In Praise of Buckaroo Banzai: Past, Future and Extra-Dimensional

06/17/2016 04:27 pm ET Updated Jun 18, 2017

Nostalgia for the 1980's has been a Hollywood gold mine since about January 1st, 1990, (1987 if you count the Masters of the Universe movie ) and its yield, thus far, has been a mixed bag, at best. Fright Night, Dredd, The Evil Dead and both Jump Streets have all been welcome additions to the cinematic landscape of the twenty-first century, but failures like Robocop, Conan, Vacation, The Karate Kid, GI Joe, Jem and the Holograms, and Michael Bay's one-man assault on Generation X's childhoods (in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the Transformers) have left a bad taste in the mouths of moviegoers, to say the least. And the less said about how the new Ghostbusters is looking, the better.

There is one adaptation on the horizon, however, that looks incredibly promising, but it won't be found in theaters. As is becoming less and less surprising, 80s nostalgics and hipster millennials are going to have to turn to the small screen for their fix of colorful action and cheesy synths. I am talking, of course, about, the one, the only, Buckaroo Banzai.

Originally written as a lampoon of Hong Kong action films of the previous decade, the 1984 cult classic The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai across the Eighth Dimension wound up an amalgam of and tribute to some of America and Britain's greatest fictional mavericks. The titular Buckaroo is "a physicist, neurosurgeon, test pilot, and rock musician" who drives around in America's answer to Dr. Who's time-travelling police box: a jet-powered, dimension-hopping Ford F-350 that not only beat Dr. Emmet Brown's DeLorean to market by a year, but also served as the inspiration for its iconic Flux Capacitor. And Dr. Banzai is not alone; he travels around with his crew of musician-scientists called the Hong Kong Cavaliers, a sort of Doc Savage's Fabulous Five by way of the eponymous Joes from G.I. Joe. He also has not one, not two, but three teams of support networks, a la Sherlock Holmes' Baker Street irregulars, called the Rug Suckers, the Radar Rangers, and the Blue Blazers. If none of that sells you on Buckaroo, he recruits a spur-wearing Jeff Goldblum to fight an alien Christopher Lloyd, and there's a main character named Perfect Tommy.

It's obvious that a lot of Buckaroo's mythology is borrowed, parodied, and pastiched from more recognizable icons from the decade, but that's exactly why he's the perfect candidate for a modern reboot. Even by 1984, the 80s had already cemented themselves in America's collective unconscious as a time of excess, garish style, and over-the-top machismo. Once called "paradoxically decades ahead of its time and yet completely of its time," Buckaroo Banzai will fit right into the Hollywood tradition of distilled, idealized versions of bygone eras.

Helming the project is Kevin Smith, of Clerks and Chasing Amy fame, and while this would rightly worry those paying attention to his recent cinematic output, (Cop Out, Red State, Tusk) TV may provide him the redemption he- and his fans- have long been waiting for.

Smith recently directed an episode of the CW's The Flash, considered to be one of the best of the season, and what he described as his "favorite thing [he] directed". He's also been asked to direct another episode for Season Three, airing in 2017. Smith's successful transition to the small screen, as well as his trademark dialogue might be just what a faithful Buckaroo Banzai adaptation needs.

While many would be happy if Smith simply translated the film into the first series of the season, such a direct adaptation would leave room for at least three more hours of content. So, he will undoubtedly delve into the Banzai lore, which consist of a novel, videogame, and two comic book series (not counting crossover appearances). Smith may also reference the early drafts for the film, titled Lepers From Saturn, Find the Jet car, Said the President - A Buckaroo Banzai Thriller, and The Strange Case of Mr. Cigars, a story about a "a huge robot and a box of Hitler's cigars".

Smith is going to need all of this detail, though, if he hopes to fare better than the film did in theaters. In addition to being a box office failure, many critics found the movie confusing, one stating that "[Screenwriter] 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".

This reboot will also give Smith a chance to correct some of the representation faux pas of the original. In the film, Buckaroo is supposed to be half-Japanese, but is played by Peter Weller. The Hong Kong Cavaliers are also all white. Leaving alone the offensive Pan Asian potpourri of a Japanese man naming his crew after a city in China, the only Asian character in the film is Buckaroo's mentor figure, Dr. Hikata (played brilliantly by Robert Ito in age makeup). Penny Priddy, the female lead, could also use an update. The role, played by Ellen Barkin, is a typical damsel-in-distress, but Chasing Amy as well as his newest film Yoga Hosers have shown Smith can write three-dimensional female characters, so there may be hope for her yet.

Buckaroo Banzai is ridiculous. He has too many jobs, too many friends, and way too much in common with other fictional characters in his genre, but the film walked a line between sincerity and self-parody that found its way into the hearts of millions on home video after the movie failed to find a theatrical audience. If Smith can capture even a fraction of that balance, the show is sure to find its home among twenty-first century irony addicts that gobbled up Rick and Morty and Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy, because Buckaroo Banzai was and will be made by fans of 80s ephemera, and no one knows how to make fun of something better than those that love it most.