Kevin Smith…? That Kevin Smith?
My feelings for Kevin Smith and the type of media he produces change with the most recent thing he’s done. My relationship with his work covers the full spectrum between love and hate.
The overwhelming majority of his work in the ’90s is lost on me, despite how popular it was. While I loved Dogma. I have no resonance with the Jay and Silent Bob schtick. His show Comic Book Men is sadly casually misogynistic. I enjoyed his episode of Reaper, for all that it was as memorable as the short-lived show was (not very). His episode of The Flash, “Runaway Dinosaur,” however, was really good. It had emotional resonance and was a powerful moment in that show’s already fairly strong second season. It could have been balanced a bit better. It was jarring moving from Barry’s emotional journey to the rather silly lovesick super zombie B-plot. In fairness, though, I can see not wanting to bog down the episode with two heavy plots and allowing Barry’s story to stand out against a lighter story.
So, the announcement a week ago that he is heading up a reboot of ’80s cult property Buckaroo Banzai has left me on uncertain footing. Since I am an unabashed fan, I should be excited that Earl Mac Rauch is getting his wish—for somebody to take his heroic, hard-rocking scientist and his band of eclectic friends back to viewers. I’m thrilled for Buckaroo’s creator. But my excitement is tempered because it’s Kevin Smith doing the rebooting.
On the one hand, Kevin Smith is One Of Us. He’s a geek. He loves geek stuff. He’s already gone on record saying he wants Earl Mac Rauch involved and as much of the original cast as he can get portraying villains or as guest stars. So, he’s making the right noises. If he can get them, alumni Peter Weller, Jeff Goldblum, Clancy Brown, and John Lithgow sure have the acting chops to pull off deadly super villains. No worries there.
On the other hand, Kevin Smith has a handful of actors he likes to work with and doesn’t seem to deviate from that much. Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Chris Rock, and Jason Mewes? I can’t really see them fitting into Buckaroo’s mad-science-meets-superhero-meets-rock-star world. Honestly, they’re also a little old for those roles, not to mention too expensive for a series budget.
He also is hit or miss in his history as director and screenwriter. His was the hand at the keyboard for 2005’s execrable and forgettable Green Hornet. I’m not as tough on geek properties as some. I enjoyed Affleck’s Daredevil and Ryan Reynolds’ Green Lantern. But Green Hornet was unsitthroughable for me.
Smith has already cast himself as John Bigbootè. I’m very curious to see who he has in mind for the rest of the cast, particularly the bombastic personality of Dr. Lizardo, who was originally played with scenery-munching glee by John Lithgow. What names end up attached to the project may do more for fan excitement and the interest of whatever network the project is pitched.
The Century Jump
Another consideration is that Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension is firmly entrenched in the decade of its creation. It’s as ’80s as skinny ties and Capezio jazz shoes.
Will a 21st century update kill a lot of the kitschy charm that made the film a beloved cult classic? The fashions are different. The politics are different. It will take a careful hand to pull it off well. I believe Smith has the enthusiasm and love for the project, but I think he will need a strong team to keep him on the rails. We’ve seen him do world-ending threats with emotional stakes involved, so there’s precedent that he can pull it off and make it a rollicking ride.
A weekly series will give Smith (with Earl Mac Rauch at his right hand) a lot more wiggle room to show us more of Buckaroo’s Team Banzai and the Hong Kong Cavaliers. We’ll even, theoretically, get to see more of the Blue Blaze Irregulars, the global fan base of devotees sworn to assist Buckaroo in times of need. There’s a deep well of untapped potential there that the few comics since the film’s release have barely touched — the mystery behind Buckaroo’s wife Peggy and her connection to Penny Priddy or how he and Hanoi Xan became archenemies, it’s all there to be explored to the delight of die hard fans.
The Hong Kong Cavaliers are literally rock stars; how much of their music will make it into the series? A song an episode works fine for kids’ TV, but adult audiences tend not to embrace it. I would, but I know I’m an outlier. I loved Cop Rock.
Team Banzai’s World Tour
My biggest concern, though, is the most important: diversity.
Canonically, the titular Buckaroo is Japanese-American. His group of rock and roll scientists literally come from all over the world, and they include a decent number of women. Will Kevin Smith follow Hollywood’s current trend of paying lip service to casting people of color and then cast white anyway? Is he a big enough name to call his own shots and dictate non-whitewashed casting? Will he expand the cast beyond the two women with lines that were in the film? Or will we have to settle for heroic Rastafarians from outer space?
Jem was a beloved property from the ’80s twice revived. The film did not stay true to the roots, and it flopped spectacularly. The comic, on the other hand, got it right and is enjoying some success. So, it is possible to successfully pluck a property out of its native decade and have modern audiences embrace it. Robocop was another ’80s property that didn’t make the jump to the 21st century successfully. I’d love to see Kevin Smith do it with Buckaroo Banzai and bring the cult classic into true beloved fan status.
If the name Buckaroo Banzai makes you ask “who?,” Amazon has the film, the novelization, and the comics available for the curious. I envy those who will get to see the weirdness for the first time. You only get one first viewing.
We just have to sit tight to see what Kevin Smith’s vision will be and which network (not Fox—anyone but Fox) will be willing to take a chance on such an unconventional choice. When it comes down to it, I have to take the cautious optimist’s credo to heart: prepare for the worst while hoping for the best.