Where the Buffalo Roam Blu-ray Review

Bill Murray becomes Hunter S. Thompson

Bill Murray was on the cusp of movie stardom in 1980 when he played famed “gonzo” journalist Hunter S. Thompson for the satirical comedy Where The Buffalo Roam. Within the next year he would star in hit comedies Caddyshack and Stripes, cementing his place as a comedic Hollywood force for the next decade. A semi-biographical tale structured around fabled moments in Thompson’s own life, the cult celebrity himself didn’t like the movie very much despite being a consultant on the project.

This movie is an early precursor to Johnny Depp’s wilder and more successful Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas. Where The Buffalo Roam is an uneven comedic attempt to capture the manic nature of Thompson’s trailblazing writing and outrageous personality. Boasting a musical score by music legend Neil Young, the movie remains watchable today only for Murray’s humorous performance and Peter Boyle’s underrated talent as his sidekick.

Hunter Thompson’s own writings created a larger-than-life caricature and persona for the journalist. Fueled by drugs, alcohol and bizarre insanity, Thompson himself became a living character for many readers. Director Art Linson’s movie attempts to capture the freewheeling spirit of the counterculture as seen through Thompson’s eyes in the Sixties and Seventies.

The journalist’s antics are told in a series of fictional vignettes pulled from his reporting, moving from a marijuana trial in 1968 San Francisco to a strange bathroom meeting with Richard Nixon. There is an increasingly surreal vibe to the narrative as Thompson repeatedly crosses paths with Carl Lazlo (Peter Boyle), a close friend of the gonzo journalist and fictional stand-in for the real Oscar “Zeta” Acosta. The format does seem suited for Murray’s natural comedic skills honed through his time on SNL, allowing him to chew the scenery with wild improv. The movie often hangs together like a series of extended sketches about different incidents in Thompson’s exotic life. A trip to the 1972 Super Bowl becomes a sprawling free-for-all inside his hotel room.

Glimmers of Murray’s showman personality consume his performance

An off-the-wall, satirical comedy about Hunter Thompson’s experiences with Murray doing his best SNL sketch persona will wear on some viewers. Particularly those not familiar with Thompson’s acerbic writings and “unique” personality. Glimmers of Murray’s showman personality consume his performance. When it hits the right note, it’s as funny as anything he has done.

However, that isn’t always the case in Where The Buffalo Roam. The screenplay from John Kaye has a hard time reconciling its more serious points with Murray’s slapstick comedy. Peter Boyle is an unappreciated comedic actor, proven once again by a brilliantly understated performance that balances out Murray’s larger-than-life take on Thompson’s life.

If you are a fan of Bill Murray’s classic Eighties’ comedies, Where The Buffalo Roam is a wild ride through Hunter S. Thompson’s life probably worth checking out. If you are adventurous, anyway. This movie won’t hold up for everyone unfamiliar with the journalist. Thompson’s remaining fans should definitely get this for their collection.

Video

Shout Factory licensed the 1980 Technicolor production from Universal. The 1.85:1 presentation offers a solid, film-like transfer with decent picture quality. This isn’t the crispest 1080P video. Where The Buffalo Roam has soft cinematography with a slightly dark contrast. The 99-minute main feature is encoded in high-bitrate AVC on a BD-50. The excellent compression has no problems with the film’s fine grain structure or its shadow delineation.

The transfer itself comes from ordinary-looking film elements in stable condition. Free of debris, this is clean video with adequate definition for a catalog release. Lacking a pronounced color palette, saturation and contrast are fair. There are no signs of filtering or ringing, indicating an unprocessed transfer faithful to the negative.

Held mildly down by its softer aesthetic, Where The Buffalo Roam turns out fine in this Hi-Def presentation that substantially improves on prior DVD editions.

Audio

The big news is that Shout Factory has restored the film’s entire original soundtrack with all music intact for the first time since VHS. Every DVD version changed the musical cues, dropping some of the licensed music.

With a theme song sung by Neil Young and popular songs from such acts as Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan included on the soundtrack, Where The Buffalo Roam is whole once again. It is heard in fine 2.0 DTS-HD MA stereo with perfect clarity and intelligible dialogue. The rock music has fine dynamics, if somewhat boxy in tone.

Optional English subtitles display in a white font.

Extras

Where The Buffalo Roam is #21 in Shout Factory’s Select line. A slipcover is included. An alternate cover is included on the flipside of the reversible sleeve.

Inventing The Buffalo: A Look Back With John Kaye (41:59 in HD) – A completely new interview with screenwriter John Kaye is interspersed with relevant clips from the movie. Kaye is surprisingly frank about his experiences writing the movie and meeting Hunter Thompson, even admitting his own cocaine usage. Given the rare opportunity to hang around the first month of filming by Universal, it’s a much more relevant discussion than the usual screenwriter interview on actually making the movie.

Theatrical Trailer (03:14 in upscaled HD)

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