Award winning physicist, brain surgeon and rock musician Buckaroo Banzai (Peter Weller), while test-driving the astounding jet car, plugs in his Oscillation Overthruster and actually drives through a mountain via the eighth dimension, successfully completing the experiment which killed his father and mother in the 50s. But one of Banzai's enemies, the brilliant but twisted Dr. Lizardo (John Lithgow) knows that 8-D is the prison of the evil Red Lectroids from Planet 10. He knows this because he has been possessed by the leader of the Reds since his own abortive Overthruster experiments in 1938.
So Lizardo wants Banzai's Overthruster and some of his minions - who escaped 8-D back in the 30s (an incident reported by Orson Welles, which was later covered up as a "War of the Worlds" adaptation) and are willing to stop at nothing to get it (as long as they are not distracted by sugary snacks or tasty electricity). Complicating things further: the ruling Black Lectroids would rather nuke Earth than let the Reds escape, and there's this woman who looks like Buckaroo's wife, who was killed by the villainous Hanoi Xan, leader of the World Crime League...
Confused? Good. You should be. Half the fun of Buckaroo Banzai is just keeping up.
No less than an attempt to re-create Doc Savage and his Fabulous Five for this post-modern world, Buckaroo Banzai and his team, "those hard-rocking scientists, the Hong Kong Cavaliers" would have been the focus of a series of movies had the box office (or rather, the studio support) been better. Those that love it, though, love it with a deep, abiding passion; this was a DVD that was awaited with high anticipation.
Buckaroo Banzai is filled with off-kilter dialogue, sly Zen humor, and a frankly astonishing cast, including Ellen Barkin, Jeff Goldblum and Christopher Lloyd. Around these parts, we refer to it as "the movie that was too cool for the 80s." And that probably goes for most of the 90s, too. And did I mention it has the best closing line of any movie, ever?
A clever interactive menu puts you at the wheel of the jet car. The transfer is a beauty, with strong colors, but some noticeable grain in the blacks, which can probably be attributed to the film stock. The 5.1 audio remix is vibrant, a soundscape every bit as cluttered and lively as the events onscreen.
With anticipation this high, MGM doubtless knew that multiple extras were required. Let's start off with the prizes, things that we've heretofore only seen in murky bootlegs and pixilated MPEGs: The original pre-credit sequence, composed of Banzai home movies and showing the events leading up to the demise of Buckaroo's parents (Jamie Lee Curtis plays Mom!) and 14 small scenes snipped from the final cut. It's possible to play the movie itself with the Jamie Lee prologue, but sadly, the other scenes exist only in soft-imaged workprints. Then there's "The Jet Car Trailer", a CGI confection used to raise interest in a TV series - the jet car saves the space shuttle! Hooray!
On the "Deleted Scenes" page, you'll notice a watermelon next to the "Special Features" button. Highlight the melon and you'll be taken to a newspaper clipping detailing Perfect Tommy's plan to relieve famine by dropping watermelons in affected regions; highlight the Banzai symbol on the second page, and you'll be taken to a brief video snippet with director W.D. Richter, who talks about the infamous watermelon scene (and basically refers you to the feature's audio commentary track).
Carrying on, there are "Buckaroo Banzai Personal Profiles" - brief explorations of the various facets of the great man's character - and "Character Profiles" - more information on the various supporting characters, including a couple of World Crime League honchos which we may never see. "Jet Car All Access" explores the systems of the world's fastest land vehicle. There are a number of photos in the "Still Gallery", arranged into ten sections, as well as the teaser trailer (a fair amount of which was used in the movie's closing credits).
More yet: "The Banzai Institute Archives" gives you access to Schematics of the Tour Bus and the BB Complex (great fun for those of us who loved seeing blueprints of the Batcave); a gallery of movie tie-ins, locations, and reviews; covers of CDs by the Hong Kong Cavaliers; an interview with Dr. Banzai; an excerpt from "Banzai Radio" with publicist Terry Erdmann; the Institutes history, various access badges, and excerpts from Prof. Hikita's diaries. If you highlight the Banzai Institute symbol in the corner, you'll be taken to a small collection of alternate DVD covers.
Two more Easter Eggs: from the main menu, highlight the middle jet car from the three atop the menu and you can access a list of quotes from the movie; highlight that button in the upper left-hand corner, and you can see alternative menu designs.
Well, time for the big guns - "Buckaroo Banzai Declassified" is a featurette blending 1984 behind-the-scenes footage with new video of producer W.D. Richter; "Pinky Carruther's Unknown Facts" are subtitles that play throughout the movie, sometimes revealing production facts, often unreeling apropos of nothing; and audio commentary track featuring director Richter and writer Earl Mac Rauch, who is pretending to be Reno, the official historian of Team Banzai.
It's the sections with Richter that tend to irk me, and largely for one reason: the decision was made, somewhere along the line, to produce these extras with the conceit that Buckaroo Banzai is a real person (hence Rauch's masquerade). All well and good, but the joke wears thin very quickly for me, and would have been better if confined to an extra or two. These add-ons, at their best, provide a peek into the creative process - but these peeks are too often short-circuited by questions like, "So - does Peter Weller look anything like the real Dr. Banzai?" But that's a personal problem, and it should not detract from this disc, which is the best looking treatment of these hard-rocking scientists to date - an astonishing amount of entertainment at an attractive price point.
Dr. Freex, 3/26/2002