The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension

The element of surprise
★★★
☆☆☆☆
Released: 
1984
Director: 
W.D. Richter
Starring: 
Peter Weller, John Lithgow, Ellen Barkin, Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Lloyd
The Setup: 
Trouble with beasties from another dimension.
Discussion: 

I watched this about two weeks ago, and while I usually write my review the next day or at least within a few days, I just couldn’t bring myself to write about it. This is probably because I know that this is like everybody’s favorite movie ever, and I just didn’t like it that much. We’ll discuss why later.

The DVD has an opening scene that apparently wasn’t in the theatrical release in which we see young Buckaroo watch his father be killed. Jamie Lee Curtis is playing his mother, but I only knew that from a note on the disc, as she is barely recognizable. We go into the credits, and what you notice immediately is that this thing has a great cast, with Weller, Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Lloyd, John Lithgow, and other intriguing names. I was also able to generate a level of interest in seeing Ellen Barkin, which was instantly eradicated by her actual screen presence.

So Buckaroo is performing brain surgery, then he runs immediately to this test of this interdimensional car, which he drives straight through the solid rock of a mountain, causing someone to say “We got his track; they go right up to a wall of rock… Holy shit!” But while in the other dimension, some humanoid figures hit Buckaroo’s windshield, and some organic bit of something gets stuck in his undercarriage. He leaves the test grounds and heads off to a rock concert he’s giving.

We then switch to a hilarious John Lithgow [you really have to take time out to appreciate John Lithgow and all the whacked-out roles he takes] as some arch-villain that looks a bit like the villain from The Incredibles, with this straight-up reddish hair and hilarious bad teeth. He attached some electrodes to himself, including his tongue, and electrocutes himself, causing him to have visions of himself being propelled HALF into another dimension, like Winnie the Pooh when he got stuck in Rabbit’s window. When he comes out he has gone mad, his current state.

So at Buckaroo’s rock concert they play an instrumental [very disappointing, I wanted an original song], then see Ellen Barkin in the audience. She is wearing a short, boyish haircut that apparently was considered attractive in the 80s. She’s crying, and pulls out a gun and tries to shoot herself as she’s seated at the concert [do most people get all dressed up and attend concerts in order to kill themselves?], and is carried out. From the first second she’s on screen right through the end, Barkin’s main motivation as an actress seems to make herself appear cute, sexy and adorable. Nothing more. Maybe if you’re straight you would find this appealing or at least tolerable, but personally I was getting cramps in my eyebrows from rolling my eyes so much.

So here, about 20 minutes in, is where I lost all interest. Turns out that Buckaroo’s trip through the mountain released some aliens, which turn out, in a somewhat cute twist, to be the actual aliens portrayed in Orson Welles’ original War of the Worlds broadcast. They idea of that broadcast being a hoax was the hoax, the aliens were real. From here on a great deal of wackiness occurs.

Now, I am fully aware that everyone loves this movie to death. But I think a lot of that comes from the pleasant surprise that emerges from seeing what you think is going to be a somewhat straightforward sci-fi film, and finding that it’s much more wacky than you thought. I had this experience with Tank Girl, which I knew would be loose but not as goofy as it was, or The Shadow, a horrible movie I love in spite of itself for being so off the wall. But for me, I knew going in that this movie was highly wacky and it turned out to be exactly as wacky as I thought it would be, and in the exact same way. So there was no pleasant surprise, and all the wackiness just seemed tedious.

But what about this line? But what about that line? But what about the part where…? Yeah, I know, it’s all hilarious, I just totally was not on the wavelength.

So there ya go. I have no more to say.

Should you watch it: 

You’ll probably like it. Everyone else does.