Release Date(s)1980 (June 6, 2017)
Studio(s)Universal Pictures (Shout! Factory/Shout Select)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: C+
Long before Terry Gilliam, Johnny Depp, and Benicio Del Toro ravaged the cinematic pop culture landscape with the trippy and kinetic Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, a stab at chronicling the man, the myth, and the legend that was Hunter S. Thompson was taken in 1980 with Where the Buffalo Roam. Starring Bill Murray in the title role and Peter Boyle portraying his lawyer/partner in crime Lazlo, it was an overview of Thompson’s nutty career from the 1960s through the 1970s. Unfortunately, the film didn’t do well and fell somewhat into obscurity, only ever being mentioned in the same breath as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
Comparisons to Fear and Loathing are bound to come up. I do believe it’s fair to say that Where the Buffalo Roam can’t compete with that kind of energy. The film contains a lot of the same zany content that can be a little difficult to follow at times, but it’s extremely laid back by contrast. Other than using the now-familiar Hunter S. Thompson font style for the main titles and interstitials, the movie lacks any real style. However, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I equate it to different flavors of ice cream. Sometimes you like Rocky Road, and sometimes you like Strawberry. Both are good, but one is clearly better than other... to some degree.
The story (and the way it plays out) is pretty much what you’d expect from a film about Thompson. There are laughs to be had and kooky characters to discover, but the journey is a little more rocky and less entertaining than its more popular counterpart. Murray and Boyle do terrific work here, work that was largely overlooked when the film was originally released. Now, these many years later, the film can finally get a fresh evaluation on Blu-ray.
Shout Select’s new Collector’s Edition release features a transfer that, while likely from an older master, is a major step up from DVD. It has a slight softness to it because of this, but there is still a solid grain structure with good texturing and plenty of fine detail on display. There’s also a variety of hues, some more prominent than others, with natural skin tones and deep black levels. The brightness and contrast are also both satisfactory. It’s quite a stable presentation as well that’s mostly clean, with only the mildest of film artifacts leftover, which is not much more than occasional speckling. For the audio, an English 2.0 DTS-HD track has been included. Likely stemming from a mono track, it exhibits mostly flat qualities, but some occasional presence can be heard from time to time. Dialogue is clear and precise while the sound effects and music selection have a bit of mild separation. There are also no distortion or hiss related issues to report, and subtitles are also provided in English SDH. Only a couple of extras are included, including the new interview Inventing the Buffalo: A Look Back with John Kaye (the film’s screenwriter) and the movie’s original theatrical trailer.
Most won’t consider Where the Buffalo Roam to be some lost masterpiece, and it isn’t for everybody, but there is a film here worth appreciating. With Shout Select’s terrific presentation and all of the film’s original music finally back in it for the first time in many, many years, this is definitely a release worth checking out.
- Tim Salmons