Sunday, February 27, 2022

Watch Party Watch: The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension (1984)

Watched:  02/25/2022
Format:  Amazon Watch Party
Viewing:  Unknown
Director:  W.D. Richter

A first viewing of The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension (1984) is not an easy task, I would assume.  

I saw Buckaroo Banzai on its release in the theater thanks to a dad who was not particularly nerdy and didn't care for nerd culture, but had certainly enjoyed serials and whatnot in his youth, and absolutely got what the movie was selling.  And I loved it.  Absolutely was into the movie.  I still love the idea of a team of folks with specialties standing between civilization and chaos.  And I got that the movie was funny and winky.  

But I also watched it over and over on cable and recorded on VHS for a bit through middle school.  What I didn't know was that the movie had flopped.  Horribly.  I mean, it made sense that my dad had to drive us across town to the one theater showing the movie, which was mostly empty.  But I also had seen Adventures in Babysitting in a theater so empty of anyone but me and my pals, the manager had come in before the movie to tell us "no monkeyshines", and that's an American classic.

In college I found other folks who knew and loved the film, but it was in my Production Management class that I did some research and found out exactly how much damage had been done.  (I was looking for movies a tad like my treatment as examples of how my pitch would make money.  Friends, that project was when I learned I liked a whole lotta movies that had tanked.)  

Buckaroo Banzai has its issues, certainly.  Modern audiences would lose their minds that the Hong Kong Cavaliers, while ethnically diverse, are an all-male outfit (easy enough to remedy for a remake).  But it's also a movie with very broad humor that never says "this is a comedy".  The characters may have names like "John Smallberries", but no one ever comments on it, really.  It absolutely knows it's absurd, but treats everything completely straight.  

I think the tell-tale sign of if you're getting the movie or not is how you react to (a) the same guys we just saw performing brain surgery and driving a rocket car show up to play a gig in a mid-sized club, and (b) how you deal with Buckaroo hearing Ellen Barkin silently weeping to herself over the sound of a raucous rock show.  If those two things don't land - check out.  Immediately.  Because this movie is not for you.

You're not necessarily doing anything wrong, because the movie isn't drawing attention to what it's doing in these scenes.  One framing oddity of the film is that - even more so than Star Wars - this movie supposes that we're in Chapter 37 or so of the ongoing adventures of Buckaroo Banzai, and we're catching the characters mid-career.  In a very real way, Ellen Barkin's character's entire arc is a set-up for a sequel that didn't happen.  It's artificially doing what TV and comics and serial pulp magazines did for consumers before the era of streaming - telling an episodic tale so you can get caught up as a newbie, but reward the audience that's already there.  Like Doc Savage novels or The Shadow or a whole lotta other predecessors now mostly forgotten, this is how you might have come upon these characters.  As a kid - it was how *everything* was for me that wasn't a movie, so it all made sense.  I wasn't there for X-Men #1 or the start of most TV shows I watched.  It's all one more layer of wink on the film.  

I *liked* Back to the Future as a kid.  It was a fine, family-friendly comedy all could enjoy.  But I thought of it then (and now) as kinda basic mass entertainment that always seemed on the verge of fart jokes (see: manure truck).  There are two ways to lean into acknowledging sci-fi can be goofy, and one is having your lead keep saying "this is so crazy! This is so crazy!" or you can absolutely double-down on it, and have your press conference explaining that you've bodily passed through the 8th Dimension and come out with a living organism on the other side having to pick up the pace because there's a motorcycle convention coming through.   

I know which I prefer, and I am also not allowed to make movies, which probably kept me from bankrupting anyone.

Anyway, no harm nor foul if folks aren't in to the movie.  Just remember: Wherever you go, there you are.

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