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Category:    Home > Reviews > Comedy > Literature > Counterculture > Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas (HD-DVD)

Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas (HD-DVD)


Picture: B     Sound: B*     Extras: C     Film: C



I give Terry Gilliam credit.  He goes for every project he makes with strong conviction and enthusiasm.  Even when a film of his does not work because he could not get it done (his Don Quixote project), does not get final edit in the least (his battle with the Weinstein Brothers over The Brothers Grimm) or trying to recreate something that may be unfilmable.  In what might be the only time he goes into that portion of the Spielberg zone, his 1998 adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas is just that.  It wants to be the drug trip non-stop, but the means of recreating it never clicks, though the film has a huge cult following.


There are those who love the book and even give the tired excuse that you need to read it before seeing the film.  That’s a crock and these same fans often have never seen or even bothered to try and see Art Linson’s Where The Buffalo Roam, the 1980 Bill Murray turn as Thompson that is one of his better performances.  Besides the sloppy state of form throughout (made much worse by lame digital visual effects that would look just as bad if Pixar did them because they are so redundant) is the attempt to have the film be manic throughout.


Johnny Depp is Thompson and Benicio Del Toro downplays his role as Dr. Gonzo (a split side of Thompson?) on their trip that seems to have no end.  After about five minutes of the “trip” part, you get it, but fans just love that and prefer nearly two hours of it here.  What makes the film more interesting now are the supporting actors who surface, including Katherine Helmond, Tobey Maguire, Ellen Barkin, Christina Ricci, Gary Busey, Cameron Diaz, Mark Harmon, Michael Jeter, Craig Bierko, Laraine Newman and the great Harry Dean Stanton.  Alex Cox (Repo Man, reviewed elsewhere on this site) even co-wrote the adaptation, but ultimately, it is a film that is an acquired taste at best.


Maybe one should just read the book and not see the film, but if you have not done either, watch this first, then see if the book makes it clearer.  If it does too much, ask how much the film actually achieved.  For those used to Depp only in his Pirates franchise, they are in for the surprise of their life if they grab this one off the shelf.


The 2.35 X 1 1080p digital High Definition image was shot by Gilliam collaborator and cinematographer Nicola Pecorini (William Friedkin’s Rules Of Engagement), which was then processed by Rank.  However, the extensive and badly developed digital visuals make this look formless and though trying to recreate the trip, terrible.  An earlier attempt to do the same thing digitally was done by Oliver Stone for Natural Born Killers, which does not hold up as well either.  This was shot in Super 35mm film format and it shows in its overall weakness.  This is better than the Criterion regular DVD transfer, but the better definition shows more flaws as well.


Surprisingly, the theatrical digital sound film is presented here in Dolby TrueHD, which is better than the Dolby Digital Plus also offered.  The Criterion Collection edition had DTS and this version proves the film had more sonics to offer.  However, though the sound mix is really good, it is not an all-time classic.  *We will revisit it again, however, when we can really hear the Dolby TrueHD on what we consider top rate equipment not yet available.


The one place this HD-DVD obviously cannot compete with the Criterion version is is in extras.  That double disc set was loaded beyond belief and Criterion is not supporting either HD format right now.  That leaves this disc offering only deleted scenes, the original theatrical trailer and a “spotlight on location” piece.  That will be adequate for fans who want the higher performance, but the Criterion set will remain a “holy grail” for them.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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