As the credits roll, a gang of people strut down the L.A. River. Their confidence is infectious, and their outfits will spurn jealousy. Catchy synth beats wail as cowboy garb and bowties sway to the rhythms. These people are aware they just accomplished the impossible, and they have the walk of a gang that knows it just changed the world.
The term “cult classic” gets thrown around a lot these days, and it could practically identify just about any movie ranging from the “so terrible you have to see this” to the forgotten gem you share with your friends.
Frankly the term “cult classic” is a garbage title. It’s a euphemism for what popular culture deemed a failure during its time. It’s the Perfect Attendance Award at the honor roll assembly. It’s the basketball B-team for all the kids too unathletic to actually play competitive sports in middle school. Movies are good or they are bad, and if you think a movie is so bad that it’s good, guess what? That’s a good movie. It’s a movie that successfully entertained you and you enjoyed it, period.
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension transcends the limiting definitions of “cult classics.” Buckaroo Banzai is just a great movie. It’s a movie before its time and also desperately of its time. It’s so hip and cool yet so geeky and weird. It features some of the greatest faces cinema has ever known and some of the wildest things your eyes will ever see. It’s impossibly ludicrous yet hopelessly earnest. It defies convention and, in doing so, rewards your soul. Regardless of how you define “cult classic,” or even if you hate the term altogether, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai is a movie that deserves to be heralded throughout the annals of time.
"Would it be campy? Would it be a cartoon? Or would it be the sort of wacky, realistic film that would catch people sideways and not be a cartoon?"
These were the questions Peter Weller had racing through his head before he signed up to play our titular hero. In response, you could say that Buckaroo Banzai is all of these things. Banzai is a guy who operates as a test pilot, physicist and neurosurgeon, drives his car through a mountain, still finds time to play rock 'n 'roll and is never so busy he can’t grab his band, the Hong Kong Cavaliers, and stop the inter-dimensional Red Lectroids of Planet 10 from taking over the world.
"I've tried to explain the storyline to people, and it takes about an hour. I mean it; it's that complicated. But it's terrific. Every time I tell people about it, I get so excited that I end it by saying, ‘Buckaroo Banzai, remember where you heard it first!’" John Lithgow has said.
The Banzai Cult arguably started before the film was ever made. The simply astounding cast list comprised director W.D. Richter’s first recruits of Banzai believers. Weller, Lithgow, Jeff Goldblum, Ellen Barkin, Christopher Lloyd, Clancy Brown and so many other incredible talents graced this film with their presence. These are the people Richter got hooked into this weird sci-fi, comedy, rock ‘n’ roll, satire, action/adventure film from the start. They saw the ridiculous and believed in it so completely that they made something truly special.
Buckaroo Banzai ultimately succeeds because it creates a world you believe in and a cast of characters you want to see. The sci-fi is cool, the music is raging, the comedy snaps and the adventure is real.
Maybe you haven’t seen The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai before, or maybe you know exactly what we’re talking about. You can attempt to explain it to someone else, but a film this rich, this deep, and this fully-realized will get you caught up in all the details and ultimately leave you just spouting hyperbole into the air like a crazy person in the street.
The term “cult classic” is still a mystery, but a great movie is not. We find films in our own time through streaming devices, video stores, borrowed copies or in movie theaters. But, the one thing that makes a movie great is when someone hands it to you and says “You HAVE to see this.” If just one person finds this movie for the first time, then a spark is lit for a new set of believers to embrace and pass along the greatness that is a rock ‘n’ roll blazin’, alien-eradicatin’, nuclear physicist, bow tie-wearing dream machine known as Buckaroo Banzai.
‘Cause remember: “No matter where you go, there you are.”
This was originally published in April's issue of Birth.Movies.Death., in honor of films celebrating their thirtieth anniversary this year. See The Class of 1984 at the Alamo Drafthouse this month!