Reviewed: Where The Buffalo Roam (1980)

where_the_buffalo_roam_xlgOnce upon a time Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas didn’t exist as a film. If you wanted to follow the exploits of Hunter S Thompson you’d have to read something… and if you didn’t like reading then your only other option was Where The Buffalo Roam – a film with Bill Murray playing Dr Thompson and Peter Boyle in the role of Lazlo/Dr Gonzo (his lawyer).

Made at a time when Bill Murray was still emerging through Saturday Night Live, this film shows us his potential as a character actor. He and Boyle play the main roles cartoonish and charismatically but in a world post-Gilliam’s Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas; one can’t help but compare Murray & Boyle to Depp & Del Toro.

The tone is not as dark as Gilliam’s take but that’s not the reason this film is flawed – where Fear & Loathing focuses on one central theme and story, Buffalo is a series of vignettes from Thompson’s work strung together into the loose narrative of Hunter Vs. Nixon and as a result, feels uneven and incomplete.

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A major criticism I hear from others about this film is that in its current form it lacks an authentic soundtrack. The “original” score by Neil Young is left intact (original sits in inverted commas as it’s essentially just Neil singing Home On The Range), but the studio has replaced Beatles and Jimi Hendrix tracks with close approximations recorded in a jarring 80’s style – considering the events of the film take place in the late 60’s and 70’s. I maintain however that the inclusion of the original tracks would not help this to be a better movie.

There are some wonderful moments of anarchy but it’s all staged in such a way that it feels as if we’re watching pantomime more than an actual account of events which may or may not have taken place. Considering where we are now in terms of what can be seen on television on a daily basis, it’s hard to know whether this film was ever as edgy as its successor.

If you can get your hands on a copy of this, check it out for a young Bill Murray taking on a great character. If you’re a Hunter S. Thompson fan – just watch Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas again as this one will more than likely leave you disappointed.

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