The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, 1984 – ★★★½ [Movie Log]

Listen here, Buckaroo: In one sense, it is a film profoundly (and to its own detriment) ahead of its time, a PoMo sci-fi satire and comic book comedy with the screwball wit of something like GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY or a Verhoeven film but without half the budget. The humor is as surreal as the imagery, broad slapstick mixed with early nerd in-jokes, an everything-goes absurdism fit for the directionless void of space. The aliens anticipate the body-horror body-snatchers of Carpenter’s THEY LIVE, the naturalistic and nonlinear spaceships evoke the bioships of FARSCAPE, the creative universe seemingly as expansive (if ultimately undeveloped) as the MCU. With the popped collars and wide lapels and massive shoulders, Buckaroo and his crew may look utterly of the 80s, but its an 80s of our future, the retro-80s as we imagine it in so man nostalgic properties made today.

Yet in another sense, the movie calls back to the golden era adventure stories of Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon, in the vein and hot off the heels of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. As his name suggests, Buckaroo is a classic swashbuckling hero ripped straight from funny page serials; and like those comic strips, the audience gets dropped into the universe in medias res, the existence of its labyrinthine mythology both clearly evident while remaining entirely unclear. Buckaroo answers the question: What would a Renaissance Man look like in the modern postindustrial era? Replace da Vinci’s realist painting with Buckaroo’s sincere, post-ironic crooning; make him a rocket engineer rather than the speculative inventor of the helicopter; toss in the spectacle of Hollywood celebrity, make him a secret agent, a doctor, a 14-year-old boys dream—what else is any Uomo Universale except that?

Imagining forward in time while looking to the past for its inspiration, the problem with the movie is in the final analysis how it fails to capture the present. Oh, certainly the body snatching motif—an echo of director Richter’s screenplay for the ’78 remake of that film—speaks to something of the public’s anti-Russian paranoia (the bad guys are “red” aliens, after all), but by and large the film seems uninterested in anything Earthly and human and here and now. That includes, fwiw, the film’s inability to remain coherent for longer than ten minutes at a time, tilt-and-whirling from one incredible vignette to the next, none of it tying very well together. The film wants to take you through a host of brilliant ideas and places without spending enough time to develop one, let alone to let its characters live and breathe and grow. At best, you have to sit back and enjoy the ride, accepting that wherever the movie takes you and wherever you go, there you are.

Just so long as it leaves me in the end with those incredible closing credits, which will leave the best of tastes in your mouth.

Note: Listen, I watch more than my fair share of movies. They are as often incredible examples of ideology and political economy as they are works of world-expanding art. At best, they are thought-provoking, and at worst, they are mediocre entertainment (especially when they fall into that uncanny valley of “so awful it’s fun”). Since I generally write up a few quick thoughts for each movie I watch, and in the interest of making public more of my thinking and writing processes, I figured that I might as well post the occasional review to this blog as well as to my Letterboxd/Rotten Tomatoes accounts.

Vía Letterboxd – Jake Cowan

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