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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » White Buffalo (Blu-ray)
White Buffalo (Blu-ray)
Kino // PG // April 28, 2015 // Region A
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Ian Jane | posted March 31, 2015 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

Directed by the late, great J. Lee Thompson, 1977's The White Buffalo is an interesting take on what Moby Dick might have been if it were made as a western. The story follows Wild Bill Hickok (Charles Bronson) who returns to the American West in the late 1800s under the alias of James Otis. Here he is plagued by visions of a huge white buffalo that he takes as a subconscious interpretation of his fear of his own mortality. He knows that in order to get over this, he'll have to confront his fear face to face and so he teams up with Charlie Zane (Jack Warden), who views towards the Native Americans in the area are none too kind, to track down and kill the white buffalo Hickok has only really ever seen in his dreams.

Also on the hunt for the white buffalo is the legendary Indian Chief Crazy Horse (Will Sampson), though his reasons for wanting to hunt the animal are quite different. His young daughter was killed by the beast and he feels that if he doesn't kill the animal, that her spirit will never find peace. As the story moves on, these two competing factions head towards the same place, after the same prize, but there's more to the white buffalo than either faction really understands.

At times almost surreal, The White Buffalo is definitely one of the more interesting westerns of the late seventies. By this point in time the Spaghetti Western boom (which Bronson, who appeared in Leone's seminal Once Upon A Time In The West was very definitely a part of) was over and Peckinpah had put the final nail in the coffin, at least for a while, with The Wild Bunch. Many of the westerns that came out around this time were limp, uninspired and not particularly remarkable but to lump this picture in with those others would be unfair. This is a startlingly creative and unusual film, and a very effective one at that.

The performances here are interesting. Jack Warden is quite good as the grizzled man accompanying Hickok into the wild on the hunt for the titular animal, he brings a weariness and a toughness to the role that works quite well. Will Sampson also does fine work here. We buy him as Crazy Horse and he's quite effective as the wise, sage and very skilled hunter. Of course, top-billed Bronson as Hickok is the most interesting casting choice. Bronson always excelled in the ‘strong, silent type' of role. His work in the aforementioned Once Upon A Time In The West is a shining example of that but we see it in a lot of his other films too, the Death Wish films being obvious but perfectly fine examples. Here he's a bit talkier at times, playing his character as more than a little bit eccentric. This isn't the type of role you might specifically want to cast the stone faced actor in, but cast he was and he does a fine job. His character is as obsessed as his counterpart in Moby Dick or like Quint in Jaws, it's really no challenge to draw parallels between this hardened men, each obsessed with killing their own version of the great white whale. But it works. Supporting efforts from Stuart Whitman, Kim Novak, John Carradine and Burt Williams add plenty of great character actors to the roster and compliment the leads quite nicely.

The fine acting is complimented, or rather accentuated, by a believably earthy script. The character in this film talk like real people. The banter may be occasionally snappy but it never feels forced or overwritten. There's a simplicity to the way that these men interact with one another that feels appropriate for the era in which the story is placed. John Barry's score is also a winner, perfectly evoking suspense and a strange sort of mystical vibe in a few key scenes. The effects used to bring the buffalo to life aren't the hottest and they are obviously done with mechanical props that move like mechanical props, meaning they're stilted and don't move like a living animal would, but then on the flip side, these add to the strange, surreal tone that the film often strikes. Great costumes and some wonderful location photography more than make up for the effects work's shortcomings and The White Buffalo winds up a film well worth discovering (or re-discovering) simply because it's not only very well done but also quite unique.

The Blu-ray:


The White Buffalo debuts on Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed properly in a 1.78.1 widescreen aspect ratio. There's some minor print damage evident in a few spots but for the most part the image is pretty clean on this disc. Colors are reproduced well, skin tones look nice and lifelike and black levels are strong if a bit short of reference quality. Detail certainly surpasses what DVD would be able to provide but some softness inherent in a few scenes keeps it from being as consistently eye-popping as you might hope for. Overall though, this is a pretty solid transfer with nice colors and texture and close up shots really show a solid advancement over standard definition. There are no problems with any compression artifacts, edge enhancement or noise reduction and all in all, the movie looks quite good on Blu-ray.


An English language audio option is provided in DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio with optional subtitles provided in English only. This isn't the world's fanciest mix but it certainly works and it works well. The dialogue is easy to understand and quite clear while the levels are remain nicely balanced. Sound effects have some noticeable punch behind them and the score has a fair bit more depth and presence than you might expect. This isn't as enveloping as a new surround sound mix might be, obviously, but for an older mix it sounds just fine.


The only extra on the disc is the film's original theatrical trailer. Static menus and chapter selection are included.

Final Thoughts:

The White Buffalo is one of the strangest movies that Charles Bronson ever starred in but it's a fascinating film despite its sometimes obvious imperfections. Bronson is great in the lead, the script offers plenty of heady dialogue to keep things interesting and it's very nicely shot even if the creature effects are sometimes less than entirely convincing. This is definitely worth seeing for Bronson/Thompson fans and while Kino's Blu-ray doesn't offer much in the way of extras, the decent HD presentation makes it the best way to do just that. Recommended.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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