Humanity Peaked in 1984: A Confused Review of The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension


The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension is undoubtedly a movie. While students and faculty alike walked around campus, some playing spikeball, some playing badminton, others just mingling and existing, I was one of a few that sat in Bliss 203’s unofficial movie night, watching this absolute gem of a 1980s sci-fi schlop. Why, you may ask? Well, Swadesh S. ‘23, a fellow audience member, explains, “his best hypothesis at present attributes it all to a malevolent deity with a particularly cruel sense of humor.” Starring an alarming number of future stars — Jonathan Banks (Breaking Bad), Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future), Clancy Brown (Spongebob Squarepants), John Lithgow (too many to count), and Jeff Goldblum (that one time he was shirtless in Jurassic Park) –, this unsuccessful 1984 sci-fi film became a cult classic, partly due to being seen as a decent satire/mockery of science fiction movies. However, it becomes difficult to tell whether it is satire, an actual attempt at a low-budget sci-fi movie, or a mix of both. That being said, this movie was just too interesting to be left alone, so I vowed to take a crack at it.

The Wikipedia entry claims that this movie is an action-adventure sci-fi film, centered around “Dr. Buckaroo Banzai, a physicist, neurosurgeon, test pilot, and rock star, to save the world by defeating a band of inter-dimensional aliens called Red Lectroids from Planet 10.” However, I could not conceivably describe this experience to you beyond that collection of words of questionable verity. I came out of that viewing experience a changed person. As Swadesh puts it, “What had become of my brain? Did the law of universal gravitation hold anymore? Why do grapes exist? Only Buckaroo knows.” I second this notion. It was a religious experience, but instead of an omniscient, omnipotent deity floating towards me out of the light, there was only Dr. Buckaroo Banzai. He filled the god-shaped hole in the universe, he and his awful accent and abominable trigger discipline. What few flashes of memory I retained from that fateful evening race by, like Buckaroo Banzai racing his Jet Car through a mountain; I can remember but a few key moments, many bad props, and some questionable racial metaphors. So. Either watch the movie or read the Wikipedia article.

The props most strongly suggest this was at least originally intended to be a satire. The most stand-out example is the plastic-and-bubble-wrap goggles meant to protect from intense light from a holographic message. What muddles this vision is the slightly impressive (if unclear) spacecraft design and somewhat convincing alien costumes. As is the American WayTM, there is also an excessive number of guns and a similarly disturbing amount of poor trigger discipline. In fact, the climax involves the gaggle of secondary characters accompanying Dr. Banzai to the launch site of the Red Lectroids’ spaceship, meant to be used to destroy the planet. One of said gaggle is a prepubescent member of the Blue Blazes, Banzai’s fan club. Along with piloting a helicopter, this child also wields an assault rifle. ‘Murica.

The effects are not half-bad either, considering Return of the Jedi had been released a year prior. The spaceships are competent, and, again, the alien costumes are not that bad, if obviously fake. The main drawback is the particularly un-good action, filled with people falling over at no discernible impact, an absolutely null sense of pacing, and predominant floatiness.

“It was a religious experience, but instead of an omniscient, omnipotent deity floating towards me out of the light, there was only Dr. Buckaroo Banzai.”

This leads to the following main point: the editing is intensely awful. While a chase scene is going on, the movie randomly cuts to people still at the start of the chase, or a shared house, or the scene of a seemingly random crash. Time passes with no sense of progression, suddenly cutting from broad daylight to pitch-black dark, the only bridge connecting them being a short scene in a windowless building. The so-called climax so often cuts between different scenes it is difficult to tell who or what the focus is. In one scene, we’re given a ticking clock setup, where a woman would be killed in an unspecified amount of time. We’re not even given 15 seconds to process this and build the slightest bit of suspense before Dr. Banzai himself unceremoniously saves her. Whenever the movie seems to be building any atmosphere, pacing, or tension, it immediately kills it.

The music is also almost nonexistent, except for the odd quasi-dance number at the end accompanying the credits. This absence leaves the movie feeling oddly dead and sterile, scenes between moments of seemingly high tension and conflict just not registering any real emotion. Everything feels monotonous. Even if they were aiming for something insincere, there would be methods of pursuing this goal that does not involve the complete nonexistence of emotion.

Thankfully, the writing, characteristic of any strange 1980s sci-fi flick, is lacking to the point that it is terrifyingly funny. Seeing Jeff Goldblum on-screen, evidently not caring in the slightest, is always a surreal experience. His fellow cast members add to this bizarreness. So many incredibly accomplished actors delivering lines like they’re being force-fed half-thought lines. The way these characters full-heartedly belt out pseudo-scientific jargon, particularly the non-main characters, is truly incredible. 

The main problem with this movie is that its production quality screams that it is meant to be satire, and its dialogue is so blatantly awful that it is near-impossible to see it any other way. However, said dialogue is written so drably, delivered so generically, and paced so oddly that it can’t be read as much else other than genuine. It’s like the setting is there to be a true satire on the homogenization of 1980s sci-fi movies, but everything occupying the setting works against it. The near-lack of music doesn’t aid its case either: with no score setting the mood, the movie makes it impossible for us to tell what the emotions are supposed to be, even faux ones. The movie’s troubled production history only compounds this issue, often leading me to ask whether a scene was meant to look bad from the start or whether they just ran out of time, money, or motivation. When asked whether he thought this movie was satire or not, Swadesh replied, “I would hope so! I can’t imagine being the production executives who looked at this script and saying, ‘hmm, this’ll do well with the children.’ If it was an unironic film, I’m extremely happy for the direction cinema has gone since the ’80s.” All culminates in a bizarre, wildly hilarious experience and is aided by the addition of some friends to work off of.

This movie absolutely sucks. I love it.