Where the Buffalo Roam: Collector's Edition [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Shout! Factory
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (23rd August 2017).
The Film

Hunter S. Thompson was a larger than life figure; a literary luminary fuelled by a steady diet of drugs and debauchery. His escapades are the stuff of legend, much of it readily available for consumption via his bibliography. Hollywood has attempted to capture the manic energy of the man three separate times, each with varying degrees of success. No portrayal will likely ever be considered as definitive as Johnny Depp in “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” (1998), the hallucinatory tale of Thompson, posing as Raoul Duke, and his lawyer, Dr. Gonzo (Benicio Del Toro), as they explore the underbelly of Las Vegas under the pretense of journalism. Although Depp was playing Thompson as an exaggerated caricature, the truth of the man wasn’t so far removed from that character. The first attempt at capturing Thompson’s essence came in 1980, when Bill Murray took on the role. The story is told in flashbacks as Thompson works on a story about his close friend and lawyer, Carl Lazlo, Esq. (Peter Boyle), a loose interpretation of Thompson’s real life friend and attorney, Oscar Zeta Acosta.

At his home in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, Hunter S. Thompson is banging away at his typewriter, filling brief spurts of downtime with golf and gunfire. His subject is Carl Lazlo, a flamboyant attorney who has taken up a number of controversial causes during his career. Thompson flashes back to some of their hijinks as he prepares to complete his tribute to a friend. In 1968, Lazlo checks Thompson out of a mental hospital so he can cover an upcoming trial involving a group of young adults in San Francisco who were arrested on marijuana charges. Lazlo thinks the case is on shaky ground for the police, so he goes ahead with a trial instead of accepting any pleas. The judge, unswayed by Lazlo’s arguments, sentences each of the defendants to harsh jail time. Lazlo reacts aggressively, lashing out at the judge and assaulting the prosecuting attorney, leading him to be charged with contempt of court and arrested.

Years later, Thompson hears from Lazlo again while in Los Angeles covering Super Bowl VI. Lazlo has joined up with a band of freedom fighters in Latin America and he urges Thompson to drop the football story and join them, helping to smuggle weapons south of the border. Thompson, unsurprisingly, agrees and the two of them join up with a small group of men at an airstrip with weapons in tow. Unfortunately, a police helicopter joins in on the action and the men are forced to flee before carrying out the plan.

Lazlo disappears once again but Thompson continues to become a rock star on the journalist circuit. He gives drunken lectures to enthusiastic college crowds, unsteadily accepting the fame that comes with his notable profile. He covers the 1972 presidential campaign but quickly finds himself thrown off the journalist plane, forcing him to board another plane with the crew members. There, he meets Harris (Rene Auberjonois), a straight-laced reporter from the Washington Post, who complains of nerves. Thompson gives him something to “calm him down”, which ends up being a strong hallucinogen. While Harris is intoxicated, Thompson steals his clothing and credentials, posing as a more reputable reporter in order to get close to The Candidate (Brian Cummings, playing a thinly-veiled Richard Nixon). Just as Thompson is getting ready to takeoff, however, his old buddy Lazlo appears out of thin air, sporting a crisp white suit and spouting off at the mouth enough to once again alter the course of Thompson’s intended trajectory.

Murray’s performance may be a close approximation of Thompson’s real-life persona, but at the same time something just feels… off about his work. Murray is certainly the right kind of zany and unpredictable for the part, though he doesn’t quite embody the wild journalistic angle as well. Thompson was a wordy lothario with a sharp tongue and caustic verbiage, traits that don’t exude from Murray in the way they should. Depp did a better job of balancing Hunter’s two distinct sides, although really, if it had been possible, the best person to portray the late journalist would have been the man himself – had he been an actor, of course.

Boyle is a bit too manic and ostentatious as Lazlo, even if that is reportedly how his nonfiction counterpart, Acosta, was known to act. There is very little done subtly and Boyle tends to overdo his scenes to the point that it can be exhausting just watching Lazlo on the screen. And really, for a film ostensibly about Hunter S. Thompson there is just as much, if not more, a focus on the exploits of Lazlo and how they affected Thompson. This is clearly due to the script being mostly based on Thompson’s 1977 obituary for Acosta, which appeared in Rolling Stone magazine, titled “The Banshee Screams for Buffalo Meat”, although elements of Thompson’s other works were utilized to fill in gaps and, thus, the focus could have shifted a little more to make Lazlo more of a supporting player.

Those who never caught this film during its original run and only have Depp’s iteration to go off should temper expectations because, as previously mentioned, this is not “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”. Murray’s take on Thompson’s persona works well as an appetizer to the feast Depp provides, and although this film is not at the level of Terry Gilliam’s what director Art Linson has delivered is by no means a poor picture. It may struggle to make Thompson’s manic energy palpable, and Boyle’s scenery chewing does provide a significant distraction at times, but by and large this is a fun film with the sort of madcap hijinks fans should expect from the notorious writer.

Video

The 1.85:1 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded image doesn’t appear to be a new transfer, and Shout! makes no mention of such in their press release, but the picture is still quite stunning. Fine detail is crisp and evident, allowing close-ups or faces and clothing to attain that “open window” appearance at times. The print used is in pristine shape, with virtually no damage or dirt to be seen. Colors are excellently saturated and look quite pleasing. Film grain is organic and smooth, appearing very fine in motion.

Audio

The English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo track is a dialogue heavy affair, with a clean mix, no hissing or pops, presented with a good balance and no frills. Subtitles are available in English.

Extras

“Inventing the Buffalo: An Interview with Screenwriter John Kayefeaturette (1080p) runs for 41 minutes and 58 seconds. There are some incredibly worthwhile tales to be heard here.

A theatrical trailer (SD) runs for 3 minutes and 14 seconds.

Packaging

The single disc comes housed in a standard Blu-ray keep case. The cover art is reversible. A slip-cover with new Ralph Steadman art is available in first pressings.

Overall

Nearly anything done by Murray during this time period is a winner, and while this picture might not match up to a more famous portrayal of Thompson it does work quite well and, if nothing else, provides a look at another side of the maniacal newsman

The Film: C+ Video: A- Audio: B Extras: C Overall: B-

 


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