Thursday, February 18, 2016

Menace from the 8th Dimension




This entry is the first of three entries for the Movie Scientists Blogathon.  This absolutely captivating idea for a blogathon comes to us from the warped minds of Chtistina Wehner and her laboratory assistant, Silver Screenings.  The blogathon spans over three days, with today being dedicated to Good Scientists.





You ever have one of those days where you have a difficult surgery to perform in the morning, fight off an evil alien invasion in the afternoon, and then rock out, performing an exhaustive concert playing guitar for your rock and roll band that night?  Not to mention having to deal with a suicidal woman who may or may not be the twin sister (or at least the doppelganger) of your deceased wife? No? Well, how about having to drive an experimental car with a mechanism you designed that lets you travel through solid matter, chase down the demented colleague of your scientist father who recently escaped from a nut ward, all while trying to deal with an alien shock treatment that allows you to see evil aliens who are posing as humans? Still, no?  Well, you're not Buckaroo Banzai.

This hodgepodge mess is what is the basis for one of my absolute favorite movies, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension.  The movie itself requires an extraordinary suspension of disbelief, as well as an ability to adapt to whatever the screen throws at you.  For one thing, the movie starts off as if it in the middle of an ongoing series of movies, sometimes chucking stuff at you as if you'd been watching one of those Saturday morning serials from the 50's, and you should already know what has been going on before this episode.

Not to worry, though, because if you have the ability to go along with it as it progresses, you won't be entirely lost....at least not if you watch it more than once.  I have to admit, when I saw this movie the first time I was probably as confused as you'll probably be after one viewing.  But that's part of the fun of  ABB. It's a movie that doesn't take itself too seriously.  This ain't Casablanca in other words.

The script was the brainchild of a guy named Earl Mac Rauch.  According to wikipedia, Rauch and his friend, screenwriter W. D. Richter carried on a correspondence in the early 70's leading to Rauch going out to Hollywood.  Rauch told Richter some details about a character he had in mind, which was the genesis for what eventually became Buckaroo Banzai.  Richter encouraged Rauch to write a movie script about him.  Supposedly Rauch would get 30-40 pages into a script, then leave it unfinished, while starting a new script.   Now that I know this, ABB becomes all the more reasonable as a "coherent" script.  At least it explains a lot of the mishmash feel to the movie.

Buckaroo Banzai  is a sort of cross between Doc Savage and Doctor Who, with a little bit of Dr. Strangelove and a dash or two of Doctor Demento. With that many doctors in the mix, it's bound to get a little rocky.

The movie was what is probably considered a "bomb" by Hollywood standards.  It only made back about ½ of its budget in original box office receipts.  But it has achieved a cult status among its fans, myself included.  It is one of the 101 Cult Movies You Must See Before You Die (ed. by Steven Jay Schneider) a book I regard as a movie bible on my bookshelf.  Cult flicks by definition are those which may or may not have been huge blockbusters, but undeniably have a fanatical base of acolytes who spout an endless list of raves about what a great movie it is.  Which is exactly what I am going to do here.




The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension (1984)

There is a brief introduction to the early life of Buckaroo to begin this movie.  It is explained that Buckaroo was given that name because his father, a Japanese-American scientist and his mother, an American scientist were big fans of movie westerns.  Lost footage that was not in the theatrical release and was probably originally commandeered by Hanoi Xan, helps explains things.  (Who's Hanoi Xan?  Your guess is as good as mine.)  Buckaroo's father and mother, both scientists were doing some experimental stuff in the 50's and were killed in a freak "accident" that was later revealed to have been the work of Hanoi Xan.  (There's that name again...)

The original docudrama (docudrama?  I thought this was just a movie.  Yeah, well, you just keep telling yourself that...) begins with a group of politicians and scientists waiting for the arrival of Dr. Buckaroo Banzai (Peter Weller) to arrive for the test drive of his experimental jet car.  But Buckaroo is deeply involved helping a fellow surgeon Dr. Sidney Zweibel (Jeff Goldblum) perform some experimental surgery on an Eskimo.  After the surgery, Buckaroo offers Sidney a position on his team, providing he can sing.

The scene then transfers to the jet car test site, where Buckaroo drives the jet car, succeeding in getting it up to phenomenal speeds.  The computer readout in the control room lets you know that the car is geared up for what comes next because the gizmo that does the work is "sined", "seeled" and "delivered".  (There are lots of little gags like that and things placed in the film that are inside jokes and the like.  Even now, after having watched it dozens of times I'm still seeing things for the first time in it.) Buckaroo goes off course, unexpectedly to everyone in the control room expect his team of scientists.  He heads directly into a mountain and disappears through solid rock.

Mountain? What mountain?

This is done through a device called an oscillation overthruster. While the control room goes ape, Buckaroo is seeing lots of strange things inside the mountain, until he comes through on the other side.  After his success he gets out of the car and looks over his car and finds an odd looking living organism attached to the undercarriage.

The news reporters light up the airwaves with the earth shattering news and it is observed by Dr. Emilio Lizardo (John Lithgow), an inmate in the nut ward for the criminally insane.  He hears the name of Dr. Hikita (Robert Ito) and hooks himself up with a contraption that serves to give us a flashback to when he and Hikita were co-workers trying to develop an early experimental version of an oscillation overthruster.

Flashbacks done the hard way

Almost immediately after hearing the news, Lizardo, who insists his real names is Lord John Whorfin, kills his prison guard and escapes the prison.  He makes a call to someone named John Bigbooté to tell him of the news that Hikita has succeeded in inventing the overthruster and they can now make plans to go "home".

Back on the sane side of the universe, Buckaroo's crack team of scientists, the Hong Kong Cavaliers, consisting of Perfect Tommy (Lewis Smith), Rawhide (Clancy Brown), Reno Nevada from Memphis (Pepe Serna), Pinky Carruthers (Billy Vera) and the newest member Dr. Sidney who has adopted the name "New Jersey",  are doing some research on the item that Buckaroo pulled off his jet car, while preparing to go on stage as Buckaroo's rock band.  


Buckaroo Banzai and the Hong Kong Cavaliers

The scientists, you see  are also accomplished musicians, called, appropriately enough, Buckaroo Banzai and the Hong Kong Cavaliers.  They rush on stage to a packed house and leap into their first set, but midway into it, Buckaroo stops and claims he hears crying.  The crying it turns out belongs to a hot blonde (Ellen Barkin), who somehow made it through the front door wearing a negligee....  She attempts to commit suicide, but her arm is bumped and in the confusion she is thought to have been trying to kill Buckaroo and is arrested.

All dressed up and nowhere to go

Buckaroo goes into a funk, because the blonde, Penny Priddy by name, is apparently the unknown twin sister of Peggy, Buckaroo's dead wife.  Peggy had been killed in a previous episode of the serial by a bomb set by Hanoi Xan.  (There's that damn name again... Who the hell is he???) .  Buckaroo does not believe the story that she was trying to kill him and has her released.  She accompanies him and his cadre to a press conference called to discuss the recent jet car event.  But during the conference Buckaroo gets called to the phone where the "President is calling".  It's not the President, its a group of Black Lectroids who zap him from the phone booth, the result of which allows him to see the evil Red Lectroids as they really are, not in their human guises.

Red Lectroids from Planet 10!


See Black Lectroids are the good guys and Red Lectroids, of which John Whorfin/Lizardo is one,  are the bad guys.  The Black Lectroids want to prevent Whorfin and his fellow Red Lectroids from returning to Planet 10, where they would be a danger to the populace of Planet 10.  The Black Lectroids are not, however, from the same planet and mindset of Superman, and they don't have humanity's best interests in mind.  The Black Lectroids threaten to fire a particle beam on Russia and cause a nuclear war on Earth if that's what it takes to prevent Whorfin from getting off the planet.

Lord John Whorfin has his own cadre of helpers trying to help him steal Buckaroo's overthruster, including the aforementioned John Bigbooté (Christopher Lloyd), John O'Connor (Vincent Schiavelli), John Gomez (Dan Hedaya), John Yaya (James Rosin), and several more who are not seen onscreen, like John Small Berries, John Parrot and John Nolan.  They all work at Yoyodyne Industries which has a big contract with the US for defense.  They also all applied for Social Security cards on the same day, 11/01/1938 in Grover's Mill, NJ.  (Grover's Mill, in case you don't know the history, was the site of the "War of the Worlds", the supposed invasion of Mars from Orson Welles famous radio show broadcast, which happened October 31, 1938.)

Buckaroo has a fan base all over the world to call on, called the Blue Blaze Irregulars, citizens who, like Sherlock Holmes' Baker Street Irregulars, can be called on to help as a citizen's brigade.  These guys including Scooter Lindley (Damon Hines), a little boy whose code name is "Junior Blue Blaze Irregular #41 ½".  Together they form a full scale commando team that has to deal not only with Red Lectroids rampaging over the countryside, but also the kidnapping of Penny and the capture of Buckaroo.  The Hong Kong Cavaliers swing into action to do their best to save the day and prevent the President from having to fill out the Declaration of War (the Short Form).

Th easy way to start a war


Good Lord, if that doesn't interest you enough to go rent or buy this movie right now, perhaps you'd be better off with "The Sound of Music".  This has been a fun review to write and I thank Christina and her cohorts for giving me the opportunity.  No charge this time, girls.  I just wish the promised sequel at the end of the movie "Buckaroo Banzai Against the World Crime League" had been made.  "The World Crime League", BTW,  is Hanoi Xan's outfit.  (Hanoi Xan again?  Gah!)

That's it from the back seat this time, folks.  Gotta see if I can get the old Plymouth Fury up to 5 MPH for the ride home.  Don't think it's got enough juice for more than that.  Be sure to come back tomorrow for the second entry in the Movie Scientists Blogathon  which is to be devoted to Mad Scientists.

Quiggy


19 comments:

  1. Hi Quiggy - of course I know this one, it is a true 80s classic. Very popular among my college crowd when I was a freshman. Clever, zany, fast-paced, colorful, with a really amazing cast. I love the metaphysical sci-fi point of you. Thanks for reminding me, have not seen this one in a long, long time.

    What do you think of the film of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy? I seem to recall that it had some of the energy and feel of Buckaroo Banzai...what's your opinion?

    Be well, talk soon!
    -Chris

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Chris-
      I liked HHGTTG, but my opinion is that Sam Rockwell didn't quite capture Zaphod. I honestly don't know who could have, with the exception of a young Robin Williams. But the movie, for the most part, did capture that off kilter feeling of Adams' book. Too bad iy didn't click with the fans well enough for them to follow through with the sequels.

      Delete
  2. I am SO GLAD I read your post before coming across this movie. I don't think I would've given it a second glance if I happened to come across it without such a thoughtful and enthusiastic introduction.

    Your review presents an oddly intriguing film, and I'm actually going to take the trouble to hunt it down. Thanks for joining the blogathon and for introducing us (me) to this relatively unknown film!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If I add just one or two more fanatics to the list of devotees to the film, I'll consider it a job well done. Thanks.

      Delete
  3. Oh my god, I haven't seen Buckaroo Banzai in ages! I'm so glad you wrote about it for the Blogathon, and your review/recap did a perfect job of capturing the madcap insanity that is this cult classic! Great job! This brought back so many memories of watching this when I was younger. It's so unlike anything that would get made today. Great choice!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the comments. The green light for this one was probably done after a three martini lunch, but thank the gods (and the martinis) it was. LOL

      Delete
  4. I tried to comment earlier, but it didn't seem to come through, so I'm giving it another go. :)

    This sounds absolutely bonkers...and incredibly fun! I will definitely have to see this now. So glad you could participate in this blogathon.

    ReplyDelete
  5. The title alone should have driven me to this one long before now, but it took your article.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Titles sometimes pull me in like that too. Mad Scientist movie choice for me, The Brain That Wouldn't Die, was like that. Although that one is not near as frantic and fun as "Adventures". Thanks.

      Delete
  6. Great post. I know I've seen Buckaroo Bonzai two or three times, but there were a lot of years between them, so net effect, each time was almost like watching it the first time. I caught the first half hour of it, in the last month or so, and it is a fun movie.

    I think it's one of those films like The Big Sleep, where you can't sweat the story too much. You accept that the story is a bit of a mess and let it wash over you, it's very cool.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I could stand to watch this one more often than I do. It had been over a couple of years before i decided to blog about this time. Thanks.

      Delete
  7. This is my first visit to your Drive-In, Quiggy, and I enjoyed your look at one of my all-time favorite "cult films" (I've also been waiting--30-plus years--for the promised Buckaroo Banzai Against the World Crime League).

    The quintessential moment for me comes when Jeff Goldblum and Pepe Serna pass through a lab room where a watermelon sits within some sort of pressure machine. "Why is there a watermelon there?," Jeff asks, to which Pepe replies "I'll tell you later." He never does, of course.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Gary. That movie is so chock full of sly hints and inside jokes that it's almost a new discovery every time I watch it. Hope you enjoyed it enough to come back to visit again.

      Delete
  8. I love this movie. I just bought the British blu-ray (sadly, there is no U.S. blu-ray) and it's been sitting on my desk for the past few weeks gathering dust. Your article got me all fired up to go watch it. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I play all my movies on my computer, so I don't even know what a difference blu-ray makes (or for that matter whether it would even work on my computer... Thanks.

      Delete
  9. This is one of my all-time fave movies and I was lucky enough to see it at an impressionable age when it was first unleashed on unsuspecting theaters in the '80s and immediately realized a kindred warped spirit in this movie. I love that it has already established this crazy world right from the get-go and you have to sink or swim in it - there is no hand-holding, which I'm sure turned off a lot of people back in the day (and continues to do so). This movie is DOC SAVAGE by way of Thomas Pynchon. Awesome. Nice review!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thomas Pynchon. Been meaning to read him....
      Thanks.

      Delete
  10. Thanks for submitting to The Classic Movie Marathon link party. Hope to see you next week as well.

    ReplyDelete

I'm pretty liberal about freedom of speech, but if you try to use this blog to sell something it will be deleted.