Monday, March 1, 2010

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai: Across the Eighth Dimension

OK, so this is the novelization cover. It's all I had.

I hadn't seen this movie in years, and let it languish for over a month after Netflix sent it. No real reason to let it sit that long, other than an irrational feeling of being "forced" to watch it. The fire-engine-red envelope sat there, glaring angrily at me from the desk, its mute paper presence an accusation - "By God, you queued me up, now watch me!"

So finally, I grudgingly shoved it into the DVD player.

Not a bad little movie. I couldn't decide if it was legitimately low-budget, or whether it simply aped the shoestring look of its ancestors, the old serials and Poverty Row potboilers. The latter would make sense, but I suspect the former is closer to the truth. The art direction and make-up FX have a wonderfully grotesque, organic look, at least for the non-human side of things, while Buckaroo and his Hong Kong Cavaliers use a lot of surprisingly mundane-looking technology. Again, this seems a lot like how the "high tech" stuff of the '30s serials and Universal horror flicks often looked, as though the art directors and set designers dragged in every piece of surplus electronics they could find at a scrap yard or flea market.

The plot is a mess, a hodge-podge of tropes from the past whipped up into a frothy confection. Warring alien factions, Cold War paranoia, identical twin sisters, a Ford pickup that moves at Mach speed, Orson Welles' "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast, something called an "oscullation overthruster," good guys with names like Perfect Tommy and Rawhide...all this and more adds up to an addle-brained movie with a lot of charm. It's a fun, cheerful universe Buckaroo lives in, where lucky coincidences abound and even death seems not to spoil the fun. That's not even to mention Buckaroo himself, a brain-surgeon/physicist/rock star/samurai who apparently saves the Earth so often that it's become kinda no big deal. As Rawhide says at one point: "I tell ya, it ain't one thing it's another..."

Lots of goofiness in this flick, especially in the background. I especially got a kick out of the night club where Buckaroo and the Hong Kong Cavaliers played, which looks rather half-empty and sad, especially with all the crappy dancers and laughable '80s fashions. Reminded me of your least favorite night spot on a Wednesday night, where the owner has left the lights on because it's almost time to mop.

It's too bad more Buckaroo Banzai movies weren't done. The main premise has an appeal to it that would suit it for TV, along the lines of an American Dr. Who. There have been comic books, and I've heard good things about the movie novelization, but it'd be cool to see Buckaroo and his crew fighting the good fight in live action.