Where strange fact and stranger fiction collide
This is a great time to be a geek. We the geeks, are not only being accepted as a people we are being admired. Why here in Portland it is even a positive factor in getting a date. Long gone is the stigmatism that forced me to spend Senior Prom, home reading Robert E. Howard books.
What are some things that brought forth this glorious renaissance in geek culture? First is the internet. Yeah we kind of own it. And as it slowly but surely replaced TV and radio as America’s premier entertainment source, it already has a built in bias towards geek-centric material. Japanese animae, streaming quirky funny horror moves like John Dies in the End and The House in the Woods, and Blogs about comic books and goats named after Star Wars characters. Yes Middle America you are in our hood now.
Also look who is calling the shots in movie making now JJ Abrahams and Joss Weadon are our people. Speaking of which another factor is Superheroes. When I was in high school, even I rolled my eyes at the hard core comic groupies. But with Nolan’s Batman trilogy, and the Avengers, everyone loves capes and tights. Honestly with four Marvel movies a year and at least three new comic setting TV shows next season, I thought there would be as much backlash against costume comic book characters as there was against sparkling vampires. But America has taken super vigilantes to their bosom and I don’t see the spandex tsunami ending soon.
The greatest factor I think that allowed female geeks to come out of their closet is the new incarnation of Dr. Who. When I was a big dorky fan of Tom Baker era Who, I got looked down at by the Trekies. But the new show’s fans especially the women, have turned what was a geek niche guilty pleasure to a worldwide phenomenon.
Buzz about the new Star Wars has the world excited about science fiction again. Sure all of us hard core lovers of the Expanded Universe are bummed about losing Grand Admiral Thrawn, Mara jade and Legacy. But this fresh approach makes the gold standard of sci-fi, much more approachable to the masses. And once again it’s cool to like a long time ago in a galaxy far far away.
So the world is changing, not us. And well I think the world is better off for that. But there are still some obscure geek prima facia out there that a lot of the new geek converts and some of the old hands might not be familiar with. It has been pointed out several times last month that I am in to some weird and obscure stuff. Which is kind of funny I assumed that all geeks read, watched and talked about the same things that me and my geek posse do. So in my new project Geek Obsurea I am going to explore, things that have a rabid geek following in certain circles, but may not be that main stream geeks may not be familiar with.
Now this is in no way saying if you consider yourself a geek and never heard of what I am talking about, I think you are a poser. It is just that there are so many geeky things that have come out in the last forty years there is no way you could have heard of them all. I also want to discover why these things might have a smaller following than things like the Avengers and Star Wars that have firmly caught the public’s eye.
So with that here is the first Geek Obscura. Adventures of Buckaroo Banzia across the 8Th Dimension.
I was surprised last week when I was talking to two fellow geeks, neither of who had heard of the legendary Buckaroo Banzia. True they were fifteen and twenty years younger than me, still I thought everyone knew about BB. The movie came out in 1984 after what can only be called a stealth marketing campaign. It really picked up a cult following when it hit the cable channels and the VHS market.
The movie had the most amazing cast ever. Buck was played by Peter Weller who three years latter would become a household name as Alex J. Murphy AKA Robocop. and it include such eighties stars as John Lithgow, Ellen Barkin, Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Lloyd, Clancy Brown, Robert Ito and even Billy Vera of the Band Billy and the Beaters. Honestly I can’t think of another twelve to seventeen million dollar movie with such an all-star cast. The best part is everyone on screen seems to be having so much fun in their roles.
Buckaroo can pretty much do everything. In fact if you miss the first five minutes where the movie pretty much states there is almost nothing Bonzia can’t do, it is like walking into a joke at the punch line and not hearing the set up. In case you rent the movie and have to go to the bathroom or kitchen after the opening title here is the movies prolog.
“Buckaroo Banzai, born to an American mother and a Japanese father, thus began life as he was destined to live it…going in several directions at once. A brilliant neurosurgeon, this restless young man grew quickly dissatisfied with a life devoted solely to medicine. He roamed the planet studying martial arts and particle physics, collecting around him a most eccentric group of friends, those hard-rocking scientists The Hong Kong Cavaliers. And now, with his astounding jet car ready for a bold assault on the dimension barrier, Buckaroo Banzai faces the greatest challenge of his turbulent life… …while high above Earth, an alien spacecraft keeps a nervous watch on Team Banzai’s every move…”.
Buckaroo is a surgeon, engineer, scientist, test pilot, rock star, martial artist and a sharpshooter. Then would he classify as a Marty Stu? (The male version of a Mary Sue). Yes but that’s OK, Marty Stus and Mary Sues are only bad when their creators are oblivious to the fact that they have made one. If the writer realizes he is pushing the envelope of believability with his character, and does it with a sense of humor, he can make something amazing and hilarious. The secret of Buckaroo Bonzai both the character and the movie is neither one takes itself too seriously.
The plot has an evil Rec Electroid, John Warfin, (Lithgow) from the 8th dimension trying to escape from the earth back to his home verse so he can take over their world Planet 10. The Black Electroids, who for some reason talk like and appear to human beings as Rastafarians, are going to trick the world’s government in to starting nuclear war to prevent his return. Unless Buckaroo and his hard rocking Hong Kong Cavaliers, can stop the evil Warfin. Oh and Buckaroo drives a rocket car (A ford F-350 truck with a real rocket engine strapped on it) through a mountain, finds his dead wife’s long lost identical twin, who no one knew anything about before, and something about corrupt government officials. But who really cares about plot when got space Rastafarians, governmental conspiracies lead by Orson Wells to cover up alien presence on earth, and Jeff Goldblum in an oversized cowboy hat.
Buckaroo Banzai has affected many geeks, including those who write more mainstream things. In Star Trek the plaque on the Excelsior quotes Buck’s mantra “Where ever you go, there you are.” In fact that quote can be heard repeated in such diverse movies as Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome and The Brady Bunch Movie. Michael Stackpole’s, Batletech novels mention a Team Banzai. In Men in Black an alien calls Agent K, Monkey Boy, copping the term that the Red Electroids for us humans. In Fight Club there is a PA announcement for a John Bigboote, which is Christopher Lloyd’s Character’s name in BB. And the closing credits for Life Aquatic, is based on the closing credits of Adventures Across the 8Th Dimension.
One of the best things about the movie is the dialog so here are some classics.
Buckaroo Banzai: I’ve been ionized, but I’m okay now.
Mission Control: Buckaroo, The White House wants to know is everything ok with the alien space craft from Planet 10 or should we just go ahead and destroy Russia?
Buckaroo Banzai: Tell him yes on one and no on two.
Mission Control: Which one was yes, go ahead and destroy Russia… or number 2?
President Widmark: Buckaroo, I don’t know what to say. Lectroids? Planet 10? Nuclear extortion? A girl named “John”? enshrined.
Lord John Whorfin: May I pass along my congratulations for your great interdimensional breakthrough. I am sure, in the miserable annals of the Earth, you will be duly enshrined.
Lord John Whorfin: History is-a made at night. Character is what you are in the dark.
Buckaroo Banzai: Hey, hey, hey, hey-now. Don’t be mean; we don’t have to be mean, cuz, remember, no matter where you go, there you are.
So why did such a fun movie get relegated to just cult status. In two words David Bagleman. I hate to put a real once living human in a bad light, but you can’t tell the story of Buckaroo Bonzia, without telling the Bagleman’s story too. A true character in the old school Hollywood way, besides green lighting Buckaroo Banzai her green lit, War Games, Weekend at Bernie’s, and Mr. Mom. But he had a dark reputation supposedly cashing checks meant for movie star, Robert Mitchum and blackmailing Judy Garland claiming he had photos of her getting her stomach being pumped after a drug over-dose in London.
Bagleman micromanaged the production, saying he’d scuttle the project if Buckaroo wore red glasses in to many scenes because heroes don’t wear red glasses. He also fired the film director, who had worked on Blade Runner, for someone who could make the movie feel even campier. He reportable embezzled investors in the movie for millions of dollars. But the worst thing he did to Buckaroo was to tie up the rights. Hollywood was willing to take a chance with a sequel and ABC was thinking it could pull off a TV show, but there was a lot of legal questions about who Bagleman had sold the rights to that no one could touch the property. His behavior became towards the show’s writers, producers and directors became more and more bizarre and adversarial that they began to really believe that he was insane. Unfortunately many people feel that is suicide in 1995 was evidence of this.
So where does this leave the Buckaroo Bonzai franchise. Now besides the movie there is only a hand full of comic books and two novels. Many feel that it still has a chance for a franchise, but after thirty years it would have involve new actors. Even Joss Weadon has publicly lamented the lack of more BB entertainment. Actually I think this would be a good time, now that the legal rights of who own the franchise has more or less been worked out. It still has a loyal cult following and would be fresh to a new generations of nerds.
I found this review of the movie, I like not only what he says but also how he to laments how obscure it is.