Tuesday, June 6, 2017

WHERE THE BUFFALO ROAM (1980) (Collector’s Edition Blu-ray Review)

Collector’s Edition 

Label: Shout! Factory/Shout Select

Region Code: A
Rating: R
Duration: 96 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1)
Director: Art Linson
Cast: Bill Murray, Bruno Kirby, Peter Boyle, Rene Auberjonois

Synopsis: Comedy legend Bill Murray (Caddyshack, Lost In Translation) is at his wildest as America's leading "Gonzo" journalist, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, the legendary underground reporter whose passion for writing was second only to his love of weird chemicals, alcohol, violence and insanity. Along with his best friend Carl Lazlo, Esq. (Peter Boyle, Young Frankenstein), Thompson takes us on a manic look back at the Sixties and Seventies as an eyewitness to everything from a free-for-all San Francisco drug trial to a one-on-one bathroom interview with then Presidential candidate Richard Nixon. This off-the-wall comedy also boasts a musical score by rock superstar Neil Young.

Sure, I love me some Johnny Depp in his turn as gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson in Terry Gilliam's Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas (1998), love it, but I am a huge Bill Murray fan, and he got there first with his portrayal of Thompson back in '80 with Where The Buffalo Roam (1980), and while the movie lacks the keen, trippy visual style that Gilliam brought to the table, Murray (Meatballs) partly wins the day with his take and on Thompson, decked out in in his usual garb, chomping on a cigarette holder, in a weird, scattershot series of gonzo vignettes set during the '72 Nixon re-election campaign. Along for the ride is his pal, and attorney, Carl Lazlo, Esq. played by Peter Boyle (Hardcore), a whacked-out attorney losing his faith in America and a man who even more out-there and dangerous than Thompson, truth be told.

Murray doesn't quite disappear into the role, at times it feels like he's playing Thompson through the lens of Carl Spackler (his character from Caddyshack), mumbling and semi-incoherent, but it's a good turn. Peter Boyle is great as his radical attorney, a defender of Chicano youth rights, who gets caught up in some ill-advised South American revolution against the better, and impaired, judgment of his pal Thompson. The movie lacks cohesion, sort of by design, as it plays as a series of flashbacks remembered by Thompson as he pens an article for Blast! magazine, which in reality was actually Rolling Stone, about his storied attorney. 

As it unfolds it's hard not to be struck by just how incoherent the damn thing is at times, the vignettes and bit-comedy do not flow smoothly into one another, but I love Murray's performance, they just don't make for the best movie, where this falters and Gilliam's story excels, is perhaps making the whole mess visually stunning, without the sheen of acid-tinged visuals that Gilliam brought this ramshackle affair comes across as uninspired and workmanlike, as this was producer turned director Art Linson's directorial debut I think he bit off more than he could chew.  The screenplay is also disjointed, and while Fear and Loathing also suffered from the same issues, Gilliam's film was at least a feast for the eyes. That being said, I enjoyed the drug-addled adventures of Thompson and Lazlo, adventures of misbehavior laced with a healthy dose of paranoia, drugs and alcohol, and ruffling the feathers off the normies, including some zany antics on an airplane and the bizarre one on one encounter with Nixon in a restroom that wraps the movie up. 

I appreciate this movie a lot more now than I did when I first saw it in the '80s on VHS, at the time I was young and had no idea who Hunter S. Thompson was, I was just a kid who loved Bill Murray in Ghostbusters and Caddyshack, a lot of it flew over my head at that time, it wasn't a traditional comedy, which is what I expected, but I will say that even now, though I can appreciate Murray's commitment to the character and the inherent humor of vignettes, it is a loose-cannon of a movie that without the drug-tinged visuals that Gilliam brought to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas it is hard to digest, but for fans of the author and his antics, this is still worth a watch, Murray gets to the essence of Hunter S. Thompson, it's just a damn shame that the screenwriter and director were not up to the challenge of making a film that matched his performance.  

Audio/Video: Where The Buffalo Roam (1980) arrives on Blu-ray from Shout! Factory imprint Shout Select, licensed from Universal, looking damn decent, but this is not an eye-popper of a Blu-ray, though this is a nice step-up from the Universal DVD. Grain looks good, black levels are nice, and there's some modest fine detail, but colors seem a bit subdued, but look accurate, this just is not a vibrant movie from the get-go, and the Blu-ray can do little to improve on the source. Perhaps the most attractive thing about this release is that Shout have restored the original musical score, previous DVD versions dropped iconic songs from Bob Dylan, The Jimi Hendrix Experience and others, and replaced them with anachronistic 80's songs, but the original soundtrack and some dialogue has been restored for this release, and sounds great in DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo, Neil Young's haunting and sparse version of "Home on the Range" sounds great in the mix, optional English subtitles are provided, and given the way Murray delivers his lines, a drug-addled mumble while chomping on his ever-present cigarette holder,  they might be needed! 

There are only two extras on the disc, a trailer for the film, and a 40 minute interview with screenwriter John Kaye, which is great. Kaye speaks about adapting the story for film, his view on producer turned director Art Linson (Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Fight Club), and the wild times he had with Thompson, and his own problems addiction. This release comes with a handsome slipcase (o-ring) and a sleeve of reversible artwork featuring the original theatrical poster, housed in a standard blue keepcase. 

Special Features: 

- NEW Inventing the Buffalo: An Interview with Screenwriter John Kaye (42 min) HD 
- Original Theatrical Trailer (3 min) 

While Where The Buffalo Roam (1980) is does not rise to the level of Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas (1998) the film has become something of a cult-classic through the years, thanks in large part to the great performance from Bill Murray as Hunter S. Thompson, it lacks the surreal visuals of Fear but it made a fun double-feature with the latter film. The new Blu-ray from Shout Select looks good and the fact that they've restored the original audio/soundtrack is worthy of celebration, fans of the work of Hunter S. Thompson and Bill Murray should definitely check this one out, it disjointed but fun. 3.5/5