Thursday, April 1, 2010

Colin's 2010 Movies #4: The White Buffalo

The White Buffalo (1977) is an odd beast. Part monster movie, part existential western, it follows Charles Bronson playing Wild Bill Hickok as he hunts down a massive albino buffalo that haunts his dreams. As he gets closer he discovers that the buffalo has been terrorizing the prairies, killing everyone in its path. He forms an uneasy alliance with Crazy Horse (Will Sampson), who’s also hunting the buffalo out of revenge after it killed his daughter.

The monstrously huge buffalo is amazingly well realized using an elaborate animatronic rig and makes a pretty scary sight charging down unstoppably on its victims. Director J. Lee Thompson builds atmosphere around each attack brilliantly, filming them with icy blue lighting on snowfields at night which gives the buffalo scenes a beautiful nightmarish tone.

The film actually has a surprising amount of subtext too, most likely thanks to Richard Sale’s script, adapted from his own novel. A lot of time is spent with the two protagonists travelling to find the buffalo, and we see the kind of casual violence they live their lives with in order to survive on the frontier. As they work together, we’re always aware of the racial tensions between them; they both acknowledge that if they survive fighting the buffalo together, they’ll never meet again as friends.

We’re also clearly meant to wonder what the white buffalo represents. Is it the devil tormenting Hickok for all the violent acts in his past? Is it the white man, whose progress across the prairies seems just as destructive and unstoppable to Crazy Horse? There seems to be a lot more going on under the surface than in a typical nature-run-amok movie.

Being a decidedly offbeat genre-bender, audiences didn’t really know what to make of it at the time and it underperformed at the box office. Since then, it has faded into obscurity and is well past due for a DVD release.

1 comment:

Wendy said...

I love the trailer: Charles Bronson is "A man who feared nothing, except being afraid."