Welcome to 1984: The Greatest Year Part II – Electric Boogaloo, the Geek League of America’s 30th anniversary tribute to the iconic geek culture films of 1984. This series of in-depth, analytical, fun, and nostalgic essays on the year that brought us instant classics like Ghostbusters, The Terminator, Gremlins, and others serves as a sequel to our 1982: The Greatest Year articles. Like 1982, 1984 was a game-changing year for genre cinema, loaded with popcorn blockbusters, cult hits, and genre-defining masterpieces. Join Jeff and other members of the Geek League of America for a fond, and sometimes funny, look back at this monumental year in nerd culture history.
“Wait a minute, wait a minute, stop. Somebody’s not having any fun.”
That sums up how I feel watching the Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (Fit that on a marquee). If you can’t enjoy this film, well, even Buckaroo himself will stop everything and play you a ballad on the piano to help you feel better.
I don’t know why we didn’t have any other films about a samurai experimental physicist rock star. He drives a truck through mountains. He wears karate headbands and kimonos. He plays like every instrument. in one song. Peter Weller makes this work so well because the audience is never surprised that he can do all this. When he wants to know how to do something, he masters it. That’s a life philosophy to emulate there. A renaissance man for the new millennium. What makes him awesome isn’t the fact that he can do all these things. Weller plays it so straight that you actually believe this guy is this serious about everything. So whether it’s suicide crisis de-escalation, coronet solos, or fighting interdimensional sleazoids, Buckaroo has it handled. So life lesson #1: Anything you do, do your god damned best at it.
John Lithgow’s Dr Emilio Lizardo is scenery chewing 101. “Laugh while you can, monkey boy!” I would hate to have this guy be my arch-enemy. Except that he does get his head stuck in a wall. So there’s that going for him. Poor Lizardo was Buckaroo’s dad’s old buddy, but an experiment went wrong and he went insane. It happens more often than you’d think. We meet Lizardo in a loony bin, hooking his tongue up to a car battery. As far as character intros, Lithgow opens with the amplifier turned to eleven. And he never lets up. Life lesson #2: Forgive and forget, or hate will consume you.
It’s with no shame that I will admit to chuckling every time that our villains’ henchman Bigbooty is referred to by his given name. Christopher Lloyd gives a deadpan performance as the undercover alien agent helping Lizardo destroy the world or whatever. This straight play works for two reasons, it balances well off of Lithgow’s volcanic eruptions, and the guy’s name is Bigbooty. With that kind of name, you’d be quiet too. Lesson 2.5: some people have funny names. (It’s BIG BOO-TAYYYY!!)
The other lead alien is John Parker, a Rastafarian alien helping Buckaroo and the Hong Kong Cavaliers (more on them in a minute) fight off the impending invasion. Why friendly aliens have Jamaican accents and dreadlocks is something we just have to accept. Having Parker there to help brings me to lesson #3: Just because you’re at war, doesn’t mean that everyone on the other side is evil. Work together for peace!
Speaking of working together, man, what a team Buckaroo has in his Hong Kong Cavaliers. Jeff Goldblum has a cowboy outfit on for over half the film. One guy looks exactly like John Leguizamo. There are some fabulous dangly earrings and spiky hair. Even the fan club members get to join up and help our hero. The damned Kurgan is one of these rockabillies. And at the end if the film, they all join Buckaroo in an epic walk set to glorious synth music. It’s the best closing credits in history. Period. Hell, even the dead guys come back and join the parade. Lesson 4: Be yourself, and you’ll eventually find your place in the world. Bonus, lesson 5: your beloved departed are always with you in spirit.
The last detail I’d like to expound upon is the mystery fruit in the secret laboratory. During an epic thrilling shoot out, the Cavaliers stop to discuss this fruit and the experiment. They literally stop and discuss a watermelon. It’s a fleeting moment, but it sticks with me. I can’t think of any other moment in film that captures that human curiosity we all have. We all will squirrel out every once in a while. Lesson 6: Life is full of the unexpected. Lesson 7: it’s okay to put anecdotes and such in a film that don’t entirely make sense, it gives the audience something to think about. There can be square blocks and round holes.
And that’s what it really boils down to. For me, this film is important because it seems to me the writers and director had about as much freedom to do as they choose as Orson Welles did with Citizen Kane. Somebody wrote them a check and said “screw it, make the movie you want to make.” And they did. You will never see a movie like this again now that we are obsessed with ticket sales, ‘splosionz, and capturing the target audience. This wacky spin on a sci do adventure is unique in that the rules are thrown out in the first sequence and never rewritten. Hail to this classic. It’s truly one of a kind, the likes of which we will never see again.
(The script for the sequel was chopped and blended into what would become Big Trouble In Little China.)