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“We were somewhere around Barstow when the drugs began to take hold.” It is 1971, and journalist Raoul Duke barrels towards Las Vegas to cover a motorcycle race, accompanied by a trunkful of contraband and his slightly unhinged Samoan attorney, Dr. Gonzo. But what is ostensibly a cut-and-dried journalistic endeavor quickly descends into a feverish psychedelic odyssey and an excoriating dissection of the American way of life.

Terry Gilliam
Johnny Depp, Benicio Del Toro, Tobey Maguire, Ellen Barkin, Gary Busey, Christina Ricci, Mark Harmon, Cameron Diaz
Writing Credits:
Terry Gilliam & Tony Grisoni and Tod Davies & Alex Cox, based on the novel by Hunter S. Thompson

Box Office:
Budget $18.5 million.
Opening weekend $4.335 million on 1126 screens.
Domestic gross $10.562 million.
Rated R.

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English DTS 5.1
English Digital Stereo

Runtime: 119 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 2/18/2003

Disc One
• Audio Commentary by Director Terry Gilliam
• Audio Commentary by Stars Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Torro and Producer Laila Nabulsi
• Audio Commentary by Author Hunter S. Thompson
• Deleted Scenes with Commentary by Terry Gilliam

Disc Two
• Collection of Storyboards and Production Designs
• Stills Gallery
• A Selection of Hunter S. Thompson's Correspondence, Read on Camera by Johnny Depp
Hunter Goes to Hollywood: A Short Documentary Video by Filmmaker Wayne Ewing
• A Look at the Controversy over the Screenwriting Credit
• Rare Materials on Oscar Zeta Acosta, the Inspiration for Dr. Gonzo
• Collection of Original Artwork by Illustrator Ralph Steadman
• Excerpt from 1996 Fear and Loathing Audio CD with Marty Chaykin, Jim Jarmusch and Harry Dean Stanton
Fear and Loathing on the Road to Hollywood: A 1978 BBC Documentary with Thompson and Steadman
• Plus: A Booklet Featuring an Essay by Critic J. Hoberman and Two Pieces by Thompson

Music soundtrack
Original poster 27x40 in.

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Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: Criterion Collection (1998)

Reviewed by David Williams (March 17, 2003)

We were somewhere around Barstow - on the edge of the desert - when the drugs began to take hold.

Acclaimed … and now mainstream burnout, Hunter S. Thompson, wrote the epitaph for the drug generation with his semi-journalistic narrative of panic, drugs, and despair in his 1971 book, “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”. Terry Gilliam – probably the best man for the job when it came to bringing this book to the big screen – took on the task on translating this hallucinogen-induced mess into a major motion picture and surprisingly enough, succeeded (somewhat) where many before him had failed. Terry Gilliam falls into a small category of filmmakers that are able to make alluring, semi-demented films that delight his core group of fans and simply confuse everybody else. However, he manages to bring Fear and Loathing to life though some mildly coherent scenes that remind us all, that no matter how bad things are, it’s occasionally quite funny to watch people who are extremely high on drugs. While the story is hard to follow at times for those of us who have spent the majority of our lives drug-free and placidly coherent, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas remains only mildly entertaining in spots, but far from a cornerstone of American cinema.

Remember that when the book was written, the drug culture was still quite rampant in this country and a whole series of films were launched to extol the sometimes hilarious virtues of drugs – mainly marijuana. (Cheech and Chong anyone?) Drugs were cool; drugs expanded your mind – they didn’t fry it; and casual use was chic and was something that was applauded for its inherent rebelliousness. However, things changed in the late 80’s and drug humor has all but disappeared from popular culture. While it seems to be making a comeback of late, it’s nothing like it used to be and it’s quite amazing that the film made it to the big screen as unscathed as it did. Such as it is though, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is one long, drawn-out, slightly coherent mess that really has no fluid storyline whatsoever – but there never was one to begin with.

As previously mentioned, the film and its screenplay comes from inventive filmmaker and former Monty Python’er Terry Gilliam and he has plenty of experience in films that deal with delusion, psychosis, madness, and altered-states as evidenced by his previous outings of Brazil and 12 Monkeys. The film at hand stars a maniacal Johnny Depp as Hunter S. Thompson’s alter-ego, - gonzo journalist Raoul Duke - and a beefed-up and slightly overweight Benicio Del Toro as Dr. Gonzo, Thompson’s “attorney” and beloved drug-abusing friend. We meet the duo as they are on the road to the sin city of Las Vegas with a trunk full of “uppers, downers, screamers, and laughers” so Thompson can cover an off-road race for Sports Illustrated – which, for the most part, he manages to miss. However, he and Gonzo manage to fit in a lot of drugs along the way, pick up a hitchhiker, do some drugs, hit a circus themed casino, do some drugs, trash a hotel room, do some drugs, attend a drug enforcement convention, do some drugs, and then trash another hotel room … by the way, did I mention the drugs?

After re-watching the film recently after a 4-5 year hiatus, it’s become painfully obvious that Fear and Loathing isn’t as much fun as I originally recall. Maybe it’s because I’m older – or wiser – or becoming more like my parents; but in all honesty, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a one-trick pony that gets rather tiresome as the film rolls on. I feel that my film tastes have become quite refined over the years and I enjoy less and less cookie cutter crap than I did even 2-3 years ago. However, there are some films that I feel like I’m supposed to enjoy that I simply don’t - 2001 is one, so is Clockwork Orange, and now, add Fear and Loathing to that list. I don’t really understand what I’m supposed to glean from a movie where the principal(s) get extremely high and see lizard heads in place of Las Vegas gambler’s “normal” heads – imagine a hotel desk clerk morphing into some sort of lizard/eel – trash hotel rooms and berate employees - puke and mumble incoherently into toilets – and on and on it goes. It’s not so much that I have problems with drinking and drugs so much as I do with the fact that the film displays it in such abject excess that it becomes rather laborious to watch. If I was hanging out with this duo, I’d have left a lot sooner than the 119 minutes it took the film to end.

I’m not doubting the social relevance of Thompson’s ramblings – and I’ll be the first to point out his (at times) frenzied brilliance. He lived in a different time and a different place – and it was a time where the United States turned a blind-eye to substance abuse and many used these drugs as an escape from the many drastic societal changes that were taking place during the turbulent period. However, if the film had a sense of working towards something - a tidy ending or telling some sort of engaging story - it would have fared much better in my eyes. Watching a couple of fumbling, bumbling, and extremely high guys goof around for a few days in Vegas gets a little old. I could watch Dude, Where’s My Car and get the same reaction. While there’s an effort made to put the drug-induced folly into some sort of societal context, it still just comes across as simple overkill in my book. That’s not to say that there aren’t memorable moments in the film – there are – it’s just that taken as a whole, the film didn’t speak to me as it does to many others of you out there.

That being said, Depp and Del Toro give some fairly solid performances that become more amazing the more you watch them. Depp and Hunter S. Thompson formed a bond before, during, and after the making of the film and Depp’s uncanny portrayal of Thompson is rooted in a deep understanding of the gonzo journalist via an intimate, personal relationship with him. Depp absolutely nails him. There’s also a lot of physical humor involved in the character and Depp is able to pull it off flawlessly although at times, it seems a bit over-the-top and too caricaturish. Del Toro throws himself into his role of Dr. Gonzo by simply being completely insane an out-of-control – and it works well for what’s required of him. Fear and Loathing is also peppered with quite a few hip cameos that include Tobey Maguire, Gary Busey, Cameron Diaz, Lyle Lovett, Flea (from the Red Hot Chili Peppers), Christina Ricci, Penn Jillette, Harry Dean Stanton, Mark Harmon, and Ellen Barkin.

There’s no denying that Fear and Loathing is a wild, unhinged, and at times, entertaining ride. Whether you love it or hate it, you’ve surely got a strong opinion about it and if you’ve never seen it, you owe it to yourself to check it out. Criterion’s recently released 2-disc set is as good as they come and everything from the packaging to the menus to the remastered contents are nothing short of top-notch. Fans of the film should pick this copy up post-haste and those of you with strong negative opinions about it should at least give it another spin just to see how meticulously Criterion has handed this re-release. It’s a job well done and one that can be appreciated by all fans of the format – regardless of your feelings about the film.

The DVD Grades: Picture A- / Audio A- / Bonus A-

Criterion has really done a marvelous job with the film’s video transfer and offers up Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 with an anamorphic widescreen treatment – all supervised by director Terry Gilliam himself. Being such, the film’s transfer is as good as they come and Criterion has done a masterful job for this, their 2-disc special edition DVD.

The image for the film contains first-rate sharpness and detail and remained completely solid from beginning to end. The transfer was consistently crisp and well defined and there was hardly any grain or softness detected. The color palette was as bright and trippy as the film itself and as expected, it really stood out during the scenes shot in Vegas. The hues were, without fail, brilliant and bold throughout with no bleeding or smearing noted. Everything was properly balanced and contrasted in Fear and Loathing … from the wide-open and bright skies to the desolate desert sands to the gaudy and inviting lights of the Vegas strip ... it all looked grand. Fleshtones were accurate and pleasing, while black levels were completely solid – with excellent shadow detail and delineation – and allowed for a well defined, three-dimensional image.

Issues with the print were minor, as I noticed a few spots pop up on the image from time to time, as well as a couple of instances of shimmer. Outside of that, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas looked splendid and Criterion deserves major kudos for the meticulous work that went in to this transfer.

Criterion is at the top of their game here and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas has never looked better. This is a top-notch presentation through and through.

Criterion has added a double dose of splendid audio transfers for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas which include a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, as well as a competing mix in DTS 5.1. Either of these two transfers are highly preferable over Universal’s previous offering that only included a Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround option. Both tracks are superb, with my tastes leaning a bit more towards the DTS side of the house. Everything seemed to be a bit more rich and full when the DTS track was active and seemed to contain a bit more added depth and transparency. However, if you aren’t able to decode the DTS signal, the Dolby Digital track sounds great as well.

Audio quality was excellent on the disc, as everything was expertly reproduced and masterfully transferred for the home viewing market. Criterion remastered the audio track for their DVD release and the proof is in the pudding, as effects and dialogue both come through crystal clear. The surrounds are put to pretty good use here, as there are quite a few moments in the film where outdoor and indoor atmospheric effects are expertly employed. During some of the more spaced-out scenes, we are treated to some significant “dazed-and-confused” surround usage that works quite well for the material at hand. Panning and separation are excellent across the front channels and the film contains an expansive and exceptional soundstage that is really brought to life via Criterion’s transfer.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas also contains a really fun classic rock soundtrack and it has received exceptional treatment from the folks at Criterion, as it contained richly expansive dynamic range and fidelity. The soundtrack quite simply sounded incredible and presented some very crisp highs and taut lows that only added to the experience of viewing Fear and Loathing. Dialogue in the film was anchored in the front channel, with absolutely no problems related to intelligibility whatsoever. It was always presented crisp and clean and at all times, easily understood.

Criterion has also provided English subtitles in addition to the aforementioned tracks.

Criterion has put together a massive two-disc set for their release of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and they have definitely trumped the previous version of the DVD that was previously available. Everything from multiple commentaries to featurettes to interviews with Thompson, this set has got it all. But then again, it’s got Criterion’s name on the cover and they’ve got a reputation to uphold … and they’ve done nothing to sully their fine reputation here.

First and foremost, Criterion has included a marvelous booklet to supplement the DVD set and it includes a meticulously written film review by J. Hoberman, the senior film critic for the “Village Voice”, as well as a companion piece written by Hunter S. Thompson himself. For good measure, there are also a few DVD credits and chapter listings as well.


The first disc is buoyed by no less than three audio commentaries from multiple participants, with the first being a Commentary Track with director Terry Gilliam and as usual, he gives a completely engaging and very informative discussion on the film at hand. A Gilliam commentary has always been a welcome addition to any DVD and his musings on Fear and Loathing are no different. He gives a marvelous overview on seemingly every aspect of making this “unfilmable” book into a major motion picture and he does it in such a way that it’s totally interesting and more often than not, very entertaining. Rehashing topics doesn’t really do this commentary much justice, as it is quite simply required listening for anyone who makes the time investment to watch this film. It’s obvious Gilliam had a good time recording this commentary and I’m sure you’ll have a good time listening to it.

The second offering is a Commentary Track with producer Laila Nabulsi and actors Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro. This commentary was an enjoyable listen, as the trio discusses the trials and tribulations they had bringing Thompson’s book to the big screen. Nabulsi explains how hard it was to sell the project to major studios and how most of the folks she dealt with couldn’t see past the drugs to see some of the humor and social commentary contained within the story. (Nabulsi alone worked for 10 years before she saw the film to fruition!) Depp discusses how he came to know Thompson and how he spent time researching and studying him for the film. Ultimately, the two formed a nice bond and stayed in touch throughout production and well afterwards. Depp relays some really interesting anecdotes dealing with he and Thompson’s time together and it’s definitely interesting information to digest. Obviously, he and Del Toro both discuss the time and effort it took to bring these oddball characters to life on the big screen, as well as their understanding and respect for the story and the characters they portrayed. There’s not a lot of backslapping and butt-kissing on this commentary at all and it’s nice to hear a group of actors discuss their craft rather than how great the other one is. This was an engaging commentary that no fan of the film should skip.

Last up is a Commentary Track with Hunter S. Thompson and in all honesty, it’s quite hard to follow. Thompson, uncontainable as he is, has to be prodded by his assistant, producer Laila Nabulsi, and others to stay on track as they attempt to lead him into more spirited discussion about the film and about his life. He occasionally throws out a gem or two and the group does keep him on track somewhat, but as a whole, his commentary is much like the movie and his life story – wayyyyyy out there and totally off-the-wall. However, this is one that must be heard to be believed and I definitely enjoyed myself at times while checking it out. I can personally guarantee you that you’ve never heard another commentary like it.

Following are three Deleted Scenes from the film and each includes optional commentary from director Terry Gilliam. Being par for the course, these are simply additional moments of almost incoherent nonsense that if nothing else, do provide a slight amount of humor. The scenes – ‘The Mint 400’ (1:24), ‘The DA from GA’ (5:36), and ‘The Hardware Barn’ (3:31) – don’t really add a whole lot to the film although Gilliam’s commentary does a spectacular job of explaining how the scenes fit in to the overall scheme of things, as well as his reasons for leaving them out.


Broken down into two sections - The Film and The Source - we’ll start out with the supplements dealing with the film itself.


Starting things off are a fine collection of Terry Gilliam’s Storyboards that are included for multiple sequences in the film – ‘Opening Sequence’, ‘The Mint Hotel’, ‘Baker’, ‘The Flamingo Hotel/DA’s Convention’, ‘Adrenochrome’, ‘Duke Drive Gonzo to the Airport’, and ‘Final Sequence’. Each selection contains dozens of storyboards and while they’re not quite as “professional” as what we’ve seen of late for larger projects, it’s interesting to see Gilliam’s storyboards for the film nonetheless. Following are some very finely detailed ‘Production Designs’ from James Clyne that are in full color and are quite meticulous in their detail. Again, there are dozens of selections for your viewing pleasure and they are all quite interesting.

Next up, under the Stills Gallery, we get a collection of production stills taken by set photographer Peter Mountain that show the cast and crew “hard at work” on the set of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Broken down in to sections for easier viewing, we find multiple images under the headings of ‘The Trip’, ‘Las Vegas’, and ‘The Great Magnet’.

The next section, Johnny Depp / Hunter S. Thompson Correspondence (14:04) is quite interesting. It features Depp, cigarette in tow, reading aloud much of the correspondence the two exchanged during the making of the film. The two swapped a lot of letters during this time in order for Depp to understand Thompson a bit more as a character and they evidently became quite close. This was an oddly fascinating and enigmatic bit and well worth checking out.

Hunter Goes To Hollywood (10:36) follows and here we see a snippet of film from documentary filmmaker Wayne Ewing while he was making his own film, Breakfast With Hunter. This footage follows Thompson while on a visit to the set of Fear and Loathing, as well as some time he spent with Depp and others beforehand. Nothing very revealing here, but interesting nonetheless.

Following is Not The Screenplay (17:04) and it follows the interesting and quite convoluted story of awarding the screenwriting credits for the film. Although the final, filmed script belonged to Terry Gilliam and Tony Grisoni, the WGA also awarded a screenwriting credit to the film’s previous director Alex Cox and Tod Davies. Gilliam and his crew rallied to have the credit stricken – and eventually won – and in this supplement, Criterion has brought together director Terry Gilliam, screenwriter Tony Grisoni, and producer Laila Nabulsi to discuss their battles with the WGA. There’s nothing here but an audio track and while we listen, we’re forced to look at a really odd picture of Gilliam. We learn the history behind Cox’s departure and the creative differences he shared with almost everyone working on the original project, how Gilliam came on to the project, and the absurdity behind the WGA and what it takes to get a credit and/or remove a credit. This was a very interesting extra and an engaging listen for those of you familiar with the controversy.

In concert with the subject at hand, a small extra entitled ‘Dress Pattern’ (1:06) has also been included and it’s a quickie that deals with Gilliam’s battle with the Writer’s Guild. The short film also included a commentary from Gilliam that was quite interesting as well. We find out this film, Dress Pattern, was made to run in front of the original film in case Gilliam and Grisoni didn’t get the writing credit for Fear and Loathing that they deserved. Well, they did and the short never ran … but it’s quite ingenious actually …

Last up under THE FILM is a section entitled A Study in Marketing and here, the meat of this particular extra is included in the film’s Theatrical Trailer that can be viewed with or without optional commentary from director Terry Gilliam. Gilliam does a good job of summing up the difficulties of marketing a non-mainstream film such as this and it’s quite interesting to hear him discuss the approaches taken by both he and Universal in order to make things work.

We can also play seven TV Spots back-to-back, or view them via a TV Spots Index (‘Come to Las Vegas’, ‘Defined A Generation’, ‘True Story’, ‘3 Days’, ‘It’s Not’, ‘Twisted’, and ‘Great White’) to see how the film was marketed in 15 to 30-second snippets.


The first selection under this heading is Oscar Zeta Acosta, Dr. Gonzo and here, we get a plethora of information on Thompson’s companion for this wild ride, Oscar Zeta Acosta, a prominent activist attorney of the time. The section in broken down into multiple sub-selections which include ‘Biographical Photo Essay’ (a biographical sketch written by Acosta’s son, Marco, that reads quite well and includes multiple pictures), ‘The Revolt of the Cockroach People’ (a video of Acosta reading a chapter from his book of the same name that deals with many of the cases he represented – lasts around 30 minutes), and finally, ‘Thompson on Acosta’ (an 8-minute audio introduction written and read by Hunter S. Thompson that was used for a recent reissue of Acosta’s two books – excellent material). This was an outstanding section and it contained some welcome information on the beloved Dr. Gonzo.

The Ralph Steadman Art Gallery is next and it features dozens of examples of English artist Ralph Steadman’s trippy artwork that has been featured in many places – most notably, “Rolling Stone”. Many of the images seen were featured alongside some of Thompson’s articles that were published in the magazine and many drawings featured went unpublished. This was a really nice find and an interesting tribute to the artist and his highly unusual, but very conspicuous style.

”Breakdown on Paradise Boulevard” (7:44) follows and it’s an audio snippet from a CD released in 1996 by Margaritaville Records for a dramatic reading of the novel, “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”. The voice talents featured on the recording are Jim Jarmusch (Duke), Maury Chaykin (Gonzo), and Harry Dean Stanton (Narrator) and the snippet featured here is entitled “Breakdown on Paradise Boulevard” and it’s a scene that wasn’t filmed for the movie adaptation. An interesting listen, but nothing spectacular.

The last selection on the disc is entitled Fear and Loathing on the Road to Hollywood (50:14) and this is absolutely the most interesting piece on the disc. It’s a BBC documentary that was filmed in 1978 that followed Ralph Steadman and Hunter S. Thompson as they drove from Thompson’s home in Colorado to Hollywood ... via Las Vegas of course. This was an absolutely fascinating documentary on Thompson and in my opinion, was more interesting at times than the film itself. Thompson is an interestingly frustrating character at times - and an obnoxious burnout at others - and this documentary offered a much more intimate portrait of the man that the film itself. Required viewing in my opinion …

I can’t think of anything that Criterion left out here – this is a rather complete set of extras and there’s not one included here that doesn’t supplement the film perfectly. This is an absolutely marvelous set and fans of the film and/or Thompson’s work would be doing themselves a great disservice by not having this one in their respective collection.

Criterion has put together a marvelous and all-inclusive set that would impress even the most cynical hater of Thompson’s material. Criterion’s 2-disc set for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a work of art – every film dreams of this type of treatment and fans of the film that don’t have this disc in their collection already so go get it … right now … I’m serious … it’s that good … drop what you’re doing and buy this set!

All others – whether you’re unfamiliar with the film or don’t recall enjoying it that much the first time around – you really need to give it another spin as a rental at least. It may not change your mind as far as the film goes, but it’s well worth it to see the accompanying supplemental material that Criterion has amassed … it’s quite a show.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.3 Stars Number of Votes: 70
4 3:
View Averages for all rated titles.