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cultural vandal | by maryann johanson

revisiting ‘Buckaroo Banzai’

Didja ever sit down to watch one of your favorite movies only to suddenly realize — as it begins and you get into it and get reminded how much you goddamn love this movie — that it’s probably been like 10 years since you watched it? Cuz, you know, our very favorite movies are always with us, always close, like your favorite people, even if you’re not actually with them and sometimes let weeks or months or longer go by without giving them a call? It’s not like you mean to let a year slip away before you drop an email to a pal on the other side of the country, or a decade go by without watching a movie you watched a hundred times as a teenager. It just happens.
And I surely must have watched The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai: Across the Eighth Dimension a hundred times in the mid 80s. I was constantly borrowing it from the library. That’s right, kids: no one owned VHSes back in the day. I mean, not people, unless you were rich: they cost like a hundred bucks; they weren’t like the cheap DVDs you get in your Christmas stocking or your Easter basket, almost like an afterthought. The public library owned VHS tapes, or Blockbuster did, and you had to just keep borrowing them over and over again if you were a nerd like me.

So this is one of those movies I have memorized, not just the script and not just the quotable lines, the “Laugh while you can, monkeyboy”s and such. Nope: I can’t help but mouth along with all the dialogue, and I can’t help but anticipate, like, the lens flare when Dr. Lizardo shorts out the Buckaroo Banzai video game when he’s escaping from the mental hospital. (I told you I was a nerd for this movie.) And so when I popped my DVD in to watch it again last night and suddenly started seeing stuff I’d never seen before, it occured to me that even though I’ve owned this DVD for years, I cannot have ever watched it. Which means I’d never seen the movie in widescreen before (that’s right, kiddies: VHSes were pan-and-scan). Which explains how all this stuff on the edges of the screen were new to me.

I had no idea, therefore, that Pinky Carruthers is on horseback when he’s doing guard duty at the gate of the Banzai Institute. I had never seen the Rug Suckers or whatever they’re called, the backup Blue Blazers Perfect Tommy calls in for the raid on Yoyodyne… and I’m not sure of their actual name because previously they had been a mere throwaway that Buckaroo mentioned in passing in a line that’s a bit garbled… but here they are, off on the far right side of the screen, with a truck with a logo on it and everything. Amazing!

And the clarity of DVD! How can I never have noticed that sign in the background before, the one announcing that the Yoyodyne Propulsion Systems plant is a “top secret facility”? Hilarious!

Banzai never fails to amuse me, what with its “Declaration of War: The Short Form” and Buckaroo’s “Remember, no matter where you go, there you are” and Buckaroo himself, who was a geek — a neurosurgeon and a particle physicist and a rock star and a comic book hero! — who was tres cool before it was cool for geeks to be cool. But now I feel like I have some new Buckaroo stuff to explore. Which is good, because if we’re never gonna get the promised sequel, Buckaroo Banzai Against the World Crime League, at least it’s something.

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