The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai Across The Eighth Dimension hit theaters in 1984, in the midst of a glut of post-Raiders Of The Lost Ark throwback adventure stories. Amid all the Allan Quartermains, Remo Williamses, and Indiana Joneses, who could be expected to take note of a deadpan science-fiction comedy about a neurosurgeon rock-star superhero and his rugged team of colorfully code-named specialists? Buckaroo Banzai washed out in theaters, but the home-video crowd quickly caught up with director W.D. Richter and screenwriter Earl Mac Rauch's detailed world, a papier-mâché playset pasted together from the torn pages of Zen philosophy texts and Silver Age comics. On the commentary track of the new special-edition Buckaroo Banzai DVD, Richter postulates that the film's enduring appeal stems from the laudable display of teamwork by the hero's Hong Kong Cavaliers and Blue Blaze Irregulars; fans wish they lived in a world where the good guys operated with such precision and style. But Richter shouldn't discount the performance of Peter Weller as the lead, or John Lithgow as the psychotic, pop-eyed villain. Weller maintains his sincerity and cool whether he's driving a jet car through a mountain, blowing a tiny trumpet, uncovering an alien invasion tied to Orson Welles' 1938 War Of The Worlds broadcast, or wooing a suicidal spitfire (played by Ellen Barkin) who happens to be the long-lost twin sister of his late wife. Lithgow, meanwhile, plays an Italian scientist whose body has been possessed by an alien ringleader. The actor gives the personality conflict his full attention, bouncing back and forth with a severely hunched back and a simian brow, and barking out his lines in a heavy accent from the old country via outer space. Ugly cover art aside, the DVD has been assembled with an eye toward Banzai cultists. The featurettes and commentary operate under the conceit that Buckaroo Banzai is a real guy whose adventures were dramatized by Rauch and Richter. The disc includes reproductions of album covers from the Hong Kong Cavaliers catalog, blueprints of the vehicles and headquarters featured in the film, and a random fact about watermelons which initiates will find meaningful. As for Banzai itself, it remains an occasionally incomprehensible rush of subplots, sight gags, mythology, and bizarre fashion choices, truer to the spirit of classic adventure stories than to the letter. Which may be why people who love the film feel the way they do. Buckaroo Banzai assumes an attitude of poise and purpose in an otherwise awkward universe.
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