Kevin Smith's Buckaroo Banzai Series May Face Rights Issues

There's a budding rights dispute over The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai and its possible TV adaptation from Kevin Smith.

Peter Weller in Buckaroo Banzai

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai: Across the Eighth Dimension was a 1984 sci-fi action film that soon emerged as something of a cult hit. Directed by W. D. Richter, Buckaroo Banzai starred Peter Weller as the titular scientist/rock star as he battled evil aliens and sought to save the world. The film co-starred John Lithgow and Ellen Barkin, with smaller appearances from the likes of Jeff Goldblum and Clancy Brown.

The end of Buckaroo Banzai offered the Bond-like promise that “Buckaroo Banzai will return in Buckaroo Banzai Against the World Crime League.” No such sequel ever came about, but a continuation of the Buckaroo franchise has been rumored to various degrees for several years. For awhile there was talk of a proper sequel and Fox was working on a TV series in the late 1990s that also never came to fruition. Earlier this year, Kevin Smith announced interest in making a TV series adaptation, in conjunction with MGM, and the project was rumored in July to have found a home at Amazon Studios, although nothing official was ever announced. Now, a new interview with the director of the original film raises the possibility that the rights to the Buckaroo Banzai character may be in too much limbo for such a project to proceed.

In an interview with Film Buff Online published on Tuesday, director W.D. Richter said that he believes the rights to Buckaroo Banzai may actually lie with Earl Mac Rauch, the credited screenwriter of the movie and original creator of the character. Rauch, who also wrote Martin Scorsese’s New York, New York and the John Belushi biopic Wired, went on to author some Buckaroo Banzai comic books for Moonstone Books, between 2006 and 2009.

Kevin Smith Developing Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai TV Series

According to Richter in the interview, Rauch’s contract to write the original movie contained some ambiguous language, which creates a distinction between “The Property” — a 57-page treatment of the original script — and “The Work,” defined by the WGA as “what the writer is engaged to write.” Therefore, according to Richter, Rauch and their attorney, original studio MGM does not actually own the rights to the character itself.

”[The] Agreement’s simple, blunt language acknowledges the existence of two entirely separate intellectual properties – one they called ‘The Property’ and one they called ‘The Work.’ Crucially, ’The Work’ is a technical term in the Writers Guild Basic Agreement with all the studios, is defined as only “what the writer is engaged to write”, and a screenplay is all that Mac was engaged to write in the MGM contract. [Then-MGM studio chief] David Begelman basically commissioned a screenplay based on a piece of literary material that MGM didn’t own and then David Begelman went off and made and released a movie based on it. It’s the equivalent of releasing a movie based on a Stephen King book but forgetting to buy the book from Stephen. And a highly regarded property lawyer agrees with us.”

This seems like an intricate intellectual property dispute that lawyers are going have to sort out, should it ever come to that. In Hollywood, there’s a long history of projects falling apart or being delayed indefinitely, due to the very possibility of rights snafus - but there’s also a long history of accommodations being ultimately agreed upon, provided there’s enough potential money at stake to make it worth everybody’s while. Whether that’s the case with The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai - a semi-obscure cult film from more than 30 years ago that didn’t make a ton of money on its original release - remains to be seen.

But it’s worth pointing out a few salient facts about Kevin Smith: He’s at various stages, right now, of multiple movies, TV series and TV episodes. Throughout his career he’s talked a lot about about projects he wants to do, and doesn’t always end up doing them - he said earlier this year, “I talk about things until they are true.”  And, he got very far in the development of the Mallrats sequel/TV series prior to realizing that he hadn’t actually obtained the rights to it (a deal was later reached). Smith, and View Askew Productions, did not respond to Film Buff Online’s request for comment; Screen Rant reached out to Smith on Twitter but had not received a reply as of publication. Considering how often Smith talks about his work on podcasts, live shows and in other venues, he’s bound to address the subject eventually.

We’ll bring you more information on The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai as they become available.

Source: Film Buff Online

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