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Where The Buffalo Roam
"I hate to advocate weird chemicals, alcohol, violence or insanity to anyone ... but they've always worked for me." - Dr. Hunter S. Thompson (Bill Murray), Where The Buffalo Roam
I imagine that corralling the berserk antics of one Dr. Hunter Stockton Thompson is a dream many filmmakers share – his terse, evocative prose perfectly captured the feel of a disturbed, paranoid nation on the verge of a total mental collapse in the late Sixties into the Seventies. His classic works like "Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas," "Fear & Loathing on the Campaign Trail" and "Hell's Angels" read like drug-induced fever dreams – which, come to think of it, many of them actually were. Thompson's unhinged, batshit persona has marked him as one of our country's more colorful raconteurs; one that numerous actors, writers and directors have yearned to tame, thereby creating a compelling feature film.
Picturing Bill Murray (who would play another iconic role, that of Carl the gardener in Caddyshack, released the same year as this film) in Dr. Gonzo's tinted shades and Hawaiian shirts isn't as much of a stretch as you'd think. He slides effortlessly into the part, adopting manic tics and letting casual profanity fly. It's a long way from his work on "Saturday Night Live," but it proves Murray was willing to take comic risks long before Wes Anderson showed up. Where The Buffalo Roam, a loose adaptation of several Thompson works, stars Murray as the good doctor and Peter Boyle as his attorney, Carl Lazlo. There isn't a linear narrative per se, as the film strings together a series of increasingly surreal episodes, culminating in Thompson cornering presidential candidate Richard Nixon in the men's room and getting thrown off the main campaign airplane.
Along the way, Thompson (employed by a thinly veiled "Rolling Stone" knock-off titled "Blast") and Lazlo attempt to cover Super Bowl XI, engage in some black market arms trading, dodge responsibility, join the college lecture circuit, escape the hospital and work to free some hippies from the clutches of the law. It's hard to say who more accurately captured the precise tone of Dr. Thompson's gonzo journalism – Art Linson and Murray or Terry Gilliam and Johnny Depp in 1998's Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas. Each have their own successes, along with their own failures. Where Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas has a psychotic, anything goes mentality, Where The Buffalo Roam seems positively sedate in comparison; in fact, despite its episodic nature, Linson's film has more of a narrative arc than Gilliam's, the anarchy of which feels closer in spirit to the tone of Thompson's writings.
Another concern with this re-issue is whether the theatrical soundtrack (which included cuts from Bob Dylan, The Temptations and Jimi Hendrix) was restored to this edition. Sadly, it was not – the only theatrical songs that appear on this edition are Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Chooglin'," the songs contributed by Neil Young and Murray's acappella rendition of "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds." Considering the absence of extras, this additional oversight isn't really surprising, but it is disappointing.
Where The Buffalo Roam is an enjoyable cult flick that predates Gilliam's attempt at Thompson's material; I still don't think there's been a successful adaptation of Thompson's writings (both films mentioned here come close, but still fall short), so perhaps it's not meant to be. It could be that as Thompson writes in "Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas," his works are truly unique creations – "too weird to live and too weird to die."The DVD
Considering its age and cult status, Where The Buffalo Roam looks really, really good. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image looks clean and sharp throughout (dig those Ralph Steadman-illustrated title cards), with very little print damage, grain or edge enhancement. Detail is nice and those vintage late Seventies clothes don't present any problems. A great transfer.The Audio:
Dolby 2.0 stereo is it for Where The Buffalo Roam. It's a good mix, with the Neil Young-compiled soundtrack coming through fine; also, the paranoid ramblings of Thompson and his attorney are crisp and clear. Much like the visuals, the aural end of things is good, considering that the film has been largely relegated to the margins.The Extras:
There's nary an extra to be found, not even so much as a trailer – which is very disappointing. After 25 years, you'd think Universal would pony up for a retrospective documentary (all the principals are alive and well) or a commentary track or something. It's a fairly well known cult film, but the studio didn't see fit to include anything.Final Thoughts:
Fans who haven't checked out this vintage Eighties take on Hunter Thompson's work would do well to give this disc a rental; the excellent transfer and fine audio make it an easy spin. Universal needs to revisit this title in the future with commentary tracks, trailers and the theatrical soundtrack added. A disappointing but a visually and aurally serviceable effort.