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Criterion Collection: Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas [Blu-ray]  [US Import]
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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 humour 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. --Jeff Shannon
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a whirlwind of a movie, a wacky, drug-laden story backed by a fist-pumping rock & roll soundtrack featuring everything from Wayne Newton and Tom Jones to Combustible Edison and Dead Kennedys. Journalist Raoul Duke (Johnny Depp) heads to Las Vegas to cover a motorcycle race, bringing along his Samoan lawyer, Dr. Gonzo (Benicio Del Toro), in this furious adaptation of the book by Hunter S. Thompson. It is 1971, and Duke and Gonzo are on their way to Sin City with a frightened hitchhiker (a nearly unrecognizable Tobey Maguire) and a trunkful of drugs, which they ingest nonstop. Depp is terrific as Duke, Thompson's alter ego, and Del Toro is a riot as the crazy lawyer. To perfect his Thompsonian performance, Depp spent a lot of time with the good doctor, and it paid off in a film that captures the frenetic pace of the counterculture novel. Director Terry Gilliam, a master of complex, bizarre visual imagery, has a field day interpreting the drug-hazed world in which Duke and Gonzo reside. An all-star cast chimes in with wonderfully offbeat bit parts, including Harry Dean Stanton, Gilliam regular Katherine Helmond, Flea, Cameron Diaz, Ellen Barkin, Christina Ricci, Gary Busey, Lyle Lovett, and others.
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I would recommend reading the book first. There are quotes all over the net if you want to get a flavour before deciding if you want to buy or not.
The audio is superior to the old video I had, but the delivery of several lines were difficult to pick out at times. In a strange way it was probably quite accurate when you got into the sort of state those guys were in.
I would say that there are moments of pure genius within this film, I did wonder how anyone could make the film after reading the book but I doubt for its age that anyone else could have managed it at the time. On the negative side there are lines in the film which are just thrown away in poor deliver. However, as the actors looked genuinely off their trolleys at times if you have read the book then it lets you go with the flow.
There is little point in debating about the subject of drugs, to do that here is to miss the point about the film and its characters. Compared to what seems to be 'normal' in Las Vagas these guys didn't seem to be overtly extreme.
For me the ending to this film is always quite sad and reminds me of how I felt at the end of 'Leaving Las Vagas', but it probably portrays the genuine come down after the ridiculous highs throughout the picture, and ultimately it is a metaphor for the progression of the drug culture of the time. Of course those drugs have simply been replaced by the 'drugs' of today, some of the present day ones are not even drugs!
The cameo parts are great, at times the set pieces border on the edge of being masterpieces in their own right.
If you like 'Brazil' and 'Twelve Monkeys' you may just find a place for this one too. (Now I'm left wishing I'd bought the Blu Ray version with audio commentary - but hey at this price I got the DVD free).
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