Starring: Peter Weller, John Lithgow, Jeff Goldblum
Director: W.D. Richter
The title might lead you to expect a straightforward SF spoof, but there’s nothing straightforward about this extraordinary one-off cult classic. Released in 1984, it’s a kind of anti-blockbuster, a ’70s throwback which employs the same sorts of techniques that Robert Altman used for his sprawling ensemble pieces – overlapping dialogue, jittery editing, verité camerawork – to tell the Amazing Stories-style saga of Buckaroo Banzai (brain surgeon, man of action and bar room musician) who, having invented a means of interstellar travel, finds himself targeted by some soberly suited aliens.
It’s a film that feels exhilaratingly anarchic and free-wheeling, but not by accident. Director W.D. Richter shows a remarkable control of pace and tone, moving things along briskly, keeping the viewer off-kilter and burying plot points and exposition in amongst the absorbing chatter that goes on between the Hong Kong Cavaliers, Buckaroo’s backing group and support team. Just as remarkable is the film’s sense of humour – dry, deadpan, nonchalant, not at all obvious, relying on timing and mood rather than traditional gags and one-liners. Think Repo Man meets Napoleon Dynamite, and you’ll have some idea of what’s in store.
On top of that, you have the ideal cast for a cult movie – Jeff Goldblum lands one of his best early roles as a doctor who climbs about Buckaroo’s tour bus, and Christoper Llloyd and Clancy Brown are in good form too. Just occasionally the film falters, particularly in the scenes with John Lithgow, whose comic booky performance as the crackpot leader of the aliens seems more suited to a Sam Raimi movie, but that only makes you realize how special the rest of it is (and even the end credits are delightfully memorable). If you haven’t seen Buckaroo Banzai before, you’re in for a treat – it’s a movie you’ll fall in love with and want to share with their friends, and anyone lucky enough to watch this excellent Blu-ray release with be Team Banzai for life. 10/10
The widescreen cinematography is treated to a lovely HD transfer, with no grain or blemishes, with natural colours and a crispness to textures of skin and clothes. The opening sequence of Buckaroo’s jetcar being raced across the desert has a lovely freshness and sparkle, and later on, the moody, backlit scene where he’s serenading Penny Priddy in the nightclub has an attractive combination of subtle, dusky tones and popping neons. Later on, the coloured lighting in the Shock Tower scene has plenty of depth and intensity. 9/10
An eccentric 17-min interview with Peter Weller, who comes across as a long-term inhabitant of Banzai land – a little short on concrete detail, but he talks about Einstein, Zen and jamming with Jeff Goldblum, and he lists Elia Kazan, Jacques Cousteau and Adam Ant as his inspirations for the character of Buckaroo. ~ A charming 14-min interview with John Lithgow, who reveals that he based his character’s accent on a tailor at MGM. ~ Fun, quirky 22-min featurette made for the film’s DVD release, introduced by the preppy, bespectacled director and with plenty of info about the production and FX (apparently the spaceship designs were inspired by seashells and coral). ~ A 43-min Q&A with Weller and Lithgow, with good picture and sound and a heartfelt intro by Kevin Smith, who talks about his early love of the film. Weller reveals that he “couldn’t get through the script” when he was first contacted about making the movie. ~ An 18-min video essay by Matt Zoller Seitz makes a brave stab at explaining the film’s plot and comments astutely on its offbeat sensibility and low-fi aesthetic. ~ 7-min home movie-style prologue, deleted from the final cut, featuring Jamie Lee Curtis as Buckaroo’s mum – interesting to see as it packs in a lot of Buckaroo’s backstory. ~ 14-mins of deleted scenes, sourced from a video quality workprint. ~ Audio commentary with Richter – a little mannered, but some interesting snippets emerge. For instance, we learn that Weller’s singing in the nightclub scene was looped later on. ~ In the true Banzai spirit, let’s defy the laws of mathematics and give this bundle of extras 11/10