Michael Bergeron
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Blu-ray Slight Return: Lectroid Edition

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Buckaroo Banzai has a lot to offer, the least of which is the single most amazing ending credits sequence in the history of cinema.

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, a lengthy title to be sure, streeted in a deluxe two-disc Blu-ray Collector’s Edition from Shout! Factory on August 16. The release marks the inaugural debut of Shout Select, a division of the parent company that specializes in cult and hard-to-find films.

The two-disc edition has multiple audio commentary tracks, a new featurette with interviews from director W. D. Richter and star Peter Weller, and others, as well as deleted scenes including the cut original opening sequence where Jamie Lee Curtis plays Banzai’s mother.

BB takes places in a fantasy alternate reality where the superheroes are normal people who all have Ph.D.’s. Buckaroo is a brain surgeon and a test pilot and his crime-fighting coterie of like-minded buddies, the Hong Kong Cavaliers, includes Rawhide (Clancy Brown, piano); Reno Nevada (saxophone); Perfect Tommy, ace engineer (rhythm guitar), Pinky Carruthers (Billy Vera, bass); and Dr. Sidney Zweibel who like BB is trained in neuroscience (Jeff Goldblum, background vocals). The members of this group dress like they are destined for a magazine front cover or like they’re kids aged six dressed up as cowboys.

In this adventure, when they’re not playing gigs for a forlorn audience, they’re battling a galactic threat to the planet headed by such alien baddies as Christopher Lloyd (John Bigbooté), Vincent Schiavelli (John O’Connor), and Dan Hedaya (John Gomez), as well as John Lithgow as scientist Lord John Whorfin who’s been turned into a fellow alien by the name of Dr. Emilio Lizardo.

There are constant amazing line readings in this film, the least of which is Lloyd addressing humans as “monkey boy.” At an early point, during a music gig, Banzai interrupts the show to console a suicidal fan (Ellen Barkin, who subsequently joins the troupe) with the soothing words: “No matter where you go, there you are.”

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension opens with a high-speed vehicle test that breaks sound and dimensional barriers. What follows makes mince meat of current film narratives that involve Earthlings vs. Aliens (think the thin-as-rice-paper Independence Day reboot) as Buckaroo and team face copious opposition from shape shifting dudes called Red Lectroids (from Planet 10). There’s a brief bit of satire and some romance thrown into the mix.

Consider that in 1984 there were no superhero films per se, and that doesn’t matter anyway because this is more of a League of Gentlemen (and women) than a league of Avengers.

E. T. was released in 1982 while 1984 was the year of Beverly Hills Cop, Ghostbusters, The Neverending Story, The Karate Kid, and Romancing the Stone. Buckaroo Banzai barely made a dent at the box office, which only increases its street cred. All of the above films have the unique ability to sustain multiple viewings.

The last scene has a hero being kissed with a quick cut to a Lectroid saying, “Who cares.” And then the most spectacular credit roll unwinds. This amazingly choreographed march sequence was shot at the Sepulveda Dam, a concrete monstrosity that was constructed by the US Army in 1941, and sits at the intersection of one of the largest freeway interchanges in the world: the Californian 101 and 405 roadways.

A repelling rope allows Banzai (Weller) to descend to the bottom of the existing material roadway where he is joined by his band of droogies. The entire scene was shot in one day. They march in unison in two-shots, three-shots and more.

As in any 1980s romp, the music elicits a certain synthesizer vibe. The strains of Michael Boddicker’s soundtrack propel the characters and they march to and fro with his constantly changing beats. We have group shots intercut with foot shots, in particular one of the Cavaliers wearing those padded Japanese slippers with a big toe extension. That was thirty years ago and now rubber foot slippers are the rage.

By the way, how many films have had scenes lensed in L.A. drainage tunnels to visual and thematic success? Them (1954), Drive (2011) and To Live and Die in L.A. (1985) come to mind.

There may be films that are better than Buckaroo Banzai, and there are certainly films that are worse – but I defy you to provide a better closing to a motion picture. At this point, the ending of Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) runs a close second.

  • csk

    Thanks for the swell article.

    And only for you, Berge, will I assume the maximal geek stance and remind you that it’s the (human) scientist Dr. Lizardo who is imprinted by the (alien) Lord John Whorfin. (Sheesh, deadlines, right?)