Where The Buffalo Roam (1980)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Where The Buffalo Roam</strong> (1980)

(On DVD, January 2009) There are many ways of portraying the legend of gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, and I suppose that making him the anarchic spirit in the middle of an episodic comedy is just as good as another. But what have looked like a great idea nearly thirty years ago doesn’t seem quite so successful today: Where The Buffalo Roam doesn’t have the right pacing for a comedy, and seems to place far too much confidence in the viewers’ knowledge of Thompson’s antics to fully establish itself on its own merits. Thompson (played by Bill Murray, sometimes unrecognizable under the Thompson mystique) becomes as side-character in his own movie, most often playing a Tasmanian devil wreaking havoc on the uptight men and women of the narrative. But even that becomes a problem when the film tries to get some sympathy from the viewer, setting up a conflict between two friends that seem incapable of living in the rest of the world. Those with a good knowledge of Thompson’s checkered history will recognize a number of episodes from his best years, although the heroic amount of mind-altering substances consumed on-screen distracts from the fact that Thompson could be a truly kick-ass writer if he set his mind to it. Today, the film becomes a footnote for fans of either Murray or Thompson, but its interest remains limited to a curio, not a particularly enjoyable film.

(Second viewing, on DVD, September 2009) Months and a few dozen books by/about Thompson later, the movie hasn’t improved at all: It’s a disjointed, unfunny, unfaithful mess. The dramatic arc between Thompson and “Lazlo” never makes sense (since to do so, Thompson would have to become the responsible one), and Thompson’s character never earns any sympathy through his actions: Where The Buffalo Roam thinks it’s enough just to say “you squares don’t get it, man”. On the other hand, Thompson fans will have a moderate amount of fun spotting the references to his history or bibliography, telling when separate incidents are conflated, or when particular quirks of the writer are used for a few seconds. This being said, it’s a meager return for a rather poor film: There’s no doubt that Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas remains the best Thompson film yet.

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