Terry Gilliam is one of the most undeniable directors to ever work in the medium. I say that in the sense that when you watch his films you feel the master’s fingerprints all over, and sometimes that makes the film a bit blurry. Gilliam is one of those directors that it is often hard to relax into because he’s so there; it’s hard to ignore what he is doing. Which is why The Fisher King strikes as one of his strongest works in the sense that it is accomplished without shoving itself down your throat. He was brought in last minute to direct an adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and took the project up only to have stars Johnny Depp and Benecio Del Toro already locked in as his leads, had to rewrite everything that came before, and do it (perhaps as it should be done) as a no-holds barred, gonzo, “let’s shoot this fucker” kind of film. My review of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas on Blu-ray after the jump.
Johnny Depp stars as Raoul Duke, the main character of the film and surrogate for Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, who is on the road to Vegas with Dr. Gonzo (Benecio Del Toro). Both are out of their mind on drugs. There’s some mescaline, acid, marijuana, cocaine, LSD and ether for starters, along with booze and all sorts of other things along the way.
Duke/Thompson heads to Vegas to cover a sporting event, and then a cop conference, but the real text is his massively fucked up state of being, with side trips to said events. Duke’s body is in a state of flux, and Depp plays Thompson as a velociraptor. This is fitting because when Duke/Thompson hallucinates he sees lizards, in keeping with the artwork of the book, keeping with the Ralph Steadman look.
It’s unfair to spoil, so if you haven’t seen the film I’m sorry, but what makes the film is a moment toward the end when Thompson is writing and suggests that whatever made the end of the 60’s special and all the revolution, and all the peace and love had/has shit the bed, and the idea that was so appealing about all of that was lost and gone, and turned into something unsavory, much like the trip he is on. That’s the moment the film coalesces, kicks you in the ass, and it’s built to and earned. That said, much of the film is about watching people on drugs, and that has its limits if you have no empathy to people acting stupid. That Gilliam captures a sense of being totally fucked up is neither here nor there. Watching people on drugs has always been way less interesting than being on drugs.
As per Gilliam’s touch, that the master’s hand is readily visible here works as the film is so narrated (how could it not be) that being sentient of an authorial control comes with the territory. This is one of his best films because he manages to capture the book, and still make a Gilliam film. He also loads it with cameos, from Flea, Thompson himself, Cameron Diaz, Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci, Ellen Barkin, Gary Busey, Mark Harmon, Michael Jeter, Lyle Lovett, Craig Bierko, Penn Jilette, and Harry Dean Stanton among others. This would be distracting if the artifice weren’t so necessary.
Universal’s Blu-ray presents the film in widescreen (2.35:1) and in 5.1 DTS-HD. The transfer is superb. Extras are limited to some deleted scenes (12 min.) and a “Spotlight on Location” (11 min.) carried over from the original DVD release. None of the Criterion material has been included. Which is very sad.