Blu-ray Review: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

The first extra I jumped to after experiencing the 1998 film adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s seminal brainspill Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream was the author’s commentary. He is charmingly gracious concerning his participation in the production (“my role in the film was to whip these f---ers into line and get paid”), unrestrained in his praise for the performance of his good friend Johnny Depp (“he looked like a goddamned prancing faggot”), and respectfully reverent of Terry Gilliam, the director who turned Thompson’s recollections into movie magic (“a limey fag cartoonist who’s filled the film with homo-erotic bullshit”).

Judging by the accompanying hysterical laughter, gasping inhalations, rattle of pills, and primal screams from Thompson and his female assistant as he watches the film (something he does once a month and “cracks f---in’ up”), he was evidently still enjoying the ride. All his heartfelt analysis — interspersed with drunken dialing, radish eating, and warnings of the coming apocalypse predicted in the Book of Revelations — makes for one mind-expanding “commentary” indeed.

Attempting to re-create the spirit of the book and its subtextural expression of the loss and failures of the Sixties generation from an early-Seventies perspective, Gilliam’s movie immerses you in the madness of casinos filled with spiritually plundered patrons, who are engrossed in “what everyone would be doing on a Saturday night if the Nazis had won the war.” And bald-headed Depp’s performance as Thompson alter ego Raoul Duke remains the high point of the actor’s more demented veers, as he keeps one part of his brain and behavior restrained while allowing the rest to go psychotically to the dogs — or, in this case, to the talking reptiles in lounge suits.

In one inspired moment, Depp tries to light his cigarette with the napalm fire in Vietnam War news footage on TV. Meanwhile, bloated Benicio del Toro is equally (wonderfully) deranged as Duke’s cruel “Samoan Attorney” and co-conspirator, Dr. Gonzo (“one of God’s prototypes”), who insists that “even a goddamned werewolf is entitled to legal counsel.” Depp and Del Toro are supported by cameos from a pack of rabid Thompson fans, including Cameron Diaz, Gary Busey, Ellen Barkin, and Harry Dean Stanton. “Then we ate some mescaline and went swimming.”