Anchor Bay // 1980 // 99 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Harold Gervais (Retired) // June 6th, 2000
I hate to advocate weird chemicals, alcohol, violence or insanity to anyone...but they've always worked for me.
From 1980 comes Where The Buffalo Roam, starring Bill Murray (Rushmore, Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day), as the father of Gonzo Journalism, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson and Peter Boyle (The Shadow, Taxi Driver, Young Frankenstein) as his attorney, Carl Lazlo, Esq.
The character of Lazlo is based on the radical attorney Oscar Zeta Acosta, who, because of legal reasons, became the 300-pound Samoan attorney in Thompson's classic novel "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas." Acosta parlayed that fame into the writing of his autobiography entitled "The Autobiography Of A Brown Buffalo." Shortly after the books publication, Acosta disappeared, presumed dead. As a eulogy for his lost friend Hunter wrote an article in Rolling Stone magazine called "The Banshee Screams For Buffalo Meat." It was from this material in which the film is based.
The movie really does not have a plot; it instead moves forward in time beginning in 1968 and going through the presidential elections of 1972 as a series of vignettes. Each scene chronicles another misadventure between Thompson and Acosta/Lazlo.
What the film shows and what really happened are probably two different things, or as Thompson himself is quoted as saying, "I signed away editorial control at the beginning, I was an executive consultant, which means I wandered around and fired machine guns on the set." Nice work if you can get it.
Where The Buffalo Roam was my introduction to the weird, twisted world of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson back in high school, and as such it has a special place in my cinematic heart. This film lead me to the writings of Hunter S. Thompson, for which I will always be grateful and I have had the opportunity to hear him speak, or mumble, on a couple of occasions. The man is larger than life and whether you agree with him or not, he is always interesting.
As a film, Where The Buffalo Roam is played much broader than Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, Terry Gilliam's Hunter S. Thompson epic which starred Johnny Depp. Depp may have become Hunter S. Thompson in manner and appearance, but to me Murray captures a better sense of the man. For all its strengths, Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas ended up being a cold, mean-spirited movie that in the end wasn't about anything. That is an accusation that could never be leveled at Where The Buffalo Roam, well not the mean-spirited part anyway.
Where The Buffalo Roam is very much in the Animal House mode of screen comedy. To use the formula, Thompson and Lazlo are the Delta's, the outcast fraternity from Animal House with the courts and the police being the rival Omegas, while Nixon is the Dean Wormer character. Staying with that theme and style of movie, you can expect the humor to be crude, outrageous and over-the-top. Many of the jokes work, while some just fall quite flat. Drugs and alcohol were major players in the period and mass consumption of both is never far from the eye of the camera, so be prepared for that.
Where The Buffalo Roam was one of Bill Murray's earliest screen roles, and while Peter Boyle may have gotten first billing, the movie lives and breathes because of Murray. He may not inhabit Thompson the way Depp did, but he humanizes the journalist in ways that Depp never came close to. The onscreen Thompson is a definite blend of both Bill Murray and Hunter S. Thompson. It is that mix that makes Thompson's antics towards his friends and enemies palatable. Murray's performance doesn't push anyone away the way Depp's did, but instead pulls everyone in, inviting all that care to to enjoy the fun. It's funny, intelligent work that gives a good preview of coming attractions in regard to Murray's talent and what would follow in his career.
I've said it before and I will say it now. I love Anchor Bay. Of all the small, independent companies, Anchor Bay is the absolute tops. The work they do with transfers is on par with any of the majors and their taste in films is the most eclectic in the world of DVD. Since they made the commitment to anamorphic enhancements whenever possible they have really taken another step up the ladder. Look at it this way, Anchor Bay can do 16x9 for the smallest, most esoteric release, but MGM can't pony up for The Princess Bride? How screwed up is that?
With Where The Buffalo Roam, the folks at Anchor Bay have done another fine job. While there is a certain degree of grain that runs through parts of the film, I'm sure it has more to do with the source material than with any oversight on Anchor Bay's part. The image they present is very solid and clear with a very good level of detail. Colors appear natural and not the least bit washed out. Fleshtones are dead on and black levels are firm with no pixel breakup or shimmer.
Soundwise, this is one of the most active Dolby Digital Mono tracks I have ever heard. Dialogue is always clear, Neil Young's score comes singing through, and I could make out no hiss or distortion in the background. Another spectacular job!
The disc has no real features to speak of, although Anchor Bay does include an informative essay on Thompson and Acosta. It's not advertised, but just go to the main menu in order to find it.
In the manner of a mad force of nature, Peter Boyle plays his role much broader than Murray, and the film suffers for it. Boyle has given this kind of performance before and he has given it since. I think he is one of those actors that need a strong director to rein him in and make him dig beneath all that surface bluster. This is not to say that Boyle's work is bad, it's just not on the same level with Murray. Boyle never connects with the material as deeply as he should, so the film falls even more to Murray.
Where The Buffalo Roam was the directorial debut of Producer Art Linson and he serves up a mixed bag. To his credit, it seems that he let Murray run with the film and on the downside, he appears to have given nothing to Boyle, so that the actor flies on automatic pilot. Even with having the great Tak Fujimoto behind the camera, Linson's film is rather dry and boring to look at. Camera placement is pedestrian at best and his shot composition leaves much to be desired. It would appear that Linson decided directing was not really for him, as he has basically stuck to producing since this film, only going behind the camera one more time.
Where The Buffalo Roam is not a film for the prudish, especially if you have a phobia about onscreen drug use. You name it and chances are Thompson and his cohorts consumed it. Wild, twisted times required an equal amount of illegal substances to keep up and Hunter S. Thompson was more than up to the task.
The one real gripe I have with the disc itself, other than my usual whine about when is someone going to lock Bill Murray in a studio to record a commentary track, is the lack of subtitles or an alternate language track on this release. I have heard rumors that Anchor Bay will be starting those features soon but I have not seen any evidence of that change in policy.
Even with the above criticisms, I still found myself laughing and enjoying Where The Buffalo Roam. It is certainly a better introduction to the world of Dr. Thompson than was Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas. Bill Murray fans will want to check this movie out, as it is one of his somewhat forgotten endeavors. He is always funny and when he is on, so is Where The Buffalo Roam. To my mind, Where The Buffalo Roam is a solid rental with the idea of purchase left strictly to those who are hard-core fans of Murray and Thompson. Unless of course you have rented the film already and love it. Then please click over to Amazon.com and buy away.
With some degree of reservation, Where The Buffalo Roam is acquitted of all charges. Anchor Bay is thanked for its fine work with only this reminder from the bench to be more considerate to the hearing impaired on future releases. Now if Dr. Thompson would put his gun away and sit down I can dismiss this courtroom. Thank you and have a good day.
Review content copyright © 2000 Harold Gervais; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 99 Minutes
Release Year: 1980
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Video Essay About Dr. Hunter S. Thompson