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FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS (1998)

Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas - CoverArrow Video’ have recently released a digitally enhanced version of ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’. It was directed by Terry Gilliam; it starred Johnny Depp, Benicio Del Toro, Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci, and Cameron Diaz; and it lasts for 118-minutes. Plus, as an extra added bonus, the two-disk Blu-ray edition comes with an image gallery, deleted scenes, the original theatrical trailer, interviews with the cast and crew, a brand-new commentary track provided by Terry, a full-length feature about the art of Ralph Steadman, as well as an assortment of different featurettes. Please enjoy.


Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas [Limited Edition]


THE STORY:
Hey, Dr. Gonzo (Benicio Del Toro)! Wake up you fat bastard! Come on, do it now! Return to the land of the living because I want to ask you something. I want to ask you how many drugs we took and when we actually took them!

I mean, did we pop some pills in L.A.? Just before we picked up that weird looking kid by the side of the road (Tobey Maguire)? Or did we sniff some smack when we eventually arrived in Las Vegas? Not so long after you groped that gorgeous girl in the elevator (Cameron Diaz)! Come on, man, give me a rough idea of what we did and when we actually did it. Otherwise, I won’t be able to concentrate on what I was hired to write about!

Oh! Wait a minute! What was I going to write about? Was it an article detailing the events surrounding a motorcycle race? Or was it an essay about a conference explaining drugs? Either way, that’s most probably why what next transpires goes honk, bang, dribble, when I look at myself in the mirror and say, ‘My name is Raoul Duke (Johnny Depp), and I am a journalist’. As an underaged girl eventually gets played - an overworked waitress is obviously dismayed - a plane trip out of town is slightly delayed - and at the end of the day, please remember, life, death, and hope, are three things that should never be betrayed.




THE REVIEW:
On the whole, I‘d say that 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas' is a very unconventional film. In fact, it’s so unconventional, I’m not entirely sure how I would describe it! I mean, is it a buddy movie with an avant-garde edge? Or is it an arthouse movie with a subliminal message? Well, whatever the case may be, the one thing I can say for certain is that it doesn’t have a straightforward storyline but it does have drugs. Or to be more specific about it, two characters who take an awful lot of drugs while drinking, driving, and getting up to all sorts of mischief in a very stylish fashion. After all, this is a very stylish film, and as such, it presents us with a specific point of view that’s one part personal and one part surreal.

Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas - Poster
For instance, roughly around the 15-minute mark, we're presented with a sequence where Duke, one of the characters, experiences a drug-induced hallucination that visually distorts everything around him. This includes the people nearby (who transform into dinosaurs), the carpet beneath his feet (which morphs into a sea of blood), and his general perception (which elongates in a rather brisk manner). Similarly, near the end of the film, Duke has yet another one of these hallucinations. But this time, though, it’s the very fabric of time that gets altered, fractured even, almost as if he’s recollecting past events in bits and pieces, without truly knowing the full story beforehand.

Now, while I’m on the subject of the story, I best mention that the overall narrative works on two distinct levels. On one level, this is a film about a journalist who travels to Las Vegas with his friend in order to take drugs and cover two key events. Namely, a motorcycle race and a police convention about drugs. Whereas, on another level, it’s about a variety of different topics that the journalist gets to talk about throughout the course of his adventure, including things like, the disillusionment of the counter-culture movement, the perversion of the American dream, the nature of survival, as well as the cause and effect of taking illegal drugs.

To be fair, though, these notable topics weren’t particularly apparent upon my first viewing because some of them were overpowered by the film's in-house style. A style that featured bizarre lighting effects, weird camera angles, over-the-top performances, as well as a variety of different costumes, designs, and looks. But upon closer inspection, yeah, I did notice these topics, up to a point, but only because I saw it more than once and managed to 'filter out' most of the ‘bizarre behavior’ that initially seemed more predominant.


Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas - Johnny Depp, Benicio del Toro, and Tobey Maguire


Well, let’s face it, what would hold your attention more? Someone talking about x, y, and z? Or someone being violently sick into a toilet? Keeping in mind that the person who’s doing the talking mumbles most of his words and looks like a deranged archaeologist! Personally, I think things would have flowed a lot clearer if the filmmakers took a less anarchistic approach at conveying some of these monologues. Not only because they were nicely composed and eloquently phrased, but in addition to this, they were also very insightful and made me think about what is culturally significant and what isn’t.

Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas - Art
Anyway, that’s enough of that for the time being, because I think now would be a pretty good time for us to sit back, relax, and check out the following filmic facts: (1) ‘Universal’ first released this $18.5 million production at the ‘Cannes Film Festival’ on the 15th of May, 1998, and eventually clawed back $13.7 million at the Box Office. (2) This film was based on a book of the same name written by the famous gonzo journalist, Hunter S. Thompson. Hunter also made a small cameo appearance during the flashback scene set in the sixties. (3) Loosely translated, this project was entitled, ‘Fear and Delirium in Las Vegas’ in Italy, ‘Fear and Paranoia in Las Vegas’ in Greece, and ‘Fear and Hate in Las Vegas’ in Lithuania. (4) One of the taglines used to promote this picture, states, ‘Four Days, Three Nights, Two Convertibles, One City’. (5) The majority of this movie was shot on location throughout two major cities situated within the United States. In Nevada, you’ll notice Red Rock Canyon, Jean Dry Lake, Kingman, The Stardust Hotel, The Riviera Hotel, and certain parts of downtown Las Vegas. Whereas in California, there’s The Ambassador Hotel and The Bahooka Family Restaurant! (6) During pre-production, a number of different actors were considered to play Duke and Gonzo. Initially, Jack Nicholson and Marlon Brando were up for these roles, but they were eventually turned down because the studio thought they were too old. Then Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi were considered, but when John died, Dan dropped out and they were replaced by John Malkovich and John Cusack, who both eventually left the project. (7) Originally, this story was going to be adapted into a full-length animated adventure by Ralph Bakshi. But one of Hunter's girlfriends, who owns the rights to this story, didn’t like the idea because she preferred to see a live-action movie instead. (8) At the start of filming, Terry Gilliam replaced Alex Cox as the director of this movie due to certain creative differences he had with Hunter’s vision for it.


Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas - Benicio del Toro and Christina Ricci


In closing my review of 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas', I would now like to talk about some of the great performances featured in this film. Johnny Depp, for instance, played Raoul Duke as if he were the secret love child of Groucho Marx and Robert Stack. Or at the very least, a very animated version of Hunter S. Thompson. Whereas Benicio Del Toro, on the other hand, played Dr. Gonzo in a far more imposing fashion, but only because of the grotesque way he presented himself as well as the over-the-top way he behaved. And as for the rest of the cast? Well, in their case, yeah, they were all pretty good as well, as Tobey Maguire looked really quirky as the straw-haired hitchhiker, Cameron Diaz was just adorable as the sexy TV reporter, Christina Ricci was jailbait personified as the lovely Lucy, Gary Busey was a right blast as the highway patrolman, and Ellen Barkin was just amazing as the disgruntled waitress. In fact, they were all so good, I would’ve liked to have seen more of them on screen in order to give their characters a bit more depth.

Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas - Johnny Depp and Hunter S. Thompson
After all, this film is about people, everyday people, and what they have to do to strive and survive! While some feel the need to go to extremes and overindulge to excess, others go looking for guidance and some form of direction. Up, down, left, or right, if truth be told, none of us are totally sure which way to turn at any given time. Either way, we still persist, we still try our best, and we still do whatever it takes to live a happy life if not always a healthy one. But then again, is a healthy life always required? And if it is, where does that leave Hunter S. Thompson? The man who wrote the book this film was based on! Dead, that’s where it leaves him, because he tragically took his own life when he felt the time was just right. And right now, I feel like I have to go too. Not to the land of angels and harps, but rather, to the land of music and melody. Otherwise, I won’t be able to end this review in the same tone as this film. Personal. Free-flowing. And somewhat surreal and artistic.

Rest in peace, Hunter. Amen.

THE RATING: B-

FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS (1998) FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS (1998) Reviewed by David Andrews on December 16, 2019 Rating: 5

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