Fans of the 1984 sci-fi adventure comedy “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension” may have been intrigued to learn that a TV series based on the film, its characters and world was on the way from Amazon and Kevin Smith. But before Smith can get to work making the series a reality for MGM and the streaming service, there are some legal matters that have to be cleared up first.
The Hollywood Reporter has learned that MGM has filed a complaint in California federal court against writer Earl Mac Rauch and director Walter Richter — the pair of creators behind the 1984 “Buckaroo Banzai” film.
MGM’s lawsuit says that Rauch and Richter have “asserted in multiple letters to Plaintiffs that they, not Plaintiffs, supposedly own the exclusive right to produce and distribute a Buckaroo Banzai television series.” The suit goes on to state that these claims have led to “substantial controversy between the parties with great immediacy” and that 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.'”
MGM added that both Rauch and Richter have known the series was on the way since at least 2008 — although this isn’t the first time the studio has butted heads with them regarding the property’s rights. The conflict picked up, though, when the writer and director informed MGM of their plans to move forward with their own “Buckaroo Banzai” projects earlier this year. According to them, MGM only owns “limited rights” to the sole motion picture, although one of their letters to MGM even put those rights into question. The defendants’ attorney Kenneth Keller wrote a letter claiming that Rauch and Richter own “the overall rights to the world of ‘Buckaroo Banzai,’ and all of the characters, themes and ideas associated with that world.” According to them, the entire world of “Buckaroo Banzai” as well as ideas for five films had been created and pitched in the ’70s, before MGM got involved with the one produced feature film.
On the other side, MGM claims that the film was created on a “work-made-for-hire” basis, that the studio was given “all exclusive rights under copyright to the screenplay and motion picture, and the characters, plots, themes, dialogue, mood, settings, pace, sequence of events, and other protected elements therein,” and that MGM also made contributions to the franchise that are themselves copyrightable.
“Buckaroo Banzai starred Peter Weller in the title role as a physicist/neurosurgeon/test pilot/rock star who tries to save the world by defeating a band of inter-dimensional aliens. The cast also included John Lithgow, Ellen Barkin, Jeff Goldblum and Christopher Lloyd. A sequel was mentioned in the credits, and would have been titled “Buckaroo Banzai Against the World Crime League.” Nothing came of the sequel, nor any of the other TV series that have entered various stages of production over the last few decades — until the current one from MGM, Amazon and Kevin Smith.
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