This post doesn’t have any of your genre favorites. There’s no Ford or Shatner or Stewart. No Chris Evans, so keep the CapAss gifs stowed. (Or don’t. Yeah, don’t.) There is a man who has gifted the world with the single most memorable performance in sci-fi history, and his name is John Fucking Lithgow, and we’re going to talk about it.
Lithgow played the main antagonist in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, a 1984 cult classic that bombed at the box office but attracted a small but ardent following on home video. Lithgow’s character is Dr. Emilio Lizardo, a scientist whose experimentation with parallel dimensions landed him briefly in the Eighth Dimension. There, his brain was taken over by Lord John Whorfin, a maniacal alien serving out his exile from Planet Ten. In order to get back home, Whorfin—now inhabiting Lizardo’s body—must acquire a “oscillation overthruster” built by Banzai.
Emilio Lizardo/John Whorfin is fucking nuts. The opening clip is of him immediately post-possession:
Buckaroo Banzai is sci-fi pulp serial crossed with a Saturday morning cartoon, so it’s weird across the board—Buckaroo himself is a “brilliant neurosurgeon” who, “growing dissatisfied a life devoted solely to medicine… roamed the planet studying martial arts and paticle physics, collecting around him a most eccentric group” of rock star scientists—but most of the characters in it get to be weird in a cool way. John Lithgow does not get to be weird in a cool way.
While everyone else got to stand around saying quasi-deep shit like “No matter where you go, there you are,” Lithgow got a strong Russian accent and facial tics galore. He just fucking goes for it, and it’s beautiful. He makes Eddie Redmayne in Jupiter Ascending look like a master of understatement.
(In fact, Jupiter Ascending really is Buckaroo Banzai for the 21st century. Except Jupiter, which I didn’t like, was hamstrung by trying to be a bit too shiny and Hollywood for the low-budget schlock it wanted to emulate, while Buckaroo firmly commits to being batshit insane across the board.)
I can’t even imagine doing this. John Lithgow must have been worried on-set that he’d make a total ass of himself, but then he ended up the best part of a movie that features baby Jeff Goldblum dressed like this:
John Lithgow says “big booty” a lot, mispronouncing the name of one of his minions, played by Christopher Lloyd.
Every single time Lithgow is on screen, he’s giving full, one thousand percent nutball quality. It’s exhausting just to watch him.
His performance isn’t “so bad it’s good.” It transcends good and bad, and all other notions of quality besides. It just is.
I’LL SEE YOU IN HELLLLLL!!!!!