Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas (1998)
Universal Home Video
Cast: Johnny Depp, Benicio Del Toro
Extras: Deleted Scenes, Spotlight on Location, Trailer, Production Notes and Biographies
I missed "Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas" during its theatrical run. Fortunately, now that Universal Home Video have released this title on DVD, I’ve finally been able to see this exceptional film. "Exceptional" might actually be the wrong word "singular" might be a better choice. Since this is a Terry Gilliam film, I was expecting a film that was different from the standard mold, and I was not disappointed. Gilliam is notorious for his quirky, visionary, sometimes weird films, and was also responsible for the unique look of the classic "Monty Python" films and television series. Gilliam was part of this comic troupe for many years and put is his signature on all of their releases, both visually and comically, so it’s a good bet that "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" isn’t your standard comedy.
Based on Hunter S. Thompson’s novel of the same name, the film presents us with a freakish, frantic couple: the journalist Raoul Duke (Johnny Depp) and his attorney Dr. Gonzo ( Benicio Del Toro). Within the first few seconds as soon as the off-screen voice-over of Johnny Depp starts recollecting the events of the past day – the film establishes a completely singular mood. Within minutes, it is clear that "Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas" is one of the most radical, subversive, and traumatic films ever made about two hippies who missed the jump off the flower power train. They clearly know about the trouble they’re in, and yet decide it is better to get stoned than to face the reality of 1971, a time when "Love and Peace" had turned into "Satanism and Hate". The characters are looking for the American Dream and all they find is Nixon, the Vietnam War and an endless series of horror trips.
Set in 1971, the film lets us participate in these two characters’ chaotic lives as they go on a "trip" to Las Vegas in a bombardment of surreal pictures. Their main objective in Las Vegas is to cover the events of the "Mint 400", a local off-road motorcycle race in the desert, but the tour quickly turns into a series of manic horror trips when both of them have bad trips and frightening flashbacks. It seems as if any drug will do to get them high, and we watch the two go from pot and mescaline to cocaine, LSD, to ether and worse. After they have completely re-arranged their hotel room and are unable to pay for their stay, the two escape from the hotel just as the next assignment comes in: coverage of a local District Attorney Convention about drug abuse in Las Vegas. Halfway back to California they return to Las Vegas, and settle in a different hotel, which they turn into a lair of destruction and hallucination.
"Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas" is exceptional in a number of ways. Although we have seen far too many pot-high characters, such as Cheech and Chong, director Terry Gilliam manages to give the whole scenario a different twist. The film has no real plot and yet it is more accessible to viewers than many other psychedelic, experimental films. The film actually manages to keep the events and the characters interesting enough so that the viewer feels for them and wants to follow their riot through a series of Las Vegas hotels. Unlike other films depicting the era, "Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas" is still very psychedelic, but never to the point that it turns into endless orgiastic, flashy, unwatchable kaleidoscopes. It is a film only Terry Gilliam could have made, and it exhibits a great deal of artistic integrity integrity that does not conform with the typical Hollywood blockbuster mentality.
It isn’t just the direction and the visuals that make this movie so distinctive. The performance of Johnny Depp as Duke is both mesmerizing and appalling. Depp and Del Toro personify a duo of schizoid, brain-numbed drugsters, characterization that far exceeds what you may have seen on screen before. Their lines are delivered in a way that will make you both laugh and cry. They rapidly build tension and explode in uncontrollable spastic laughter, mumbling of spaced-out visions of aliens from Mars. Those guys are such sad characters that they become interesting again. The path of their rampage through Las Vegas is remarkable, especially because the film uses violence only in its subtext. There is no real on-screen violence, although the frenzied trips oftentimes turn into nightmarish, fast-edited, phantasmagoric picture orgies that seem like a violent caricature of a comic strip.
Universal Home Video have released "Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas" in its original theatrical <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio on this DVD in a stunning <$16x9,anamorphic> transfer. The transfer is absolutely clean and exhibits an enormous amount of detail, certainly due to the increased capacity the <$RSDL,RSDL> disc offers. Color fidelity is very good and hues are very strong and saturated, creating a flowing and surreal experience with no <$chroma,chroma noise> or <$pixelation,pixelation>. It is yet another disc that clearly displays Universal’s knowledge of the DVD medium and the technical skills it takes to create top notch transfers for it.
The disc also contains a good <$DS,Dolby Surround> audio track that is just as experimental as the images on screen. It is dynamic at times, and during some of the hallucination scenes it makes good use of the surround channel, although it is, in general, a rather moderate mix. The film comes with an English language soundtrack and contains English, Spanish and French subtitles.
"Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas" is a difficult film and clearly not for everyone’s taste. It might even appear monotonous at times due to its lack of climactic plot points. Nevertheless I found this completely exaggerated acid ride very enjoyable, mostly because the beautiful cinematography, the pointed portrayals and the bizarre visuals create a world that is both menacing and hilarious. Agreed, the film doesn’t make much sense and with its 120 minutes running length, it is a little long for that it does not have anything to say, but somehow I could not escape queer world of those two gonzos. It is clearly the weirdest film I have seen in a long time and if you want to see something completely tripped-out for a change, give this film a look. If you believe it is politically incorrect to deliver a film that caricatures drug abuse so blatantly and openly, it might be a good idea to skip it, but you will certainly miss out on a hell of a "safe" trip.