Supplanted by the more well-known Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and The Rum Diary, Art Linson's Where the Buffalo Roam (1980) marks the first film adaptation of "gonzo journalist" Dr. Hunter S. Thompson's life and times. Here, the good doctor is portrayed by some fella named Bill Murray, who'd just left Saturday Night Live and landed his first starring role in Meatballs a year earlier; Caddyshack was just three months away. Featuring an enjoyable turn by first-billed Peter Boyle as Thompson's lawyer friend Carl Lazlo (loosely based on Oscar Acosta), Where the Buffalo Roam is more accessible than Fear and Loathing...but considering the source, that's probably a bad thing.
Art Linson, who makes his directing debut here (his first of only two films, the other being 1984's The Wild Life) and is more well known as a producer, infuses Where the Buffalo Roam with a no-nonsense and flat structure, which allows us easy access into Thompson and Lazlo's wild world but occasionally cuts it off at the knees. Murray's portrayal of Thompson sounds interesting on paper, and he's certainly got the mannerisms and vocabulary down, yet it feels more like he's playing dress-up than really inhabiting the character. Still, this is a decent enough performance given its place in Murray's early career and, like other elements of this film, has only aged somewhat poorly because of what's come after it. Boyle is more fitting and memorable as Lazlo, while enjoyable supporting performances by the likes of Bruno Kirby (When Harry Met Sally) and René Auberjonois (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) round out the main cast nicely. Eagle-eyed viewers might even spot Craig T. Nelson in an early role as "Cop on Stand".
Luckily, there's more than enough going on in the story department, which makes Where the Buffalo Roam more of a respectable cinematic dry run than anything close to a complete misfire: framed around an unfinished story written about Lazlo by Thompson in his remote Colorado cabin, the bulk of Where the Buffalo Roam is told via flashbacks to 1968 and 1972 (just two years before Oscar Acosta's real-life disappearance and presumed death in 1974). Among other exploits: Thompson types while driving, Lazlo fiercely defends young marijuana users in court, the pair reunite at a Super Bowl party in Los Angeles, there's some weapons smuggling, and Thompson covers the 1972 presidential election campaign. Sound like your idea of a good time? By all means, give this one a spin.
First released on DVD by Anchor Bay all the way back in 2000, Where the Buffalo Roam was re-issued five years later by Universal; unfortunately, both discs (as well as most VHS releases) had to change a few of the era-specific tunes due to rights issues, including The Jimi Hendrix Experience's "All Along the Watchtower", The Temptation's "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone", Bob Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited", and several others. Luckily Shout Factory's new "Select" Blu-ray restores the original soundtrack, not to mention improves the A/V presentation and even throws in an extra or two. It's not as fully-loaded as most other titles in their "Select" line, but fans will appreciate the effort.
Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer (presented, as usual, on a dual-layered disc with a high bitrate) represents a solid upgrade from Universal's 2005 DVD in every department. Image detail and textures are improved, and many of the low-lit scenes fare much better this time around with more clearly defined levels of shadow detail, contrast, and film grain; those with a soft spot for films of this era will be glad to know that Where the Buffalo Roam clearly looks like a product of its time, and for all the right reasons. Its color palette looks substantially better as well, from skin tones to wide-open outdoor landscapes. Dirt and debris are basically absent and no digital manipulation (excessive noise reduction, compression artifacts) was detected along the way.
DISCLAIMER: The screen captures and stills featured on this page are strictly decorative and do not represent the title under review.
Where the Buffalo Roam's audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 (stereo) and, likewise, sounds crisper and more defined than the DVD. Not surprisingly, the restored original soundtrack represents a huge upgrade as well (technically, as well as artistically), allowing for several moments of modest depth and a solid dynamic range overall. Low frequency effects are virtually absent, but there's no obvious clipping or distortion in the high end. Overall, this is a fine effort that, while obviously limited in comparison to films like Fear and Loathing, easily stands tall as the best it's ever sounded on home video. Optional English subtitles are included during the main feature.
The interface is presented in Shout's typical no-frills template and features smooth, simple navigation and the bare minimum of pre-menu distractions. Separate options are provided for chapter selection, subtitle setup, and additional bonus features. This one-disc release arrives in a standard keepcase with an attractive reversible cover featuring new and vintage artwork promoting the film, plus a matching slipcover and Shout Select insert.
ABOVE: Artwork from the soundtrack LP, released in March of 1980 by MCA Records.
Much less than expected, but what's here is of great quality. Aside from the Restored Original Soundtrack---though technically not a bonus, as it's the only audio option available---the main item of interest is a lengthy and informative new Interview with screenwriter John Kaye (42 minutes) titled "Inventing The Buffalo". It's a very revealing and candid interview at times, as the writer has no shortage of stories about his exploits with Hunter S. Thompson on and off the set, as well as his relationship with producer-turned director Art Linson. A must-watch for fans of the film and/or source material, but it's too bad this couldn't be stretched a bit to fill an entire audio commentary.
Other than that, the only bonus feature on board is the film's Theatrical Trailer (3 minutes); it's very rough-looking and presented in 1.33:1 format. Although the A/V upgrade and Kaye interview are appreciated, some participation from Murray, the supporting cast, or Linson would have definitely made this more of a "Collector's Edition".
Though it obviously runs a modest-to-distant second behind Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (possibly third, depending on your feelings for The Rum Diary), Art Linson's Where the Buffalo Roam remains a curious slice of cult cinema that, in the right mood, still satisfies a very specific itch. The performances are generally quite good although, in hindsight, Murray never completely escapes what is now an established comedic persona; in short, it feels more like he's playing dress-up here. But if you're a fan of Thompson's writing or the more well-known film adaptations, give this one a spin. Shout Factory's new "Select" Blu-ray finally presents Where the Buffalo Roam with its unaltered theatrical soundtrack, plus a solid A/V upgrade and a limited but enjoyable pair of bonus features. Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.