Where the Buffalo Roam: Collector’s Edition

Studio: Shout! Factory

Jun 05, 2017 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


Nearly 20 years before Terry Gilliam got his hands around Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, there was another movie to attempt to wrangle the writing of Hunter S. Thompson for the screen. Where the Buffalo Roam – optioned and adapted from, of all things, an obituary written by the author – starred Bill Murray as Thompson, at the height of his Saturday Night Live tenure and before his conversion to big screen stardom in movies such as Stripes and Ghostbusters. Its story skips around through different points in Thompson’s early career, all of which revolve in some way around his friendship with activist-attorney Oscar Zeta Acosta (here, Carl Laszlo; in Fear and Loathing, he was Dr. Gonzo.)

It’s impossible for Buffalo to escape comparison to Fear and Loathing. While the former has languished in semi-obscurity for nearly four decades, the latter’s become a cult film and has probably done more to build Thompson’s legacy and legend than any modern assessment of his work. Buffalo – directed by rookie filmmaker Art Linson – is the more grounded of the two (not that it would be difficult) and had the potential to show a more accurate version of the famed gonzo journalist than the self-presented caricature he put forth in Loathing. Unfortunately, it settles for a lot of cheap jokes and slapstick gags, where watching a loose cannon like Thompson ricochet through the real world might have served as comedy enough.

There’s also a matter of performance. While Depp has become something of a pariah in recent years, his Hunter S. Thompson is the definitive one, and was sanctioned by the writer himself. While Murray’s famously dry, laissez faire attitude has proven bankable at the box office and helped him become the Internet’s favorite creepy uncle, it doesn’t mix right with Thompson’s fast-mumbling persona or erratic outbursts. While Thompson and Murray grew close while spending time together in preparation for this role, Murray never fully lost himself in the character like Depp was able to; too much of the comedian shows through. It feels like Murray doing an impression rather than becoming the character. 

While it certainly has its moments – an interview with Richard Nixon while standing at a urinal is classic Murray gold – Where the Buffalo Roam repeatedly falls flat. The movie’s chronology leaps ahead in awkward places, and the script is an odd mish-mash of Thompson’s impassioned words and tawdry gags. Neil Young’s original score gets overshadowed by several obvious ‘60s rock music cues, and while Murray is more than likeable in his role, he isn’t able to capture the larger-than-life figure he set out to inhabit. Hunter S. Thompson served as a consultant during production of Where the Buffalo Roam, but distanced himself from the movie immediately after its release. When asked for his thoughts on the movie, the key words to his response? “It sucks.”

Well, at least it’s better than Rum Diary.

(www.shoutfactory.com/film/film-comedy/where-the-buffalo-roam-collector-s-edition)




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