Thursday, December 13, 2012

80s Month Week 2: Buckaroo Bonzai

Our December trek through the wondrous world of the 80s continues with one of the greatest/craziest things ever to exist: 1984’s The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai Across the 8th Dimension!

The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai Across the 8th Dimension is the greatest and most amazing thing ever and you should go watch it right now.

That probably sounds like hyperbole, and I guess it is, but only a little. The truth is that there are plenty of films that are better than Buckaroo Bonzai - better acted, with better writing and cinematography – but there are very few movies more amazing than Buckaroo Bonzai.

It’s like this: imagine you are climbing a mountain somewhere in the Rockies. You finally reach the top, only to find a sailboat balanced on the peak of the mountain. Now there are plenty of better sailboats than this one – better constructed with more features and gizmos – but there are few that are more amazing, because where the hell did it come from? That’s the question that comes up again and again every time I watch Buckaroo Bonzai.

Purporting to be the middle film in a non-existent series, Buckaroo Bonzai is a story from the ongoing adventures of Dr. Buckaroo Bonzai (Peter Weller): super scientist, new wave rock star, neurosurgeon, particle physicist, and race car driver. Assisting him in his various science adventures are the Hong Kong Cavaliers, a team of eclectic caricatures which includes Jeff Goldblum as a cowboy neurologist from New Jersey. Also they periodically jam out to rock music:

At the beginning of the film Dr. Bonzai is running late to the high profile testing of his new Jet Car (capable of Mach 1!) because he is finishing up brain surgery on a sick child. Once he gets behind the wheel it is revealed that the speed test is a cover for the real experiment- a test of his “Oscillation Overthruster” which accidentally propels him through a mountain and briefly into the 8th Dimension. This accidentally sets off a war between the Red Lectroids of the 8th Dimension and the Black Lectroids of Planet 10 because of course it does.

Look, this is not a film that benefits from having its plot written out like that. The things that make Buckaroo Bonzai great are the strange choices made by everyone involved along the way. For example: despite the silly comic book nature of the setting and plot the actors play it completely straight, most especially Peter Weller as Bonzai. The fact that The Crime League killed his wife in the (non-existent) previous film is pulpy background detail to the viewer, but to Weller’s Dr. Bonzai it’s a source of pain and grief that he plays with real humanity. Also, all the Black Lectroids are Rastafarians for some reason, and all the Red Lectroids have the first name John followed by a crazy last name (Yaya, Smallberries, Bigboote´).  Any discussion of crazy choices in Buckaroo Bonzai also has to mention John Lithgow’s delightfully unhinged performance as Dr. Lizardo, the Italian mad scientist who happens to be possessed by the mind of an alien emperor.

There are so many great things about this film I could go on forever, but I think you get the point. It’s wonderful and so ahead of its time and you should watch it right now.

1 comment:

  1. I've always felt like Buckaroo Bonzai was best summarized by it's oft-copied ending credit sequence. For the uninitiated.

    Also, why isn't there a bigger groundswell of support to declare Peter Weller the Official King of the 1980's? Between Bonzai and Robocop, he seems like he could even give Michael J. Fox a run for his money.