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Maybe the Jet Car can phase us out of here – Marvel Super Special #33, “Buckaroo Banzai”

March 22, 2012

We move into the Marvel Super Special March homestretch with this adaptation of a true cult classic, one that carried its loyal fan following from the 1980s well into the next millennium. Starring Peter Weller in his pre-RoboCop days, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (often mercifully shortened, as in this adaptation, to Buckaroo Banzai) was a film with an ambitious mythology, a movie that sought to lauch a film franchise by throwing every wild idea at the screen that could be mustered. The eponymous lead is a scientist, a rock star, a philosopher, a fighter, a lover, and whatever else you can think of, a Renaissance man amongst Renaissance men, with a loyal cadre of fellow-travellers (the Hong Kong Cavaliers) and followers (the Blue Blaze Irregulars) to spackle in whatever quirky holes are left over after taking into account his eccentricities.

The movie’s a mouthful, and it was a nerd buffet.

Confession: I’m not a fan. I’ve only watched the film once, about eight or nine years ago when I was tearing though the Netflix red envelopes at a ferocious pace. I’d heard so many good things about Banzai. Its energy. Its ambition. And I was COLOSSALLY disappointed. I’ve only been put to sleep by a few films in my day (Fritz Lang’s Metropolis was like a bottle of NyQuil, a late night screening of The Thin Red Line ended with me waking up in an emptying theater), but Banzai sent me down for the count. I couldn’t invest anything in any of the characters. ANY of them. And I love Clancy Brown, and perk up any time he and that terrifying baritone of his boom show up. But no dice. There was nothing on which you could gain a foothold. And that’s one of the biggest problems.

There are roughly a hundred characters in Banzai, all with obviously dense backstories of their own somewhere out in the ether, which all tie together into some supposedly awesome sci-fi/pop culture fictional extravaganza. Supposedly. Unfortunately, none of those histories are explicated anywhere. The movie hits the ground running, and prior events are left unexplained, which, granted, could mean that you’re skipping a lot of horrid exposition. But for the viewer — at least for this one — that means you feel like the doofus loitering at a party where everyone else is friends and they’re laughing at inside jokes that have been cultivated for years, and you’re left laughing along at things that are apparently funny but you have no idea why you’re laughing and that leaves you pissed. The Red Lectroids are the followers of John Lithgow (hey he was in that crappy Santa Claus movie too) who is an old partner of the Asian guy who worked with Banzai’s parents who were killed by the evil Hanoi Xan who is Banzai’s arch-enemy but he isn’t in this movie and the red guys are the rivals of the Black Lectroids which are Rastafarians and look here comes Jeff Goldblum in ridiculous cowboy attire GET ME OUT OF HERE.

The comic is faithful in this regard: it was a chore for me to read, despite scripting from the normally reliable Bill Mantlo and pencils — and a nice painted cover — from a young Mark Texeira (Armando Gil contributed inks). Yes, there are the chunks that might intrigue, like Banzai test-driving his rocket car, phasing through a mountain and seeing monsters along the way:

But then you get eye-glazing dialogue like this that makes you set down the mag and pinch the bridge of your nose — and down a scotch:

Both the movie and the adaptation jump around so much you can never get your bearings, or, even worse, care. It tries to do too much. Just because you can build a phone that makes toast doesn’t mean that you have to build a phone that can make toast, you know? There are too many plates spinning, and what’s worse, a lot of them are spinning offscreen. It feels like the better story happened back in the fictional past, and we’re getting the leftovers.

That said, I certainly don’t begrudge others their fandom for the Banzaiverse. To each their own, different strokes, and all that jazz.

In the back there are the rote behind-the-scenes photos and interview, though it’s all a tad more intriguing in this instance because of the feeling that this movie could be the tip of a fictional iceberg. The film’s director/producer/éminence grise, W.D. Richter, is the interviewee, and it’s a bit heart-rending as his passion and hopes for the future seep through the black and white. Perhaps this paragraph, towards the end, sums it all up best:

There have been no further Buckaroo Banzai films. ‘NUFF SAID.

Despite the general lethargy from this corner about the film and the comic, there was one screen sequence that I truly, genuinely adored. It came in the end credits — and there’s no I WAS JUST HAPPY THAT IT WAS OVER HAHAHA dig here — as the Hong Kong Cavaliers et al made their curtain call. It had a fun, straight-forward and light-hearted energy. And focus. I liked it, and was glad to see a photo of it reproduced on the back cover of the Super Special. I offer it here so that this post can end on a positive note:

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Chris permalink
    March 23, 2012 9:29 am

    Yes, the end credit sequence is the best part of the movie and there’s a homage to it in The Life Aquatic.

    • March 28, 2012 4:03 pm

      It’s always good to know that others agree. At least the thing went out with a (kind of) bang.

  2. May 25, 2014 7:57 pm

    There are so many incredible lines (hey there monkey boy, Big Bootae…Big Bootae) and scenes (Lithgow with electrical clamps on his tongue and ear lobe) and ideas (crazy cool Lectroid airships that look like nothing in a movie before or since…like a Mandelbrot object or something that just came out of deep frying batter) in this film that it had me hooked and in stitches from the first few minutes. I saw it when it first came out and believe me, this was a radically great piece of cinema at the time.
    When something is this imaginatively out there it does require a certain context to appreciate it. I feel lucky that I saw it in that context and can still watch it today and be immensely entertained and stretched by it.

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