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MGM’s new DVD release of Buckaroo Banzai is one of the best DVD values I’ve ever seen. Interviews, commentary, special features, easter eggs... this disc has everything a die-hard fan or former Blue Blaze Irregular could want, all available for as little as $13.95 from some outlets.

Buckaroo Who?

MGM DVD does Buckaroo rightThe Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai: Across the Eighth Dimension! was an underground hit in 1984, later gathering a cultish following. It’s a comic adventure about an enigmatic hero with a funny name. Dr. Banzai is a neurosurgeon, rocket scientist, rock star, and philosopher, all rolled into one.

Using his jet car and his “oscillation overthruster,” Buckaroo Banzai (Peter Weller) drives through a solid wall of rock — not by destroying the rock but by passing through the space between the atoms – and thus traveling through the eighth dimension.

Buckaroo’s band of followers, the Hong Kong Cavaliers, are gaudily dressed, aptly nicknamed scientists, musicians, and thinkers. The movie introduced a stellar cast and dressed them in full ’80s regalia. Peter Weller in his bow tie and red glasses, Jeff Goldblum in his unabashed mod-cowboy outfit, and Ellen Barkin with her feathered hair and gigantic plastic earrings.

The news of Buckaroo’s breakthrough sparks the interest of the evil alien lectroids who have been living off of Twinkies and government defense contracts in New Jersey since the ’50s. Led by Lord John Whorfin (John Lithgow), the lectroids plan to steal the overthruster so they can go back home and conquer their world. Buckaroo Banzai must stop them before interdimensional war breaks out.

Buckaroo Banzai is a satisfying comedy-adventure, well plotted, well paced, and filled with interesting characters. Rated PG in an era of PG-13s, Buckaroo Banzai has a naive goodness about it, without seeming childish. It’s full of subtle comedy without condescending irony or sarcasm.

They just don’t make them like this anymore.

DVD Extras

Not only are there lots of extras, they are also, for the most part, more interesting than standard DVD fare.

Director W.D. Richter and writer Earl Mac Rauch provide a genuinely interesting commentary. Mac Rauch speaks as Reno, the official chronicler of Buckaroo Banzai, and W.D. Richter speaks as though his film is a docudrama, based on the life of a real Buckaroo Banzai. Their “performances” are a treat to serious fans of the film, while still allowing aspects of the production to come through.

For example, Richter is able to talk about Mac Rauch’s evolution of the character of Buckaroo, without destroying the illusion that there is a real Buckaroo living in New Jersey.

Perhaps the most satisfying revelation is the real answer to the question “Why is there a watermelon there?”, which Richter explains on the commentary track.

There is also an on-camera interview with W.D. Richter shot in “The Banzai Institute in New Jersey.” He’s got the actual rock that Buckaroo used in his press conference, as well as the overthruster used in the film, which may or may not have been the actual overthruster Buckaroo used.

An alternate opening scene is included, both as a separate scene, and as it might have been fully integrated into the film. I personally like the movie better without the opening scene, but another fan said he liked it with the scene. It’s at least worth checking out.

There are also a handful of deleted scenes, which don’t offer much insight and were rightfully trimmed from the movie. Some of them mention Buckaroo’s nemesis Hanoi Xan. If further adventures of Buckaroo Banzai ever get produced, Xan will no doubt turn up. The deleted scenes might be of interest to die-hard fans, but they were rightfully cut from the final version.

Along with the audio commentary, there is a subtitle commentary from the character Pinky Carruthers. As you watch the movie, little factoids appear in the subtitle track, some are jokes, some are insights. In any case, it adds an extra dimension to the movie, particularly if you’ve seen it before.

There are several other features I haven’t mentioned because I didn’t find them as interesting, but there are lots more on this disc, including some undocumented goodies (“easter eggs”). You can find instructions to unlocking them on the sidebar to this review on moviehabit.com.

Picture and Sound

For the first time on home video, you can see Buckaroo Banzai in its original, wide-screen aspect ratio. That alone earns the disc high marks for picture quality. The transfer is very good, although naturally, the print is old, and a few minor scuffs and scratches are visible. And with so many extras, one wonders if the movie shouldn’t have been released on two discs instead of one. In any case, there were no noticeable compression artifacts, at least on my system.

The soundtrack is now in glorious 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround. Aside from the dated synth-pop music, audiophiles will have little to complain about in this MGM DVD.

Conclusion

Richter says Buckaroo Banzai has found a new home at MGM. After traveling from studio to studio and finding no interest from management in producing a better home video copy, Richter seems happy that MGM is treating his baby well. He even has hopes that MGM will let him make either more movies or a TV series about the further adventures of Buckaroo Banzai.

Here’s to hope.

(After I wrote this conclusion, MGM put itself up for sale, so Blue Blaze Irregulars may have to wait even longer).

  • Sheldon Wiebe: "They just don’t make them like this anymore."

    Sadly, they never did (and haven't since...). October 20, 2016 reply