Film Reviews

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) – 4K UHD Review

Arrow Video have turned their attention to the 1998 Terry Gilliam black comedy Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Starring Johnny Depp as Hunter S. Thompson stand-in/pseudonym Raoul Duke, and Benicio del Toro as friend and fellow novelist Dr Gonzo, the story such as it is sees the two of them speeding across the Nevada Desert, under the influence of mescaline, on their way to Vegas for Duke to cover the Minto 400 motorcycle race.

From there it is almost a series of vignettes, narrated in a serious, almost Twilight Zone-style by Depp, as they negotiate various situations in the city and its environs whilst intoxicated by a number of different substances, sometimes in different combinations. All the while their twisted perception of reality, conveyed through an inner voice that is aware that things are not as they should be, but without being able to distinguish that these are simply the effects of drugs. We are shown, through a series of hallucinations from the perspectives of our leads, whilst the cinematography highlights Gilliam’s visual talents (and those of cinematographer Nicola Pecorini) put us into the mindset of a completely lost sense of reality.

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In all honesty, this film will not be for everyone. It lacks for a consistent through-line and will feel far too random for many viewers, moving from one drugged-up set piece to another, with no obvious themes (though the bonus features on this release point to some), and somewhat outstaying its welcome, as many will simply want to experience reality in a more regular way long before the near-two hour running time is up. On the other hand, however, the deadly seriousness with which the characters experience this makes it a strangely endearing piece of work, and another distinctive entry in the wonderful and eclectic career of Terry Gilliam. All presented through a pristine, like-new picture, accompanied by a more than decent DTS sound mix.

Bonus features begin with a new feature commentary by Terry Gilliam, moderated by Phil Stubbs from his ‘Dreams’ fanzine website. It is clear he has not watched the film for a while, but he has a good memory for stories of casting, originally reading the script and for the filming process, and why it is shot the way it is. He remembers the acting styles of participants, clearly loving his time working with Depp. This is a reasonably entertaining track for a film the director admits he loves, and Phil is unobtrusive and asks prompting questions in the right places.

‘Savage: Finding the American Nightmare’ is a twelve-minute appreciation by film historian Ian Christie – author of Gilliam on Gilliam, and comprised of a talking head with shots from the film. He talks through the genesis of the film from Alex Cox being named as the original director (bizarre, given the end result is so Terry Gilliam), to Gilliam becoming involved, and the state of his career at that time. As part history, part appreciation, it is fine, if very standard for these types of sets.

‘The Gonzo Papers’ is an interview with producer Laila Nabulsi, and this focuses, in just under 20 minutes, on adapting the original written work for the screen; something that came to her when she saw a stage version. There is some good background on the film, the work, and the people involved, with lots of stories and the running time is packed. A small short after this is ‘Grim Memories & Bad Flashbacks’, an interview with star Benicio del Toro. This is also new, and only around twelve minutes. It is rare to see interview with del Toro, and he speaks well. Full of admiration for Gilliam, he is, however, clear that the late change of director was jarring. He sums it up as a passion project for him, as he loved the book deeply. Benicio also has clear thoughts on the themes of the film – the smaller characters as the silent majority – those who elected Nixon and did not protest Vietnam. This is used to explain why two leads are so dismissive of the minor people they encounter.

‘Ignore This Terrible Drug: The Art and Style of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’, is a new featurette including interviews with cinematographer Nicola Pecorini, production designer Alex McDowall, costume designer Julie Weiss and editor Lesley Walker. Again, a very standard feature, but at the same time a sign of the amount of effort made by Arrow with this set. This is followed by four deleted scenes with optional commentary by Gilliam, including the excised prologue ‘A Dress Pattern’. It adds up to just under eleven minutes and the commentary is Phil just asking him questions. The picture quality for these lost scenes is poor, but all work okay-to-well in isolation. In the main, they were dropped for pacing reasons.

‘Spotlight on Location’, an original promotional featurette featuring interviews with Gilliam, Depp, and del Toro is a ten-minute feature from original release, and it is showing its age. An early days of DVD feature. Behind the scenes ‘B-roll’ footage and additional electronic press interviews with Gilliam, Depp and del Toro follow. All these add up to a little over twelve minutes in total, and are thin, but clearly here for completeness.

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Theatrical trailers and TV spots: there are a couple of the former and seven of the latter. These are complemented by extensive image galleries, including original production designs, storyboards, production stills and publicity gallery. It is absolutely exhaustive, as we lost count of the number of images here. Certainly, this is beyond anything we can remember for such a set – particularly the production design.

So, for fans of the film, this is best set yet released to the public, with good input by all creatives (except Depp, though given the timeline of curating this set, he may have been engaged elsewhere), thoughtful extras featuring contributions from people with good memories, who are happy to talk about a film about which they loved being a part. Though we have seen better sets from Arrow, this is probably at – or slightly above – average for the standard of their usually excellent legacy sets and, as such, we are happy to recommend to fans of the film. Less so, for those looking to take a sight-unseen punt.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is out on 4K UHD on 22nd May from Arrow Video.

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