27th Aug2005

Looking Back On Buckaroo Banzai

by Will

“No matter where you go, there you are.”

Soon the leaves will change, and I will be reminded of the tool that I was, growing up. Now, don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed my antisocial status. My Saturday’s were planned to a T. I’d wake up, partake in some TNBC action, and then I’d hunker down and watch whatever craptastic movie Channel’s 5 and 20 had to offer. But out of their entire film libraries, there are two movies that always put a special feeling in the air:
Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins and The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension . Today, I had the pleasure of revisiting the latter.

Let me try to somehow explain why I ever liked this movie. It’s like the producers went up to a 7 yr-old and asked, “Hey, kid..what do you wanna be when you grow up?” And the kid responded, “I wanna be a super hero, and a rock star, and a rocket scientist, and kill aliens, and have a flying car…” Why do I say this? Because all of the above describe the title character of Buckaroo Banzai. He is all of those things, and I’m not being metaphorical. He is an alien-fighting, rock star, comic book hero, with an advanced degree in physics. Plus, his band doubles as his superhero support team. Yeah, on my most imaginative day, I can’t believe some studio greenlit this, even in 1984.

Just looking at the cast, you get the picture that it’s not gonna be an easy stroll through the park. Peter Weller (Robocop) as Buckaroo tips ya off, but anytime you have John Lithgow AND Jeff Goldblum, you’d might as well send the thing straight to video. Lithgow’s most sane role was the crazy preacher in “Footloose” and “Goldblum” is Hebrew for “hope you’re ready for weird”. And we round it all off with the great Christoher Lloyd. Yeah, it’s no wonder this thing only has a cult following.

But these lameass reasons are the same reason I love it. I can’t believe a studio greenlit this movie! It’s that simple. It’s not even one of those films where you’re like, “I’ll bet this rocks when you’re high.” No, if you watched it under the influence of something, you’d probably go on a killing spree. It’s that much of a mindfuck.

I don’t know what touches more. Is it the bubble-wrap safety goggles? The cowboy named “New Jersey”? Or is it the irresistable “Pretty Tommy”, who surprisingly is NOT a pimp? The aliens disguised as Rastafarians? The fact that they willingly endanger that 11 yr-old kid AND give him a rifle to shoot at people? It makes no sense on paper, and it makes even less sense to watch.

The beauty of the whole film-making process in Buckaroo Banzai is that you KNOW they’re trying to weird you out, but not in that artsy Tim Burton-esque way. There’s no real method to the madness, just a balls-out “why not?” approach. Sure, you could ask, “Why is Buckaroo ALL of these professions?”, but the movie subtlely puts forth “Why NOT?” And once you accept that, all bets are off.

My experience today was just like it’s been the past 2o-odd years I’ve watched this masterful train wreck. The thing comes on, and the events unfold like this:

Minute 1: “Oh, man! ‘Buckaroo Banzai’ is on! Well, got nothing else to do today…”

Minute12: “OK, I think I’ve had about all I can handle.”

Minute 22: “Wow, is Robocop really singing ‘Since I Don’t Have You’? I’m gonna have to see where this is going.”

Minute 37: “I really can’t do this anymore. Fucking Goldblum in that cowboy outfit makes me wanna hit somebody.”

Minute 62: “Man, no wonder Ellen Barkin’s career went nowhere.”

Minute 70: “Guess I’ve gotta ride out this storm.”

Minute 103: “I can’t believe I just sat through that whole thing. Oooh…’Baywatch’!”

Well, the Baywatch part didn’t occur to me today (God rest its bouncy slow-motion soul), but it never fails that the same exact thoughts go through my mind. And I just find it touching that a movie can make me feel the exact same way, each time, over the course of so many years. I think THAT’s what keeps me coming back for more. I go for years without seeing it, and I come back older and wiser, yet I still ask the same questions.

And after 20 years, I still don’t know what the fuck this movie’s about! I’m serious. Something about an “overthruster”, and I know Lithgow looks like he needs a bath…and there’s some guy named “Bigbootie” (Awww….Big booty, big booty, big booty!). But in the whole “how much shit can we possibly cram into this movie?”, the creative team behind the film gave plot a back seat. I’d be so bold as to say there is no plot. These were the 80’s. A time when some bastard created “Toxie, the Toxic Avenger”, and somehow spawned a cartoon out of that. My point is that in the “Me Generation” no idea was too farfetched, and “Buckaroo Banzai” is one of the best examples of that.

Well, that’s enough sharing. Once again, I’m pretty sure that Austin’s the only one reading this who’ll even have a clue as to what I’m talking about, but he’s my target audience for the pop culture throwback posts, so i guess I’m doing my job if he connects. Stay tuned for my next post, which will be a milestone in the Westverse: post #450!