• Where The Buffalo Roam

    Released By: Shout Select
    Released On: June 6, 2017
    Director: Art Linson
    Cast: Bill Murray, Peter Boyle, Bruno Kirby
    Year: 1980
    Purchase From Amazon

    The Movie:

    Years before the movie-going public had even heard the name of Johnny Depp, Universal Studios decided to take on the persona of one Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, a cutting-edge journalist who also happened to be a pill-gobbling, bourbon-swilling madman of a Southern Gentleman. Known for his scathing criticism of Richard Nixon from his numerous Rolling Stone articles on the campaign trail in 1972, it was nevertheless Thompson's drug-fuelled alter-ego, Dr. Gonzo, and his drug-fuelled book, Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas, that overshadowed the man until his death. A film version encompassing all aspects of this prolific character would certainly prove to be a difficult task.

    In any event, with John Kaye brought on as Screenwriter, Art Linson as Director, and Bill Murray and Peter Boyle as the leads, Where The Buffalo Roam began to take shape. Opening in a rustic Aspen cottage, the film finds journalist Hunter Thompson (Murray) struggling to meet a deadline for Blast Magazine editor Marty Lewis (Bruno Kirby). Becoming increasingly disturbed by the beeping of the waiting telex, Thompson opens fire on the hapless communication device with a .357 magnum, before reflecting on the story that he's attempting to write; a series of events that start in 1968 San Francisco, at the height of the peace and love era. Thompson is covering the courtroom activities of his lawyer, Carl Lazlo, Esq (Peter Boyle), an activist with a law degree who is committed to defending communal hippies from persecution by local police. When his clients are handed outrageous sentences for possession of small amounts of marijuana, Lazlo goes berserk and attacks the presiding judge.

    Flashing forward four years, we find Thompson in 1972 Los Angeles, checking into a hotel to cover the Super Bowl. Those viewers familiar with Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas will recognize a couple of familiar milestones here, as the Doctor creatively redecorates his room, terrorizes hotel employees, and runs up huge room service bills to be charged to Blast Magazine. Dwarf bellhops help to compliment the surreal imagery, and the arrival of Lazlo in a Nixon mask prompts Thompson to bail on the Super Bowl story, trading his game tickets, press passes, and hotel room keys to two very happy gentlemen for their bottle of wine and fine pimp gear.

    Stopping to pick up a hitchhiker, and then letting the terrified man out of the car not long after, Thompson follows Lazlo on his latest journey as a revolutionary arms dealer, trafficking in automatic weapons to undesirables to fund the cause. Realizing that Lazlo has become involved in something far too sinister for his liking, Thompson refrains from boarding a getaway plane with him when federal agents show up, opting instead to jump on the campaign trail; a move that will keep him alive, out of jail, free to inspire auditoriums full of aspiring student journalists, and on the way to becoming a world-famous writer.

    It's disorganized, it lacks structure, and it's obviously the work of a Director who is out of his element, appearing flat and uninspired. Aside from the very loosest of threads, there is no cohesion in writer John Kaye's script. Thompson's outrageous persona and the exploits of Lazlo are reduced to a mostly dull series of events that, were the viewer not familiar with Thompsons's writing or Oscar Zeta Acosta, would be nonsensical and not funny. Locations are equally drab, save for Thompson's Aspen writing room, and the supporting characters are largely forgettable. Corresponding moments that played out in Gilliam's version of Fear and Loathing are breathtaking by comparison, showcasing what a competent director can do with the same material, but a number of years and advancements in technology can...maybe?...be used to excuse Linson's presentation.

    Yet, somehow, Where The Buffalo Roam manages to entertain, and that is obviously down to the driving force of Bill Murray and Peter Boyle. Again, while viewers unfamiliar with Thompson and Acosta will likely find the lead performances just plain weird, those in the know will recognize that Murray has Thompson's mannerisms down pat, and it's this performance that helps carry the film forward. From the Las Vegas visor to the cigarette holder, to the mumbling, grunting, and way in which he loads his bourbon glass with ice, it's easy to forget that we're watching an actor, and definitely more so (to compare to Gilliam's film, yet again) than trying to ignore Johnny's Deppisms. Boyle is a bit of a different beast, as he's really only ever been Peter Boyle to this viewer; the same oddball in every role; but his quirkiness is a perfect fit for Lazlo, even if he does lack the subtle menace (comparison, again) to Benicio Del Toro's crazed attorney. All comparisons aside, Where The Buffalo Roam is not a great film by any means, but it does entertain, and provides a worthwhile chapter in the fantastic saga that is the legend of Hunter S. Thompson.


    Where the Buffalo Roam comes to Shout Select Blu-ray in an AVC-encoded 1.85:1 transfer that is a decent upgrade over previous home video releases. Though the picture is subdued for the most part, lacking real pop or deep blacks, it nonetheless offers up plenty of detail and decent grain structure. Night time scenes are the weaker of the bunch with a little less clarity, but the picture is overall pleasing with no obvious dirt, debris, or damage.

    Audio is handled courtesy of a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 soundtrack that punches out of its weight class for most of the running time, offering clear dialogue and a solid soundtrack. Though the track does venture into harsh territory on occasion, with evidence of slight distortion, it does a more than adequate job for a stereo track. It is worth noting that this is the original soundtrack, including songs such as Bob Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited" that were randomly missing from previous versions.

    A Trailer for the film is included as a supplement, but the real gem in the Extras menu is Inventing The Buffalo: An Interview With Screenwriter John Kaye (41:58), a new, HD piece with....er....screenwriter John Kaye. This excellent and thorough interview features Mr. Kaye discussing multiple aspects of the film, from its beginnings as an attempt to write a film version of Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and how Kaye found that the character of Oscar Acosta, Thompson's "Attorney" made for a far more intriguing focus. Kaye pulls no punches here, speaking candidly of partying with Hunter prior to writing the film, traveling with Dr. Gonzo himself and ingesting large quantities of drugs and alcohol, and Art Linson's limitations as a Director. Interspersed with clips from the film, Kaye also talks about working with Peter Boyle and Bill Murray, the backlash that he faced when the film was released by critics who felt that he was undermining Thompson's importance as a journalist, and the betrayal that he felt when Thompson and Murray turned on him in the press, finishing up the conversation with the topic of Hunter's death and extravagant funeral service. I don't normally find myself watching full interviews when they're mostly made up of talking heads, but this is an essential supplement.

    The Final Word:

    Where the Buffalo Roam is by no means a perfect film. Murray's portrayal of Hunter S. Thompson will inevitably draw comparison to Johnny Depp's, and the film itself will pale in comparison to Gilliam's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but Where The Buffalo Roam has plenty of merit and intrigue to stand on its own as a worthy film. Shout's presentation of the film and the excellent interview with John Kaye make it well worth seeing.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 6 Comments
    1. Maureen Champ's Avatar
      Maureen Champ -
      I'd love to know who painted a cover artwork? Looks like Scarfe's.
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      If it's not Ralph Steadman, who did most of Thompson's book art, it's definitely somebody emulating his style. But I find Scarfe and Steadman to be very similar for sure.
    1. paul h.'s Avatar
      paul h. -
      Thanks for the info regarding the soundtrack. I might have to get it now. I think I remember reading (in Steadman's book, The Joke's Over), that Scarfe, who had done political cartoons for UK newspapers for a long while, influenced Steadman's style. Or I might be wrong.
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      Entirely possible, as I said, to me they both look similar, especially if you look at Scarfe's drawings of Pink Floyd prior to The Wall. And the soundtrack information is definitely key, it should be mentioned in every review.
    1. Toyboy's Avatar
      Toyboy -
      That's definitely Steadman - you can see his signature underneath the flag.
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -