Sunday, March 25, 2018

Buffalo Rider (1978)


Charles Jones was born in 1844.  He was known for being one of the cofounders of Garden City, Kansas, as well as being one of the main protectors of buffalo during his lifetime.  He captured many of the wild creatures in order to prevent their death and impending extinction.  When he passed away in 1919 at the age of 75, he left behind a legacy of fighting for the lives of animals.

This legacy was captured in the 1978 film Buffalo Rider, which might not have been the most realistic depiction of the man, but showed his caring nature for buffalo.  Jake Jones (Rick Guinn) was a frontiersman who encountered an endangered baby buffalo.  He captured it and raised it, eventually learning how to ride the buffalo.  He even named it Samson.  Together, they took down the hunters who were causing the extinction of the buffalo, and cleaned up the frontier.

The story of Buffalo Rider might seem like it could be a good western.  There’s certainly a way in which it could become one of the classics.  The 1978 adaptation of the story was not a successful attempt.  There were too many bits and pieces that felt long, pointless, or dangerous in unnecessary ways.  A vast improvement would be necessary to make Buffalo Rider into a classic that people would want to watch.  As it is now, it’s a ridiculous movie filled with crazy pieces that never gelled together.  Let’s take a look at some of these moments.
The Narration
Narration, when used properly, can be an important part of building a world or characters.  It can set up events that happened prior to the story unfolding.  It can also be used to let the audience in on the thoughts of the characters.  These two things make narration essential to some movies.  That’s not what happened in the case of Buffalo Rider.

The narration in Buffalo Rider was on the more irritating side of things.  There’s a saying in film that goes something like “show, don’t tell.”  Buffalo Rider did show the things that needed to be shown, but it also told those same things.  The narration doubled up on the story, telling the audience exactly what was happening.  It was a redundancy that took away from the story.

The other downfall of the narration was that it frequently took place of the dialogue.  The narrator would say what the characters were saying, and the characters wouldn’t say it.  Maybe they didn’t have the proper audio equipment and couldn’t record the dialogue.  But if they had time for the narration recording, they could have done some ADR work.  That would have been only the smallest bit more difficult than recording the narrator talking about those scenes.

It all felt like there was no focus on the audio work.  They didn’t care enough to have the characters speak their dialogue and thought the narration would be a better way to do it.  It wasn’t.  It took away from what Buffalo Rider could have been, making the movie less entertaining.  Nobody wants a movie of all narration, unless it’s a documentary.
Animal Violence
For whatever reason, there was a lot of animal violence throughout Buffalo Rider.  1978 was a different time for movies, though I would have thought that there had already been a crackdown on animal violence.  It’s weird to see this sort of cruelty depicted on screen.  Death and mauling done to animals is something that should not be shown in films that aren’t documentaries.  There are other ways to go about this sort of thing in narrative films that doesn’t involve actual animals being harmed.  Alas, there were many animals harmed in the making of Buffalo Rider.

Violent acts began early as the hunters were introduced in the first few minutes.  They were shown hunting buffalo and shooting them for skins.  That could be any movie, though.  The difference was that they were actually shooting the buffalo.  At least, it sure looked like it.  They were shooting from a distance with rifles and the buffalo were falling over as if they had been shot.  It was either real shooting and killing, or exceptional acting buffalo that have never existed.

Animal violence would continue throughout Buffalo Rider in different forms.  A cougar attacked a raccoon and threw it into the river before the raccoon floated downstream in a flood.  A cougar attacked the main character and mauled the actor’s shoulders.  The buffalo kicked a wolf in the head.  In the biggest fight of them all, a bear attacked a man, leaving him for dead on the ground while fighting with another bear over their meal.  Buffalo Jones then showed up to shoot his pistol at both bears while they fought.  There was animal on human violence, human on animal violence, and animal on animal violence filling out the hour and a half runtime.
Child Endangerment
Just as worrisome as the animal violence, there was some major child endangerment in Buffalo Rider.  Partway through the movie, Buffalo Jones and Samson came across a baby whose family had been killed.  They took up the baby and began travelling.  At one point, Jake Jones and his buffalo came to a river that they had to cross.  It was too deep to walk across, so Buffalo Jones took the baby in his hand and began swimming.  The baby’s head bobbed up and down in the water, a dangerous situation for the child.  How they thought that this was a scene that needed to be included is something that will never be answered.  It’s baffling that they would risk the life of a baby like this.
The Song
Some movies feature significant songs on their soundtracks.  These songs could be famous songs retrofitted to the movie because they either go with the action, or the filmmakers want to connect their audience to the movie a little bit more.  The more interesting examples are when the movies commission an original song as part of their soundtrack.  The songs become popular and the movie is forever connected to them.

There was a theme song to Buffalo Rider.  It wasn’t a piece of score that was composed as the main character’s theme song.  It was a full, lyrical song that played during the movie all about Buffalo Jones.  The song was also the backing track for the movie’s trailer.  It was a slow 1970s country style song with hints of rock to it, and may have ended up being the best part of the entire mess of a movie.
The Saloon
One moment stood out above the others.  There was an image of the outside of a saloon.  Buffalo Jones and Samson walked up to it, then they ran in the door.  They stomped around the saloon shooting the bad guys who were inside.  It was a ridiculous action scene involving a giant buffalo in a small space destroying furniture while the guy riding it killed the hunters from the beginning of the movie.  Aside from the chase at the end, and the animal fighting, this was THE action set piece of the movie.
Buffalo Rider was one of the strangest movies to be included in the Sunday “Bad” Movies in quite some time.  Where others might be weird, they seem to have reason for being as weird as they are.  This one seemed to have no rhyme or reason to the creative choices made by the trio of directors.  There was no reason to show so much animal violence or to endanger a baby.  The narration didn’t need to be what drove the story forward.  That should have been left to what was on screen.  Everything about the movie was baffling.

This was not a true representation of Charles Jones.  Why did they change his name to Jake?  There was no reason.  There was also no reason to leave out how much he did for buffalo as a species.  He saved more than one, and he wasn’t known so much for riding them.  This was like a movie made by The Asylum long before The Asylum started making movies.

1978 saw the release of Buffalo Rider.  No other year can make that claim.  The movie showed a fictionalized story of Buffalo Jones, yet made it out to be factual.  It played like a documentary, but with an obviously narrative script.  It’s not that watchable.  It’s not that entertaining.  It’s more mind-boggling than anything, leaving more questions than answers, and there wasn’t that much to answer.  There’s a reason that people think Buffalo Rider is a bad movie.  The reason is that it is bad.
Now for some notes:

  • Buffalo Rider was suggested by @thenickisaac, who previously suggested D.E.B.S. (week 111), Drop Zone (week 132), Mom and Dad Save the World (week 186), Remote Control (week 246), and American Ultra (week 261).
  • I mentioned The Asylum.  A few of their movies that have been featured in the blog include The Da Vinci Treasure (week 268), The Beast of Bray Road (week 176), Bermuda Tentacles (week 96), and The Coed and the Zombie Stoner (week 102).
  • Have you seen Buffalo Rider?  What did you think about it?  Are there any comparable movies to it?  Let me know in the comments.
  • You can also use the comments to leave me a suggestion for what I should watch.  Maybe you can be the next @thenickisaac.  If you don’t want to leave a comment, find me on Twitter.
  • Snapchat is another place to find me (jurassicgriffin).  I put up clips of bad movies, sometimes, and other times share other things.
  • Next up, we dive into the 1980s with my favourite (for some reason) year to cover in that decade, 1986.  The movie on deck is Slaughter High, which I can only assume is a slasher movie set in a high school.  I might be wrong, but I’m still looking forward to it.  We’ll see how I feel in a week.  See you then.

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