A dispute over the rights to 1984 scifi cult classic Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension means that proposed TV show adaptation from Kevin Smith and Amazon Studios is suddenly on hold. Last week, MGM (which is in favor of the Smith-Amazon show) filed suit against the original film’s writer and director.
According to The Hollywood Reporter:
[On November 23,] MGM filed a complaint in California federal court against Earl Mac Rauch, who wrote the 1984 film about a neurosurgeon/ rock star who saves Earth from malevolent aliens, and Walter Richter, who directed the picture that stars Peter Weller, John Lithgow, Jeff Goldblum and Christopher Lloyd.
Rauch and Richter “have now asserted in multiple letters to Plaintiffs that they, not Plaintiffs, supposedly own the exclusive right to produce and distribute a Buckaroo Banzai television series,” states MGM’s lawsuit. “There is now a substantial controversy between the parties with great immediacy. MGM seeks to develop its new television series without Defendants’ interference. Accordingly, Plaintiffs bring this action to seek a declaration of the rights and legal relations of the parties with regard to Buckaroo Banzai.”
This isn’t the first time that the ownership of Buckaroo Banzai—a completely unique and wonderfully weird movie, clearly sprung from minds not crafted by the Hollywood machine—has come into question. And at stake is not merely the 1984 film, but rather “the overall rights to the world of Buckaroo Banzai, and all of the characters, themes and ideas associated with that world,” according to Rauch and Richter’s attorney, who notes that back in 1981, scriptwriter Rauch had already penned several Buckaroo Banzai-centric adventures (with such enticing titles as “Lepers from Saturn — A Buckaroo Banzai Adventure” and “Shields Against the Devil — A Buckaroo Banzai Thriller”).
MGM, of course, maintains that it owns all the rights to all things Buckaroo Banzai, full stop, and it would like Rauch and Richter to blast off to Planet 10 forever. While this complicated legal tangle makes its way through the court system, the question of whether or not we need a Kevin Smith-helmed Buckaroo Banzai TV show in the first place is still completely open for debate.
UPDATE: Kevin Smith has responded to the lawsuit in a chatty Facebook video (NSFW language); skip ahead four minutes or so to get to the part where he talks about Buckaroo Banzai. He did not know about the lawsuit in advance, he says, and learned about it via The Hollywood Reporter article linked above. He’s diplomatic (“I’m not jumping in that legal battle... I love the people at MGM [and] the folks at Amazon have been lovely as well”). But he also defends Buckaroo Banzai’s creators quite passionately: “Without those two dudes, I don’t fall in love with that property.” Without Rauch and Richter involved, he says, “I’m out.”