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The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension! (often shortened to Buckaroo Banzai) is an American science fiction film that has reached cult film status. It was released in 1984, directed and produced by W. D. Richter, and concerns the efforts of the multi-talented Dr. Buckaroo Banzai (Peter Weller), a physicist, neurosurgeon, Samurai, rock musician, Jet Car driver, and comic book hero, to save the world by defeating a band of inter-dimensional aliens called Red Lectroids from Planet 10. The film is a cross between the action/adventure and science-fiction movie genres, and also includes elements of comedy, satire, and romance. It is also made to feel like one in a series of movies, by the use of ongoing allusions to other characters, adventures and events.


Buckaroo Banzai spans roughly 50 years and begins in the middle of the story. It doesn't fill in some of the earliest parts of the story until the viewpoint characters themselves unravel the mystery — roughly halfway through the movie. Essentially, the plot concerns the efforts of the multi-talented Dr. Buckaroo Banzai to save the world by defeating a band of inter-dimensional aliens called Red Lectroids.

The theatrical release version of the film opens with Banzai performing a test-run of his Jet Car, a heavily modified pickup truck powered by a jet engine and capable of exceeding Mach 1. The car is also equipped with a secret device called an "oscillation overthruster", which Banzai and his associates hope will allow it to drive through solid matter. The test is a success; Banzai stuns onlookers by driving the Jet Car directly through a mountain. Emerging from the mountain, Banzai finds that an alien, pod-like organism has attached itself to the car during transit.

Hearing of Banzai's success, Italian physicist Dr. Emilio Lizardo (John Lithgow) breaks out of the Trenton Home for the Criminally Insane in New Jersey, where he's been imprisoned for 50 years. In a flashback sequence, we learn that Banzai's assistant and mentor, Dr. Hikita (Robert Ito), was present at a failed overthruster experiment of Lizardo's in 1938. Failing to transit through the target wall, Lizardo is briefly trapped in the 8th dimension where his mind is taken over by Lord John Whorfin, hence his current diagnosis of a delusional disorder.

Whorfin is the leader of the Red Lectroids, a race of alien reptiles whom he had led on an expansionist campaign on Planet 10. After being defeated by the peace-loving Black Lectroids, Whorfin and his band of followers were banished into the formless void of the 8th dimension. Lizardo's failed experiment accidentally released Whorfin, where despite being trapped in Lizardo's body, he maintains his leadership of the Red Lectroids. He soon brings over a thousand of them to Earth in an incident that was reported in 1938 by Orson Welles in his radio broadcast The War of the Worlds, only to have it retracted as fiction.

These Red Lectroids now pose as owners and employees of a defense contracting company named Yoyodyne Propulsion Systems. They have been working on building a large spacecraft under the cover of a US Air Force program, the "truncheon bomber", and intend to rescue the remaining exiles in the 8th dimension, then travel on to Planet 10 and take over. The lack of a working overthruster was a problem until Banzai manages to produce one, and Whorfin hopes to steal it. Banzai's team, the Hong Kong Cavaliers, becomes aware of the Yoyodyne link, and hacks into their computer. They discover that everyone there has the first name John, with various last names such as Yaya, Smallberries, and Bigbooté. At first they think it's a joke, but then they also note that all the Yoyodyne employees applied for Social Security cards on November 1, 1938 (two days after the War of the Worlds broadcast) and all in the same town, Grover's Mill, New Jerseymarker (the town where the spaceship in the War of the Worlds broadcast landed). They deduce the connection between Lizardo, Yoyodyne and the Lectroids, and inform Banzai.

In the meantime, a Black Lectroid spacecraft orbiting Earth contacts Banzai, giving him a cryptic nonverbal message that enables him to see through Lectroids' natural pheromonic camouflage. (To unassisted humans, Black Lectroids appear to be Rastafarian Jamaicansmarker, while Red Lectroids appear as caucasians.) The ship also sends a "thermo-pod" to Earth, with a messenger who brings Banzai a holographic message from the Black Lectroids' leader, John Emdall, explaining Lord Whorfin's history and motives, and giving an ultimatum: stop Whorfin and his Red Lectroid army, or the Black Lectroids will protect themselves by staging a fake nuclear attack so letting the U.S.marker and USSRmarker destroy the world in a burst of Cold War paranoia.

With help from the Black Lectroid messenger John Parker, Banzai's usual posse of helpers ("those hard-rockin' scientists, the Hong Kong Cavaliers"), a collection of civilian volunteers named "The Blue Blazer Irregulars" and a young woman named Penny Priddy (Ellen Barkin), who just happens to be the long-lost twin sister of Buckaroo's late wife, Buckaroo succeeds in his mission, destroying the Red Lectroids and saving Earth. During the end credits, there is a screen title proclaiming the upcoming sequel Buckaroo Banzai Against the World Crime League (see below).


Buckaroo Banzai

Peter Weller starred as Buckaroo Banzai; a renaissance man, a top neurosurgeon, particle physicist, race car driver, rock star and comic book hero. In the film, his latest experiments open the door to the 8th dimension and unwittingly start an interstellar battle for the world.

The Hong Kong Cavaliers

The Hong Kong Cavaliers are the assistants of Banzai in the movie, and are similar to Doc Savage's Fabulous Five. They reside at the Banzai Institute, a think-tank located in Holland Township, New Jerseymarker. They are scientific experts in a variety of fields, and also are his rock and roll band. They are referred to by code names or nicknames and, except for New Jersey, their real names are unknown.

  • Clancy Brown as Rawhide, arguably Buckaroo's lieutenant, and plays piano.
  • Pepe Serna as Reno Nevada who plays saxophone.
  • Lewis Smith as Perfect Tommy who plays rhythm guitar, and is generally accepted to be perfect.
  • Jeff Goldblum as New Jersey, whose real name is Dr. Sidney Zweibel. He is a neurosurgeon, a colleague of Dr. Banzai from Columbia. He sings a little, dances and plays piano.
  • Billy Vera as Pinky Carruthers, one of Buckaroo's Blue Blazer Irregulars. Plays bass guitar.

In addition to the Hong Kong Cavaliers, Buckaroo Banzai is assisted by a network of supporters and fans. The Radar Rangers are an amateur radar enthusiast group that helps Buckaroo track major threats. The Blue Blazer Irregulars are people of all ages and from all walks of life and help in various ways. Their organization includes assault teams in its structure. The Rug Suckers are a team of armed civilians who operate a rug cleaning company, but are available to help Banzai when called on.


W. D. Richter and writer Earl Mac Rauch met through the Dartmouth Collegemarker Alumni magazine. Richter had read a review of a book that Mac Rauch had written called Arkansas Adios, then bought and read it. He enjoyed the book so much that he wrote Mac Rauch a letter asking permission to adapt it into a film. Mac Rauch was flattered and agreed. The two men began corresponding and when the writer told him about his interest in becoming a screenwriter, Richter offered him an open-ended invite to visit him in Los Angelesmarker where he was attending the University of Southern Californiamarker and working as a script analyst for Warner Brothers.


Years passed and Richter became a successful screenwriter. Mac Rauch took Richter up on his offer and arrived in L.A. Richter proceeded to introduce the writer to producer/director Irwin Winkler who gave Mac Rauch rent money for the next six months. Over several dinners, Mac Rauch told Richter and his wife about a character named Buckaroo Bandy that he was thinking of writing a screenplay about. Richter and his wife liked the idea and paid Mac Rauch $1,500 to develop and write it. According to MacRauch, his script was inspired by "all those out-and-out, press-the-accelerator-to-the-floor, non-stop kung fu movies of the early '70s". Richter remembers, "Mac's working technique then was sort of improvisational. He would write 30 pages and then give them to us. We'd comment on them, and he'd take them away and so radically alter them no matter what we said that he'd come back with a new storyline, new characters." Mac Rauch recalled, "It's so easy to start something and then - since you're really not as serious about it as you should be - end up writing half of it ... You shove the hundred pages in a drawer and try to forget about it. Over the years, I started a dozen Buckaroo scripts that ended that way."

Mac Rauch's original 30-page treatment was entitled, Find the Jetcar, Said the President - A Buckaroo Banzai Thriller. Early on, one of the revisions Mac Rauch made was changing Buckaroo's surname from Bandy to Banzai but he wasn't crazy about it. However, Richter convinced him to keep the name. The Hong Kong Cavaliers also appeared in these early drafts, but, according to Richter, "it never really went to a completed script. Mac wrote and wrote but never wrote the end." Another early draft was entitled, The Strange Case of Mr. Cigars, about a huge robot and a box of Hitler's cigars. Mac Rauch shelved his work for a few years while he wrote New York, New York for Martin Scorsese and other un-produced screenplays.

In 1980, Richter talked with producers Frank Marshall and Neil Canton about filming one of his screenplays. Out of this meeting, Canton and Richter formed their own production company and decided that Buckaroo Banzai would be the first film. Under their supervision, Mac Rauch wrote a 60-page treatment entitled, Lepers from Saturn. They shopped Mac Rauch's treatment around to production executives who were their peers but no one wanted to take on such unusual subject matter by two first-time producers and a first-time director. Canton and Richter contacted veteran producer Sidney Beckerman at MGM/United Artists who Canton had worked with before. Beckerman liked it and introduced Richter and Canton to studio chief David Begelmen. Within 24 hours they had a development deal with the studio. It took Mac Rauch a year and a half to write the final screenplay and during this time, the Lepers from the treatment became Lizards and then Lectroids from Planet 10.

However, a Writers Guild of America strike forced the project to languish in development for more than a year. Begelmen left MGM because several of his projects had performed poorly at the box office. This put all of his future projects, Buckaroo Banzai included, in jeopardy. Begelmen formed Sherwood Productions and exercised a buy-out option with MGM for the Banzai script. He took it to 20th Century Fox who agreed to make it. Mac Rauch ended up writing three more drafts before they had a shooting script.


For the role of Buckaroo Banzai, the studio wanted a recognizable movie star but Richter and Canton wanted to cast a relatively unknown actor. Richter has been impressed by Peter Weller's performance in Shoot the Moon and met with him. He was hesitant, at first, to take the role because he was unclear on the overall tone of the movie. "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", Weller remembers. Richter told him Banzai's story and convinced Weller to do the film. The actor says that he based his character on Elia Kazan, Jacques Cousteau, Albert Einstein, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Adam Ant.

For the role of Dr. Emilio Lizardo, the studio wanted to cast an unknown actor but Mac Rauch had written the role with John Lithgow in mind. Like Weller, he was not sure about the character but Richter convinced him by "claiming what a real feast for an actor this wonderful Jekyll and Hyde character was", the actor said. For Lizardo's accent, Lithgow spent time with an Italian tailor at MGM and recorded his voice. He changed his walk to that of an "old crab, and because my alien metabolism is supposed to be messed up". Lithgow said of his character, "playing Lizardo felt like playing the madman in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari".

Ellen Barkin, who played the romantic interest "Penny Priddy", describes the film as "if Terry Southern had written Star Wars. None of the characters are quite what they should be - just my kind of thing." Richter's only choice to play John Bigboote was Christopher Lloyd. Richter first met Jeff Goldblum on Invasion of the Body Snatchers and wanted him to play New Jersey. The actor admired his writing and was eager to work with the cast the director had assembled. Lewis Smith was asked to dye his hair blond and it took eight hours and he saw it go from red to orange to fluorescent yellow to white.

Clancy Brown said that his character is "very common sensical. He's the everyman of the film". Robert Ito was so determined to get the role of Dr. Hikita, that he disguised himself as an old man, designing his own makeup job to age himself 30 years.


Production designer Michael Riva had worked with Richter before and spent two years working on the look for Banzai before pre-production. He and Richter studied all kinds of art and literature for the film's look, including medical journals, African magazines, and Russian history. The inspiration for the look of the Lectroid masks came from Riva sporting a lobster on his nose. Their outfits were influenced by contemporary Russian lifestyles and they went with greens, blues and yellows because, according to Riva, they are "sick and anemic." For Buckaroo's look, the costume designer had him wear a Gianni Versace sports jacket and a Perry Ellis suit and tie. He also wears a recut Giorgio Armani fabric suit.

Principal photography

By the time of filming, Richter had a 300-page book called The Essential Buckaroo that consisted of notes and had every incomplete script Mac Rauch wrote over the years. Principal photography began during the second week of September 1983 on locations in and around South Gate, an industrial suburb of L.A. Buckaroo's neurosurgery scene with New Jersey was shot at the Lakeview Medical Center in the San Fernando Valleymarker. The jet car sequences were shot in October on a dry lake north of the San Bernardino Mountainsmarker. The vehicle was designed and built by Riva, art director Stephen Dane and Thrust Racing owners Jerry Segal and George Haddebeck. Segal started with a Ford F-350 truck, reinforced the frame assembly, added the front end from a Grand National stock car, borrowed air scoops from a DC-3, and a one-man cockpit modeled after a Messerschmitt fighter plane. Under the hood, Segal modified the Ford engine with an oversized carburetor and nitrous oxide injectors. The Oscillation Overthruster was created by Riva and visual effects supervisor Michael Fink out of a gyroscope to which a metal frame, wires, circuits, and tiny strobe lights were added.

The Banzai Institute exteriors were shot in Rustic Canyon with the interiors filmed in an Art Deco house designed in 1931 by MGM art director Cedric Gibbons for his wife, Dolores del Río. Deserted rooms at Brentwood's V.A. hospital were used for Dr. Lizardo's room at the Trenton Home for the Criminally Insane. Lizardo's 1938 laboratory was filmed at a deserted industrial site, Alpha Tubing. The set decorators rented a collection of 1930s electrical props originally used in the original Boris Karloff Frankenstein films. The interiors of Yoyodyne Propulsion Systems were shot in the abandoned Firestone Tire Factory. The production rented warhead nosecones from Modern Props and had televisions going all the time on the set. Wilmington's Department of Water and Power provided the location for Dr. Lizardo's shock tower and served as the Yoyodyne exterior. Weller remembers that during the scene where his character is tortured by Dr. Lizardo, "I never laughed so hard in my life! They had to stop takes over and over on that segment because I was laughing at the banter between [Christopher] Lloyd and [John] Lithgow." The Armco Steel Plant in Torrance housed the Lectroid launch hanger. Finally, 12-weeks of filming were done on the backlot and soundstages at MGM.

Richter and Riva did not want metal spaceships and opted for a more organic look like a deep sea oyster shell. Gregory Jein, Inc. and Stetson Visual Concepts built the spaceship models and worked off sketches by production illustrator Tom Cranham and used seashells as guides.


The film's music coordinator and sound designer Bones Howe worked with musician Michael Boddicker, who wrote and performed the score, on the theme music and sound effects. Howe selected the source music for the club scene and put together a special arrangement of "Since I Don't Have You" that Buckaroo sings to Penny Priddy. Weller, an accomplished musician, played the guitar, trumpet, did his own vocals, and learned to mime piano playing. Howe and the filmmakers decided not to go with a rock music score and opted for an electronic one instead. He wanted to "integrate music and sound effects so that everything would merge on the soundtrack with no distinction between music and sound". Boddicker was Howe's first choice for composer. They had worked together on the soundtrack for Get Crazy. Boddicker had just won a Grammy for his song, "Imagination", on the Flashdance soundtrack. In addition to composing the score, he also produced alien sound effects while Alan Howarth was hired to create the sounds of the 8th Dimension.


Fox hired Terry Erdmann and a team of publicists to promote the film at Star Trek conventions with a few film clips and free Banzai headbands which have now become highly sought after collector's items by fans of the film. The studio made no attempts to sell the film to a mainstream audience with traditional promotion, although there was some magazine advertising (primarily in Marvel Comics) and related licensing which served as viral advertising in limited venues. Studio publicist Rosemary LaSalmandra said, "Nobody knew what to do with Buckaroo Banzai. There was no simple way to tell anyone what it was about - I'm not sure anybody knew".

Buckaroo Banzai was originally scheduled to be released on June 8, 1984 but was pushed back to August 15. It opened on 236 screens and faced stiff competition against the likes of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Ghostbusters. It made USD $620,279 on its opening weekend before finally grossing $6.2 million in North America.

Critical reception

The film was given mixed reviews and currently has a 71% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Dave Kehr, in the Chicago Reader, wrote, "Richter seems to have invented an elaborate mythology for his hero ... but he never bothers to explicate it; the film gives you the mildly annoying sensation of being left out of a not very good private joke". In his review for the New York Times, Vincent Canby wrote that Buckaroo Banzai "may well turn out to be a pilot film for other theatrical features, though this one would be hard to top for pure, nutty fun". Richard Corliss, in his review for Time, wrote, "its creators, Earl Mac Rauch and W.D. Richter, propel their film with such pace and farfetched style that anyone without Ph.D.s in astrophysics and pop culture is likely to get lost in the ganglion of story strands. One wonders if the movie is too ambitious, facetious and hip for its own box-office good". Film critic Pauline Kael wrote, "I didn't find it hard to accept the uninflected, deadpan tone, and to enjoy Buckaroo Banzai for its inventiveness and the gags that bounce off other adventure movies, other comedies. The picture's sense of fun carried me along".


Buckaroo Banzai was released on DVD on January 4, 2002. Entertainment Weekly gave the release a "B+" rating and wrote, "Fans will drool over the extras, including some illuminating deleted scenes (of particular note is an alternate opening detailing Buckaroo's tragic childhood, featuring Jamie Lee Curtis as Banzai's mother) and director W.D. Richter's commentary, which reveals some colorful behind-the-scenes battles with studio execs". IGN gave the DVD their highest rating and was "thrilled by the special edition treatment that this landmark cult film has received at the hands of MGM. The video is great, the sound is great, there are tons of extras ... Bottom line, if you're a Buckaroo fan, this is the home video version you have been waiting for".


Buckaroo Banzai has since attracted a loyal cult following and was quite popular on home video. Richter said, "It has had the most dramatic reactions of anything I've worked on. Some loathe it and others are willing to die for it". The director feels that the film failed commercially because the narrative was too complex, he would have liked to have had more coverage for certain scenes, he could have edited the film better and there were too many master shots and two-shots that left little for the editor to work with. Entertainment Weekly ranked Buckaroo Banzai as #43 in their Top 50 Cult Movies. The film was also ranked #21 on the magazine's "The Cult 25: The Essential Left-Field Movie Hits Since '83" list. The Guardian has also cited Buckaroo Banzai as one of their "1,000 films to see before you die".

The popular computer game BZ-Flag Tank has a flag that is called the oscillation overthruster that allows the tank to go through objects.

Other versions of the movie

A substantially longer print was shown in test screening in Texasmarker and in Washington Statemarker before general release, but the "restored" DVD print is still missing much of the test print material.

The DVD of the film restores a deleted opening scene consisting of a "home movie" from Buckaroo Banzai's childhood, narrated by Clancy Brown, who plays the character Rawhide. The scene depicts an early test of a precursor to the Jet Car, built by Buckaroo's parents and Dr. Hikita. The test ends in disaster, as the Jet Car has been sabotaged by the evil Hanoi Xan, leader of the World Crime League. The "home movie" ends, and dissolves to the present-day opening scene of the film depicting Buckaroo's test run of the latter-day Jet Car. Jamie Lee Curtis plays Buckaroo Banzai's mother, Sandra Banzai.

The novelization by Mac Rauch is told through fake documents written and compiled by Reno Nevada, and further expands on the backstory of the film, including the murder of Peggy Banzai (her twin sister Penny plays a role in the movie) by the minions of Asian crime lord Hanoi Xan, the deaths of Buckaroo's parents in an early Jet Car accident, and at least two other fictitious novels.

The 103 minute version released on DVD in January 2002 has a subtitle track that has director's commentary-style information that also has a fake documents feature. The entire packaging and literature with the DVD maintain a mythos that Buckaroo Banzai is a real person, the Banzai Institute exists, and that the movie is in fact a docu-drama of the real adventures of Buckaroo Banzai. The producers make claims such as they had brief tours of the Banzai Institute, and had met and interviewed several members of the Hong Kong Cavaliers, and that the script needed approval from the Institute.

Failed sequels

Buckaroo Banzai Against the World Crime League

The credits mention a sequel, Buckaroo Banzai Against the World Crime League, which was never made; the film reportedly would have focused on the League and its leader, Hanoi Xan.

Buckaroo Banzai TV Series

In late 1998, the Fox Network tried to develop a Buckaroo Banzai TV series, entitled Buckaroo Banzai: Ancient Secrets and New Mysteries, but nothing ever came of it. The special edition DVD of the original movie contains a short computer animated sequence that was made as a test for the series. The clip depicts a Space Shuttle trying to land with broken landing gear. Dr. Banzai maneuvers his Jet Car under the Shuttle and uses it to take the place of the broken gear.

Other Media

Buckaroo Banzai books

The novelization of the first movie was reprinted to coincide with the release of the movie on DVD. In the foreword Mac Rauch mentioned that the Buckaroo Banzai series would be continued in a series of novels. The first of these novels, Buckaroo Banzai: Return of the Screw, was published on September 15, 2007.

Marvel Comics

Marvel Comics adapted the film into comic book form in Marvel Super Special issue #33. The adaptation was also released as a two-part limited series.

Moonstone Books

In 2006, Moonstone Books began publishing comic books depicting earlier and further adventures of Buckaroo Banzai and the Hong Kong Cavaliers.

  • The first story, called Return of the Screw, was written by Buckaroo Banzai's creator, Earl Mac Rauch. The black-and-white preview edition of the comic was released in February 2006, featuring a behind-the-scenes article by Dan Berger regarding the transformation of the rejected Buckaroo Banzai television pilot script Supersize those Fries into the present comic book miniseries. The three issues of this comic have been collected into a trade paperback.

  • In December 2007, Moonstone released a new Banzai comic story A Christmas Corrall in the Moonstone Holiday Super Spectacular compilation, also written by Earl Mac Rauch and drawn by Ken Wolak.

  • A two-issue prequel to the movie was released in early 2008 called Of Hunan Bondage written by Earl Mac Rauch with art by Superman Returns storyboard artist Chewie.

  • In early 2009, Moonstone released a special oversize one-shot Big Size written by Earl Mac Rauch with art by Paul Hanley.

Computer game

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai is text based language parser videogame based on the franchise. It was written by Scott Adams and published by Adventure International.


  1. Buckaroo Banzai. Moonstone Books. Re-retrieved on 9 March 2008.

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