell the story. It is all part of the same narrative impulse."
Although "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai" features Mac Rauch's fantastical characters, Richter directed the movie toward a specific reality. "It's a combination of my instincts, Mac's script, the production design and the actors' own unique personalities," he says. "We set out to catch the spirit of the world that's slightly out of control, where nothing is what it appears to be. If there's a 'message' in 'The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai,' it's simply 'don't prejudge reality, nurture and open mind, and a willingness to laugh in the face of madness.'"
Richter has already resumed his writing, which he loves, and
completed an original screenplay for Columbia that he hopes to
direct for Canton/Richter Productions. Richter and his wife Susan
live in New England, shuttling back and forth from Hollywood as
When EARL MAC RAUCH was growing up, he wanted to be "an important writer, the type with coats and jackets on; y'know, important." Novels were what the young Texan had in mind, but a twenty-year jumpcut to the present finds him a successful Hollywood screenwriter living in Zuma Beach.
How did an "overly serious" writing aspirant become a, gulp, Hollywood screenwriter? Could it have been the check-that-never-got-cashed story? Or the one about the burning garbage can and the psychiatrist? It's hard to say because Rauch has a pocketful of tall tales. The facts as best we can discern them are as follows:
Born in Texas in 1950, be selected Dartmouth as his preferred college. "I saw it in a catalog, and it was beautiful. I sent off an early application."
It was still beautiful when he actually got there, but there was a definite problem: no women. "It says in the catalog, 'all male school,' but you don't really know what it means till you're there." Meeting women was "a terrible ordeal because you have to become a certain kind of person to get through it." So horrendous did the reticent Rauch find the dances and mixers that he soon retired to his room to send publishers copies of his recently completed first novel, Dirty Pictures From the Prom.
Nonplussed by the long periods between his polite submission and their rejection letters, he went into New York at Thanksgiving vacation. "I looked up literary agents in the yellow pages. They were so astonished to see me that they paid me some attention."
Rauch got an agent to take the book to Doubleday, who agreed to publish it -- pronto! The year was 1968, "when things were crazy and they were publishing weird books.'
Now comes the story of the check. "About eight months later, when the book was being published and I'd got my first advance check, the agent phoned to ask if I'd cashed it. I said 'No, it's still here on my desk. I like to look at it.' He said that was too bad because his boss had fled to Canada, bankrupt, and now there wasn't any money to pay me."
The novel got good reviews, however; in fact the Los Angeles Times called it one of the best first novels written that year. This led to a slightly "swelled head" and threats to leave college. Rauch never made good on the threat, graduating in 1971 with a degree in literature. (For the adventure of the garbage-can psychiatrist, you will have to ask Earl Mac Rauch himself.) By this time he had finished a second novel, Arkansas Adios, published by Knopf. The second book was also well received, but it didn't produce any substantial income for the young graduate.
Concerned about earning a living, he entered the University of Texas Law School -- and lasted three months. Then came the letter. One W.D. Richter, also a Dartmouth graduate but now attending U.S.C. Film School, had read a review of Arkansas Adios in the alumnae magazine. "We'd never met. Richter was three years ahead of me. He wanted to do a screenplay from my book and at the bottom of his letter he wrote, 'If you're ever out this way, give me a call.'"
Rauch took him at his word. Some time later, he flew to the Los Angeles airport, checked into a motel and called Richter. They became fast friends and talked projects together, but Rauch got cold feet and returned to Texas for a while, supporting himself by selling mobile home finance contracts. "It was great. I met all kinds of weird guys."
Encouraged by Richter, Rauch returned to Los Angeles and plunged into his first assignment, the screenplay for "New York, New York."
"I'd wanted to do a big band love story. I was very much a romantic." Director Martin Scorsese subsequently became involved, and Rauch shared final screenplay credit with Mardik Martin, but got sole story credit and also wrote a novelization based upon his own original idea.
Rauch had by now-switched allegiance from novels to cinema. "A seduction took place," he admits. "Novel writing is such a lonely pursuit. Then, the book comes out and there's no support behind it. The screenwriting process allows you to constantly interact with people, and you are well paid for all of it."
After "New York, New York," Rauch wrote the sleeper horror film "A Stranger is Watching" and numerous unproduced screenplays. Then, in 1980, his friend Richter re-entered his professional life.
"When I'd first come out to L.A., Rick and his wife Susan had advanced me money to start work on a script about an unusual guy which I called 'Find the Jetcar, Said the President ---- A Buckaroo Banzai Thriller.'" Rauch quit after about ninety pages, but over the years started other fantastic Buckaroo yarns, which Richter collected. In 1980, Richter and producer Neil Canton formed a partnership and ultimately convinced David Begelman and Sherwood Productions to back the outlandish adventure story. Rauch wrote a whole new draft entitled "Lepers from Saturn," which metamorphosed into "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai," Richter's debut as a director.
Rauch doesn't quite remember the genesis of "Buckaroo Banzai, but he does recall that it was started after a period in which he had briefly changed his name to John Texas. "I wanted to write some kind of pulp serial about a guy who's rich enough to do whatever he wants, someone who's a cross between Mick Jagger and Michael DeBakey, someone humane with the ability to exist outside the system, with the kind of instant recognition Sherlock Holmes and James Bond have."
With the movie and the novelization finished, Rauch is already toying with the idea of sequels. "my next story," he says, "deals with Buckaroo's struggles with Hanoi Zan, boss of the infamous World Crime League."
Production designer MICHAEL RIVA brought a rich and eclectic background to his work on "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai." "I've never had so much fun on a movie," he says. "That doesn't mean that it represents what I do -- each movie is different." Riva has designed an impressive array of movies in varying styles. He and Richter became good friends on the set of the prison drama "Brubaker"; his other credits include "Bad Boys," "Stranger's Kiss," "The Hand," "Ordinary People" and the upcoming "Slugger's Wife."
Born in New York City, Riva grew up the eldest of four brothers in a cultured theatrical environment. His father, William Riva, was an art director at NBC in the fifties, who designed such shows as "Playhouse 90," in which Michael's mother, Marlene Dietrich's daughter Maria Riva, also performed. Young Riva was exposed to a universe in which people like Sidney Lumet and Noel Coward turned up for dinner.
Riva originally thought he would become a doctor or a writer. After his graduation from a Swiss boarding school, he returned to the States briefly to attend a Virginia college, and then fled back to London and Paris, studying drama and film. "I spent three-fourths of my life in movie theatres," says Riva. He also studied engineering and industrial design, and learned a good deal about art and architecture from his father. "He taught me to be observant, to be aware of architecture, how there's a symbiotic relationship between everything in the world, how it's all related, with a sort of running theme going through everything.
He landed his first movie job assisting the art director on "Ilsa, Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks"; the art director joined the union halfway through the production, leaving Riva to handle it alone. Riva survived this trial by fire, and went on to design other low-budgeters such as "Bad Georgia Road" and "Bare Knuckles." He then assisted production designer Toby Rafaelson on "I Never Promised You a Rose Garden"; Rafaelson taught him a lot and helped him get other work. He was on his way.
"Movies are so wonderful because it is a creative process," says Riva. "The best production design and art direction take second place to the story. Number one is the story, not how beautiful the set is." Richter and Riva started talking about the "Buckaroo" two years before the movie went into production.
They looked at the world through Buckaroo glasses. "We kept our eyes open," says Riva, "and tried to find things we could adapt for the Buckaroo world. We were taking everything apart."
Riva likes to do research. "I love to go out and buy set dressing, little props that are actually extensions of what I think the character is, after talking with the actor. You research the characters; I always become the characters to a certain extent, become part of that world. I became Buckaroo Banzai, and lived in his world for the duration of filming."
Richter and Riva wanted to shoot the film, which takes place in New Jersey, on as many Los Angeles area locations as possible. "Adapting locations is more enjoyable because you're using real things. Real life is stranger than fiction. I pride myself on looking at something and being able to create something with a very odd piece of reality to it."
Riva sums up the Buckaroo Banzai world: "It's like turning over a rock -- you see the stone in your garden one way, and then one day you turn it over and see what's underneath it -- the tunnels, the little animals...."
Executive producer SIDNEY BECKERMAN was born, raised and educated in New York, and he was one of the country's most successful literary agents before moving into feature production. Beckerman's films as executive producer or producer include "Cabaret," "Last Summer," "Marathon Man," "Marlowe," "Joe Kidd" and "Kelly's Heroes." His most recent film is John Milius' MGM release "Red Dawn."
Producer NEIL CANTON has worked closely with such filmmakers as Orson Welles, Walter Hill and Peter Bogdanovich. He has been partnered since 1980 with W.D. Richter in Canton-Richter Productions; "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai" is the first of their many projects in development to come to fruition.
Born in Manhattan, Canton graduated from American University in Washington, D.C. He landed a summer job with filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich, and he continued on as Bogdanovich's assistant for six years, working on "What's Up', Doc?," "Paper Moon," "Nickolodeon" and other films. He also worked as a production manager for two years on Orson Welles' long-awaited "The Other Side of the Wind."
After leaving Welles, Canton assisted director Walter Hill on "The Driver" and "The Warriors." He has also written a screenplay, "McGoorty," which Hill will direct in the near future.
A resident of Los Angeles, Canton has been married to fashion designer Jackie Spicer for four years.
Associate producer/production manager DENNIS JONES' films include "Poltergeist," "Rich and Famous," "Twilight Zone: The movie," and the currently filming "Mrs. Soffels."
Cinematographer FRED KOENEKAMP has been nominated for three Academy Awards, for "Patton," "Islands in the Stream" and "The Towering Inferno," winning an Oscar for the last-named. His other films include "Wrong Is Right," "First Monday in October," "The Great Train Robbery," "The Hunter," "The Amityville Horror, "The Champ," "The Domino Principle," "Fun With Dick and Jane," "Yes, Giorgio" and "Two of a Kind."
RICHARD MARKS is one of the most acclaimed editors in the film business. A recent Academy Award nominee for the multiOscar winner "Terms of Endearment," Marks' credits include Francis Ford Coppola's "The Conversation," "Apocalypse Now," "The Godfather, Part III' and Herbert Ross' "Pennies From Heaven.
MICHAEL BODDICKER composed and performed the original music for "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai." Winner of a 1983 Grammy for his song "Imagination" on the "Flashdance" soundtrack and record album, Boddicker is an experienced film song composer and performer. This is his first complete motion picture score.
Boddicker has a stellar reputation as a synthesizer performer for Michael Jackson, Lionel Ritchie, Sheena Easton, Manhattan Transfer, Donna Summer, Al Jarreau, Earth, Wind & Fire, Randy Newman and Quincy Jones, among many others; he has performed on numerous television shows and commercials; he has performed in the films "Hard to Hold," "An Officer and a Gentlemen," "Firefox" and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind"; he composed and recorded a seven-minute audio-visual introduction for Earth, Wind & Fire's 1981-82 live/videotaped concerts; and he designed music and special effects for three Disney video games and provided music and special effects for several Disney Epcot pavillions.
Boddicker has also contributed many original compositions to films, including the original score for "Get Crazy" and songs and compositions for "Flashdance," "Outland," "Xanadu" and "Battlestar Galactica." His recordings include the Grammy-winning "Imagination" on the "Flashdance" soundtrack, "Starscape" on the "Get Crazy" soundtrack and contributions to albums by Patti Austen, Lani Hall and John Ford Coley. Boddicker has also composed music for Arco, Honda, Sega, Levi's, Carative, Sunsitive Sun Glasses and Chiquita Bananas.
Born in Fresno, California, and trained in theatre design at Fresno State, AGGIE GUERRARD RODGERS started her design career with two years in the Costume Department of the American Conservatory Theatre. George Lucas gave Rodgers her first film job as the costume designer for "American Graffiti." She went on to do costumes for Francis Coppola's "The Conversation." Based in San Francisco, Rodgers has worked on the hit television series "The Streets of San Francisco," Michael Douglas' production of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," John Korty's "Farewell to Manzanar" and "Alex and the Gypsy," Barwood and Robbins' "Corvette Summer," and Phil Kaufman's "The Invasion of the Body Snatchers," where she met Rick Richter. Lucas, "More American Graffiti" and "The Return of the Jedi" followed. She is currently shooting with Hal Barwood's "Biohazard."
Music is an important, organic element of the "Buckaroo Banzai" mix. Grammy Award-winner BONES HOWE is an industry veteran who produced albums for such greats as Elvis Presley, The 5th Dimension, Jerry Lee Lewis, Tom Waits, The Association, The Turtles, Juice Newton, Sergio Mendes, Lenny Bruce, Martin Mull, Laura Nyro and Ahmad Jamal. He has also engineered albums for musicians such as Frank Sinatra, The Mamas and the Papas, Billy Holiday, Henry Mancini, Ella Fitzgerald and Ornette Coleman. The soundtrack albums he engineered include "A Walk on the Wild Side," "To Kill a Mockingbird" and the "Peter Gunn" TV series. Howe produced and recorded the music for "Paradise Alley," "Roadie," "One From the Heart" (which won an Academy Award nomination for best song), "Man, Woman and Child" and "Get Crazy." Howe won an Grammy Award for producer of the best record of the year in 1969 for "Aquarius/Let the Sun Shine In," by The 5th Dimension; he's been nominated for seven other Grammies as either producer, arranger or engineer.
Visual effects supervisor MICHAEL FINK began his career making electronic props for "The China Syndrome" and fell in love with the movies. The former army officer/art history professor/photographer went on to work on special visual effects on such films as "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" and "One From the Heart." Working with filmmakers such as Francis Coppola and Steven Speilberg, Fink honed his craft, and when the visual effects supervisor on "War Games" was let go, they hired Michael Fink.
PETER KURAN and his company VCE INC. handled
the live action bluescreen work on "The Adventures of Buckaroo
Banzai," as well as some difficult optical work. With the
assistance of Chris Casady, he also produced various animated
electrical effects. Kuran developed his skills by working on "Star
Wars." Now he heads his own company and has credit on films
such as "The Howling," "Dragonslayer" and
"The Thing." Kuran most recently supervised the special
effects for "Dreamscape," a 20th Century Fox release.
The man responsible for the other-worldly masks in "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai" is TOM BURMAN, a prosthetics veteran who has an industry-wide reputation for quality and speed. From birth, makeup man Burman has lived and breathed latex. His father, Ellis, served as a rubber and plastic prop man for the legendary monster maker, Universal's Jack Pierce, who created the makeup for such classics as "Frankenstein" and "The Mummy."
Though young Tom Burman wanted to follow in his father's footsteps, tough union requirements kept him out of the movie business for many years. Biding his time, he earned a reputation as a life-size model builder, sculpting animals for Glendale Sea and Jungle, and later constructing a huge King Kong for a wax museum. Famed makeup artist John Chambers was in charge of that project and, impressed by young Burman's talent, recommended him for an apprenticeship opening at 20th Century Fox. Competing with 96 others for the position, Burman passed a rigorous test with flying colors and entered the makeup union as an apprentice in 1966.
A few years later Burman had the chance to return Chambers' recommendation. Through the latex grapevine, Burman heard that the producers of a "big makeup movie" were very dissatisfied with their preliminary tests. After learning that almost every character would require head-to-toe makeup, Burman announced that he knew only one man who could do the job: John Chambers. When Fox hired Chambers to do "Planet of the Apes," Chambers in turn asked that Burman be brought on as his apprentice, a position that Burman retained for three more years, working on such television projects as "Lost in Space" and "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea."
The Burman-Chambers collaboration soon grew into a partnership and led to the formation of their own makeup studio. In 1971 Burman and his brother Ellis bought Chambers out and formed the Burman Studio. Though Ellis now has his own company, Cosmekinetics, which specializes in mechanized makeup effects, the Burman Studio is still a family affair; Tom Burman runs his Van Nuys operation with the help of his two sons.
The quality of Tom Burman's makeup magic has been repeatedly
recognized by a body of his most discerning colleagues: The Academy
of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films. Burman has received
the Best Makeup Award for "Close Encounters of the Third
Kind," "The Manitou," "Demon Seed" and
"The Devil's Rain." He was nominated for "The Island
of Dr. Moreau," "The Man Who Fell to Earth" and
the 1978 version of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers"
(written by W.D. Richter), which also brought Burman the Best
Makeup Award from The International Society of Sci-Fi, Horror
and Fantasy. Burman's other films include: "Cat People,"
"The Beast Within," "Heaven's Gate," "Prophecy"
and "Return of a Man Called Horse." Burman won an Emmy
for his work on the television special "Primal Man."
Set decorator LINDA DESCENNA has twice been nominated for an Academy Award -- for "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" and for "Blade Runner." She also set-decorated "Space Hunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone."
DREAM QUEST IMAGES is a young special effects company in more ways than one. The average age of the officers is under 35, and the company has been around only four years. In that short time they have amassed an impressive list of credits, including features such as "One From the Heart," "Blue Thunder" and "Twilight Zone: The Movie."
Under the supervision of Hoyt Yeatman, Dream Quest photographed the motion-controlled models of the spaceships, the Lizardo ship flying through the wall and various optical effects for "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai." Programming chores were handled by Scott Squires and Michael Bigelow. Rocco Giofre created several beautiful and difficult matte paintings for the film. Dream Quest's work can currently be seen in "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" and "Gremlins."
JOHN SCHEELE, in association with GREENLITE, devised a system to motion control a scanning electron microscope. Implemented at Cal Tech, the footage they shot with the microscope was used as the alien world of the 8th Dimension in "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai." Scheele's background uniquely qualifies him for this strange combination of science and film. He graduated from Harvard University with training in both film and animation techniques and paleontology. His previous film work includes motion control work on "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" and supervision of technical effects on "Tron" and Disney's recent 3-D movie, "Magic Journey." He is currently in pre-production on another Disney film, "My Secret Project."
MARK STETSON and his crew built the Lizardo ship, one of the thermopods and the miniature Yoyodyne wall. Stetson began his career working as a modelmaker for Greg Jein on "Star Trek: The Motion Picture." Since then he has supervised model construction on such films as "Blade Runner" and "The Right Stuff." Both films were nominated for Academy Awards for their special effects. Stetson has just completed model supervision on two projects with Richard Edlund and Boss Film Company: "Ghostbusters" and the Christmas release "2010: Odyssey Two."
Modelmaker GREGORY JEIN, who built the famous Mothership for "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," could not resist the opportunity to build a Fathership for "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai." He and his crew also built an enlarged section of the good Lectroid fathership and a thermopod. Jein's model work has been recognized with two Academy Award nominations, for Steven Speilberq's "1941" and "CE3K." Most recently, Jein has been working with Douglas Trumbull on his newest Showscan adventure. When he is not involved in model building, Jein spends his time restoring his collection of movie props. One of his prizes, the sub from "Fantastic Voyage," will be traveling in a Smithsonian exhibition for the next two years.
(This information is copyrighted by 20th Century Fox, Polygram/MGM, Earl Mac Rauch and/or Harry Bailly Productions)
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