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“Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” - {Blu-ray}
Taylor Carlson
Studio: Universal
Release Date:
Special Features:

Deleted scenes, spotlight on location


Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is directed by Terry Gilliam (Brazil) and stars Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Caribbean series) and Benicio Del Toro (Sin City.) The film also includes cameos from Michael Jeter (The Green Mile), Cameron Diaz (There's Something About Mary), Christina Ricci (Penelope), Tobey Maguire (Spider-Man Series) and Harry Dean Stanton (Alien.) The film is based on the writings of Hunter S. Thompson, first published in 1971. The movie was first released in 1997. ***

In the early 70s, journalist Raoul Duke (Depp) and his lawyer Dr. Gonzo (Del Toro) set out from their home in Southern California to the outskirts of Las Vegas to cover an epic off-road race. But what starts out as a simple journalistic affair quickly evolves into the mother of all acid trips, and a quest for the American Dream. And around town there are problems around every corner… which isn't helped at all by the non-stop drug use of our heroes. ***

I'm just going to come right out and say it - this is NOT a movie it is possible to write a conventional review for. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is not a movie (at least not in the conventional sense) - it is an experience. ***

As far as a plot goes, there really isn't one to speak of. Sure, there is something about going to cover the race, but this is quickly thrown out the window. The end result becomes a series of loosely connected scenes, in which our heroes indulge in nearly every illegal drug known to man. And these scenes range everywhere from laugh-out-loud hilarious to deep and thought-provoking. I may have listed the film as a “comedy-drama” in the heading of this review, but it really doesn't fall into ANY known genre. No movie defies category like this one. ***

The acting from both Depp and Del Toro is top notch. Yes, they pretty much spend the whole movie getting stoned, high, drunk... you get the idea. But they bring personalities to these characters that no one else likely could have. The film went through numerous potential stars and directors before former Monty Python director Terry Gilliam inherited the project - and he adapts the material excellently. Gilliam's post-Python directorial efforts have been nothing short of remarkable, not to mention unique. He gives the movie a look and an atmosphere unlike anything you likely have ever seen before. And while I won't deny that the film does feel a bit overlong at times, ultimately it is hard to find any real flaws. It kept this reviewer's attention for its entire 2-hour duration - and that is saying a lot, considering I am NOT a drug user like our heroes. ***

Fear and Loathing isn't for everyone. If you like your movies with a conventional narrative and free of drug/alcohol use and other acts of a questionable legality, go someplace else. But if you're an open-minded moviegoer who wants to see something unlike anything else out there, Fear and Loathing is your movie. It succeeds thanks to a top-notch cast and its multi-talented director. ---

Image And Sound:

I was a bit worried about the film's appearance when I heard Universal (NOT Criterion) would be handling the Blu release. Fortunately, I had little to fear. Detail gets a massive upgrade - the film's numerous acid trips never looked so good and colorful. Facial close-ups reveal a staggering amount of detail, and the colors are far more vibrant in this Blu release. Some shots have an “aged” look, and some show some print damage and the like, though some of this was likely directorial intent. ***

Audio too gets an upgrade, Dialogue is louder and clearer than on the DVD versions, and the musical tracks come to life like never before. It's not demo material (and is never the kind of movie that ever will be, for that matter), but this Blu-Ray is in all ways an upgrade over DVD releases in terms of the transfer.

Special Features:

Disappointingly, the supplemental materials here pale in comparison to the 2-disc Criterion package released a few years back. All we get here are some disposable deleted scenes and a brief “spotlight on location” featurette. Either Universal was unable to get the rights to put Criterion's extras in this set, or their staff was on an acid trip that rivals that of our heroes from the film. Either way, I'm disappointed to see Criterion's supplements didn't make the cut.

Final Words:

Fear and Loathing is a classic, enough said. The movie isn't for everyone, but fans of the film will be delighted to know that Universal's Blu-Ray release features a great transfer. The lack of Criterion supplements is a major disappointment, but they in no way hinder me from strongly recommending this release. Just hold onto your Criterion disc for the supplements if you already have it.


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