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The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Paperback – December 1, 2001
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Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Sitting here safely in the stained-glass enclosed study of the Banzai Institute for Biomedical Engineering and Strategic Information, I am at last able to look back on the events of the twelfth and thirteenth of June past with a certain remove and, I may say, a sense of profound relief that the worst did not occur when it seemed as though it might. For this, the world has to thank Buckaroo Banzai, that rare combination of cunning and civilized breeding, who was contacted by representatives of the Nova Police, whose very existence until that time was unknown to us; but perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself. A bit of history may be helpful here for our youthful readers.
One evening I made my way down from the bunkhouse, as the top floor of the Banzai Institute is called by those of us fortunate enough to be residents, and on passing the projection room looked in to see Buckaroo Banzai sitting alone while a faded eight millimeter home movie print flickered on the screen. It was a sight I had witnessed on more than one occasion, the man alone with his thoughts and whatever memories the images on screen rekindled, and I mention it here only because of the fortuitous timing. It was only days before the scheduled test run of the new Jet Car in Texas, and the events on the screen took on a special meaning, bearing as they did on the present.
On the screen, a Texas vista, made broader by the sweep of the camera, served as a backdrop for a 1950-model Ford automobile and an expedition of five individuals dressed in the style prevalent in that arid habitat, in boots and hats of the American Southwest. In my mind's eye now I see them smiling, waving at the camera. It looks more like an outing in the country than a scene of any scientific expedition. Certainly there is no presage of what is to come, not the faintest hint of danger. Comprising the group portrait are two Oriental men, two Caucasian men, and a single Caucasian woman. The sun is sweltering, thermal waves rising off the desert floor which is a dry lake basin. In one corner of the picture I recall surveying instruments, a theodolite. The operator of the camera shifts its focus repeatedly amongst the companions, his hand not the steadiest, and shooting from a lower angle relative to the subjects. He is in fact the young Buckaroo Banzai, a precocious boy of four years, and he now comes into view as one of the Orientals walks forward to take the camera.
Young Banzai is a boy like any other, racially mixed, wearing a red hat and a six-shooter, possessing what all children most require, a pair of loving parents. The Caucasian woman and the remaining Oriental embrace him warmly, and the film changes scenes.
Standing in the doorway of the projection room, I noticed Buckaroo stir. Something in him surged to his throat, and he exhaled audibly. More than thirty years later, the recollection of what was to follow on the screen still made it almost unbearable for him to watch. I must confess to feeling convulsed myself every time I have seen the footage.
Imagine a long torpedo with wheels and a cockpit cut into it so that it might accommodate a crew of two, and imagine yourself further to be the four-year-old Buckaroo watching from behind a sandbagged shelter as your father, at the wheel of the streamlined vehicle, presses the starter only to be engulfed in searing flames. Your mother screams, releases your frightened hand, and plunges herself into the fire in an effort to save your father. An explosion terrible to behold sucks the air out of your lungs, and only the body of your father's closest friend thrown recklessly across your own saves you from being pelted with bits and pieces of your parents.
For a long time after the film finished and slapped against the reel, Buckaroo did not move. Finally, because I suppose I could bear the pathetic sight no longer, I stepped forward, placed my hands on his shoulders.
"Buckaroo -- ?"
He looked up, trying to compose himself. "Hey, Reno -- " he said, sitting up straighter. "I thought everybody was asleep."
"Just going downstairs for a beer. Can I get you one?"
"No, I'm all right. Think I'll go to bed. I was just trying to see if there was anything we could learn."
"Still think it was an incendiary device?" I asked, fully aware of the answer.
"It had to be."
I nodded. "Xan?"
"Who else? I can't prove it, though."
"What difference would it make if we could?" I said, knowing that getting Xan out of his stronghold in Sabah would be like extracting the incisors of a wildcat. No one knew this better than Buckaroo, who had actually been there and had seen the relic city of caves hacked out of mountainous jungle, teeming with brigands and assassins from every corner of the world, afforded by Xan a sanctuary from which they could come and go with impunity.
Buckaroo stood up, resigned to going to bed. "Not a helluva lot," he said. "I can only kill him once. Good night, Reno."
"Good night," I said. "What time we leaving tomorrow?"
"Bus pulls out at ten-thirty."
"See you in the morning, Buckaroo."
He nodded. I took the film from the projector and went down the hall to the archives to file it. As I suspected, Mrs. Johnson was still awake, listening to another batch of demo tapes submitted to the Hong Kong Cavaliers, the musical group of which Buckaroo and I were members. One of those persons who languishes by day and does not seem to come fully alive until the middle of the night, Mrs. Johnson, at nineteen the premature widow of Flyboy, was just gathering momentum. Over the indescribable din of a song called "Merry as a Monkey," she said hello and asked if Buckaroo had said anything about her going to the Jet Car test.
"To me?" I said. "Was he supposed to?"
"Well, it's been nearly six months."
By that I supposed she meant her apprenticeship which preceded internship, which in turn preceded residency. In the manner of a hospital, only interns and residents were allowed to go on actual operations, which I pointed out to her.
"But this isn't technically an operation," she said. "It's a tour."
True, we were presenting musical shows in three cities along the way, but that was mainly for gas money. Our clear mission was the Jet Car test, and beyond the Jet Car test there was the real Jet Car test of which only Buckaroo and the residents were apprised. And despite the perceived nature of the trip, any trip, there was always the lurking menace of Xan, capable of the basest atrocities. I said this to her.
"Anyway," I said. "The problem is that with the Seminole Kid, Pecos, and the Argentine with Cousteau on the Calypso, we're a little short around here."
"Go suck eggs," she said.
So much for my explanation. I smiled, remembering my-self at her age when my quick temper had been legendary. Buckaroo in fact had more than once seen fit to needle me by reciting one of his Oriental maxims: "Young blood needs little flame to boil." I mentioned this to her, and she found it singularly amusing, as if I should have ever been her age.
"See you when we get back," I said on my way out the door.
"Good luck," she called after me.
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Top customer reviews
But that doesn't explain why certain parts are so different from the movie. In the film, there's a conflict (to oversimplify) between the (good) black lectroids and the (bad) red lectroids. In the book there are only bad lectroids, the good ones instead being called Adders. The book also continually refers to another book or episode of B. Banzai and friends called Extradition from Hell, another evocatively named pulp-fiction adventure which begs to hit the screen. Viewers of the film are aware that it ends with an ad for the next serial as it were, Buckaroo Banzai and the World Crime League, of which there is no mention in this book. The introduction seems to say that another volume of stories is forthcoming, and hopefully some sort of cinematic sequel.
This is one of two books I can think of where the film is better than the book based on what it chose to leave out. The other is Forrest Gump, drawn from the book by Winston Groom. But for one exception, I think the Buckaroo Banzai film is very well edited in relation to this book. For instance, the gruesome torture scene of Penny Priddy in the book is replaced in the movie with a nearly comic one, and the intriguing philosophies given all through the book are worked implicitly into the movie rather than being discussed at length.
The real miracle is the film's tone, which is why I think people keep watching it. It's light without being flippant, about real things without being weighty, fantastic but not randomly so, moving without being sentimental. The book doesn't have this light tone, but it does delve into ideas that are mind-boggling and mind-expanding. It starts out almost unreadably bad, with an odd kind of stilted syntax and deliberately archaic language, but it ends up excitingly well.
The one exception where the book could improve on the film is in an alternate (longer) beginning which shows rather than tells the Buckaroo backstory. I had the Special Edition DVD which includes an alternate beginning in the Special Features section. But I highly recommend instead the Special Collector's Edition DVD which allows you to select a longer edition of the entire film with the new beginning. In my opinion this makes the film a lot better. It's the definitive The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension, and it's truly an amazing film.
This edition of the book says it's being released to coincide with the Special Collector's Edition DVD of the film, and this DVD really is that much better. But even on the Special Edition there's an interview with director W.D. Richter and a pilot for a TV show done in CGI that even now would find a huge audience. I join with about a million fans of this film asking why not more Buckaroo now?