Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas DVD
Starring: Johnny Depp, Benicio Del Toro, et al.
Director: Terry Gilliam
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Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas DVD
We can't stop here! This is bat country!
Here's my candidate for the most underrated film of the 1990s: Terry Gilliam's film of Hunter S. Thompson's magnum opus revolted many critics and drove audiences away. It's absolutely brilliant. Depp's performance as Thompson's alter ego Raoul Duke (the inspiration for "Duke" in Garry Trudeau's comic strip _Doonesbury_) may be his finest to date, and for my money, Benicio del Toro's method performance as the bloated Dr. Gonzo surpasses his Oscar-winning work in _Traffic_.
With his Monty Python pedigree, Gilliam proves more than a match for Thompson's hallucinatory source material. His shifts in and out of Duke's consciousness through the film reflect a similar instability in the book's own point of view. One often gets the sense in Thompson's writing that he's observing himself meticulously, but has lost all control of his actions. Gilliam's cinematic technique puts his audience in precisely that same unsettling position, and as a result, _Fear and Loathing_ may be the most honest film ever made about the experience of drug addiction.
After nearly five years of undeserved obscurity, this little-seen gem finally gets its due in a glorious new 2-DVD edition by Criterion. It offers nearly total immersion into the gonzo world of Thompson, and features newly commissioned artwork by cult illustrator Ralph Steadman. The oodles of extras tell you more about Thompson, Steadman, and Dr. Gonzo (aka Oscar Acosta) than any sane person would ever want to know. Even Thompson himself gets into the act, contributing a typically garbled commentary track from within his Colorado compound. But for the general viewer, the most helpful extra may be Criterion's new English subtitles for the film, especially given that the slurred speech of Depp and Del Toro is none too easy to understand.
Buy this DVD or rent, but for God's sake see it.
The original cowriter and director of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was Alex Cox, whose earlier film Sid and Nancy suggests that Cox could have been a perfect match in filming Hunter S. Thompson's psychotropic masterpiece of "gonzo" journalism. Unfortunately Cox departed due to the usual "creative differences," and this ill-fated adaptation was thrust upon Terry Gilliam, whose formidable gifts as a visionary filmmaker were squandered on the seemingly unfilmable elements of Thompson's ether-fogged narrative. The result is a one-joke movie without the joke--an endless series of repetitive scenes involving rampant substance abuse and the hallucinogenic fallout of a road trip that's run crazily out of control. Johnny Depp plays Thompson's alter ego, "gonzo" journalist Raoul Duke, and Benicio Del Toro is his sidekick and so-called lawyer Dr. Gonzo. During the course of a trip to Las Vegas to cover a motorcycle race, they ingest a veritable chemistry set of drugs, and Gilliam does his best to show us the hallucinatory state of their zonked-out minds. This allows for some dazzling imagery and the rampant humor of stumbling buffoons, and the mumbling performances of Depp and Del Toro wholeheartedly embrace the tripped-out, paranoid lunacy of Thompson's celebrated book. But over two hours of this insanity tends to grate on the nerves--like being the only sober guest at a party full of drunken idiots. So while Gilliam's film may achieve some modest cult status over the years, it's only because Fear and Loathing is best enjoyed by those who are just as stoned as the characters in the movie. The DVD offers the film in its full 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio.