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Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas(1998)
Journalist Raoul Duke and his lawyer Dr. Gonzo drive from LA to Las Vegas on a drugs binge. They nominally cover news stories, including a convention on drug abuse, but also sink deeper into a frightening psychedelic otherworld. As Vietnam, Altamont and the Tate killings impinge from the world of TV news, Duke and Gonzo see casinos, reptiles and the American dream.
For more about Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and the Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas Blu-ray release, see Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on April 8, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Director: Terry Gilliam
Writers: Terry Gilliam, Tony Grisoni, Tod Davies, Alex Cox, Hunter S. Thompson
Starring: Johnny Depp, Benicio del Toro, Tobey Maguire, Ellen Barkin, Gary Busey, Katherine Helmond
» See full cast & crew
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, April 8, 2011
Nominated for the prestigious Palme d'Or Award at the Cannes Film Festival, Terry Gilliam's "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" (1998) arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion. The supplemental features on the disc include the film's original theatrical trailer and TV spots; three audio commentaries; storyboards; deleted scenes with optional commentary by director Terry Gilliam; production designs; and a lot more. The disc also arrives with an illustrated booklet featuring an essay by critic J. Hoberman and two pieces by Hunter S. Thompson. In English, with optional English SDH subtitles for the main feature. Region-A "locked".
I read Hunter S. Thompson's book long before director Terry Gilliam adapted it into a film and I thought that it was unfilmable. I still believe that it is unfilmable. The book chronicles emotional outbursts, vivid hallucinations and pure mental blackouts that no one can transform into images.
With Gilliam's film you spend approximately two hours in Raoul Duke (Johnny Depp, Benny & Joon) and Gonzo's (Benicio Del Toro, 21 Grams, Che) heads and - poof! - you are done. You come back into the world that you know so well, where everything makes sense, and go to bed happy. If you read the book, your experience will be quite different - because the book will get into your head. The film is colorful, at times even entertaining, but nothing like the book. In an audio commentary director Gilliam recorded for Criterion back in 2002, which is included on this release, he describes it as arrogant. What he means is that the film pulls you in and does not give you the opportunity to stop, take a breather and try to figure out exactly what is it that you are seeing - which is one of the key reasons why a lot of people who see Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas without having read the book quickly conclude that it is a film about drugs and drug addicts.
And I understand why. Right from the get-go Duke and Gonzo are seen acting so strange and consuming so much cocaine, mescaline, uppers, downers, and who knows what else that, well, the first thing that would rightfully cross anyone's mind is that the film is indeed about a very colorful trip. In other words, what the film does not make perfectly clear is why these two characters are willingly frying their brains.
The book reveals why, with various descriptions and references, which I believe are simply unfilmable -- Duke and Gonzo's trip to Las Vegas is their ultimate act of rebellion, a provocation whose goal is to destroy myths and eventually hurt the world that has betrayed them and gone crazy. In the film, however, it looks like they are the crazy guys who cannot stop hallucinating.
The political overtones, which are not easy to isolate even in the book, are lost in the film. The narrator spends a great deal of time explaining what is happening, but the harder he tries, the less likely you are to understand him. The only obvious pointers revealing that the film is indeed about the disastrous end of an era are during that long sequence where Duke and Gonzo attend the anti-drug presentation.
Depp and Del Toro truly look under the influence of not one but a couple of different drugs. On a number of different occasions they have clarified that they did not need any extra inspiration while shooting the film, but who knows. The scene where Del Toro is in the tub completely wasted and Depp warns him that dropping his radio in the water isn't a good idea looks too real to me. According to Laila Nabulsi, one of the film's producers, Depp apparently did a number of interesting improvisations in this scene that caught a lot of people by surprise.
There are some truly beautiful images in the film, especially from Las Vegas (though a number of the best sequences were actually filmed elsewhere). The colors are wonderful. There are a lot of ugly images as well. Most, if not all, depict the few moments when the effects of the drugs weaken and Duke and Gonzo feel the urge to purge themselves.
Note: In 1998, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was nominated for the prestigious Palme d'Or Award at the Cannes Film Festival.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, Terry Gilliam's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion.
This high-definition transfer has a much more natural and balanced look than the one Universal used for their Blu-ray release of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, though it appears that it has been struck from the same master. The sharpening and contrast boosting that are noticeable on the transfer Universal used are practically gone, and the fine grain appears a lot more consistent. Traces of edge-enhancement occasionally pop up, but Criterion have toned down the brightness and contrast levels quite a bit. As a result, the harsh, digital look that is often present on Universal's transfer is practically nowhere to be seen. Some careful noise corrections have been performed as well, and the desert footage, for instance, looks a lot more appealing. On the transfer Universal used there are also various background color pulsations that are missing (screencapture 17). Criterion have also carefully cleaned up a great deal of flecks and tiny scratches. Lastly, there are absolutely no stability issues to report in this review whatsoever. All in all, Criterion's transfer is clearly the better one. This becomes painfully obvious if one projects Criterion's Blu-ray release on a large screen and then compares it to Universal's Blu-ray release. (Note: This is a Region-a "locked" Blu-ray release. Therefore, you must have a native Region-A or Region-Free PS3 or SA in order to access its content).
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There are two audio tracks on this Blu-ray disc: English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 and English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. For the record, Criterion have provided optional English SDH subtitles for the main feature. When turned on, they appear inside the image frame.
I watched the film with the English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track. Its dynamic amplitude is excellent - the dialog is crisp, clear, stable, and exceptionally easy to follow, and there are absolutely no balance issues to report with Ray Cooper's music score. The bass is potent and punchy, while the high frequencies are not overdone. I tested a number of scenes with the English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track and to be honest, I much prefer the English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track - Johnny Depp's narration is a lot better balanced and the shifting of the dynamics more natural.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
To be honest, I find the various supplemental features Criterion have included on this Blu-ray release of Terry Gilliam's controversial Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas a lot more appealing than the actual film. The audio commentary with Johnny Depp, Benicio Del Toro and producer Laila Nabulsi, for instance, is outstanding. The BBC produced documentary Fear and Loathing on the Road to Hollywood is also excellent. As expected, Criterion's Blu-ray release looks better than the one Universal Studios produced last year. If you are a fan of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, this is the Blu-ray release you want to have in your collection. RECOMMENDED.
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