Benicio Del Toro
Written by Hunter S. Thompson, pioneer of Gonzo journalism, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is one of those books that you read only when ready and then plow through without blinking. This is its cinematic adaptation, filmed by Terry Gilliam, who uses an abundance of tilts, distortions and other in-camera tricks to keep up with the manic pages of the book, once thought to be absolutely unfilmable.
The loose narrative follows Thompson’s alter ego, Raoul Duke (Johnny Depp, a perfect mimic), and his attorney/sidekick Dr. Gonzo (Benicio Del Toro, a belly the size of the moon), on their way to Las Vegas with the former assigned to cover the Mint 400 motorcycle race. He does. But then…
Nixon-era paranoia! Lizard orgies! A Streisand-loving Christina Ricci! It’s all a bad trip, a complete clusterwhatever that maybe should have never been made. So is the movie. While this is about best possible visual representation of Fear and Loathing… that could have possibly been put to celluloid, the overall film still lacks the adrenaline and meaning that the source offers in, on and around every page.
The whole thing is so confused and borderline psychotic that there’s really only one prescription: purchase five copies of the book, read two of them out loud and forget, at least temporarily, that Gilliam even tried.
Audio commentary with stars Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro and producer Laila Nabulsi: The best of the three tracks, this one also has the trio (separately) discussing a variety of subjects, many of which were surprisingly not mentioned in Gilliam’s commentary.
Audio commentary with author Hunter S. Thompson: With the aid of producer Nabulsi (and plenty of noise), Thompson chimes in (read: mumbles) on his thoughts regarding the book, the film and more. Not surprisingly, it’s near-impossible to understand about 40% of what Thompson says.
Depp-Thompson Correspondence (14:07): Recorded in 2002, Depp reads a handful of letters between Thompson and himself which were written during the film’s production. Perhaps as expected, nobody reads Thompson quite like Depp.
Hunter Goes to Hollywood (10:39): Director Wayne Ewing, who directed 2003’s Breakfast with Hunter, follows Thompson while he visits the set of the film. This intimate footage captures Thompson in a hotel with Depp and Del Toro, watching filming/shooting his cameo and, of course, yelling “Fuck you!” at a beeping car.
“Not the Screenplay”: This section is divided into two pieces: “Audio Discussion of WGA Dispute” and “A Dress Pattern.” The first, with Gilliam, co-screenwriter Tony Grisoni and producer Laila Nabulsi, covers said dispute, with attention on the Writers Guild of America and would-be director Alex Cox. The second is a short film directed by Gilliam.
Oscar Zeta Acosta: Dr. Gonzo: Packaged here are three pieces devoted to the attorney/activist, portrayed in the film by Benicio Del Toro. First is a “Biographical Photo Essay” by his son, Marco; second is The Revolt of the Cockroach People, which captures Acosta reading a chapter from the titular work at the 1974 Festival de Flor y Canto; third is “Thompson on Acosta,” which features Thompson reading from his introduction to a pair of Acosta’s books.
“Breakdown on Paradise Boulevard” (7:43): This excerpt from a 1996 spoken-word CD of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas has director Jim Jarmusch portraying Raoul Duke, the late character actor Maury Chaykin as Dr. Gonzo and actor Harry Dean Stanton as the narrator.
Fear and Loathing on the Road to Hollywood (50:20): This excellent 1978 British documentary follows “Thompson and illustrator Ralph Steadman in a road trip to Hollywood by way of Las Vegas.” It offers observations on both Thompson and his character of Raoul Duke, footage of Thompson in his element, interviews (some of which has been reused in later documentaries, including Alex Gibney’s Gonzo), readings from Thompson’s work, and more.
Deleted Scenes: There are three here, titled “The Mint 400,” “The DA from GA” and “The Hardware Barn.” Each was selected by Gilliam and “assembled from original work-print footage.”
Rounding out the special features are Storyboards, Production Designs, Stills Gallery, a Ralph Steadman Art Gallery, the Trailer, and TV Spots.
Also included with this Criterion Collection Blu-ray is a 28-page booklet with an essay titled “A Pint of Raw Ether and Three Reels of Film” by film critic J. Hoberman, the text from the jacket copy of Fear and Loathing… and “Instructions for Reading Gonzo Journalism” by Thompson.