Terry Gilliam takes on the novel that only he could do justice, Hunter S. Thompson’s iconic Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Featuring tour-de-force performances of inebriation from Johnny Depp and Benicio del Toro, we’re thrust into the hilarious and terrifying journey of two men in the depths of a drug binge. German label Turbine Medien gives fans of Gilliam’s classic a good reason to import with an excellent Dolby Vision transfer, audio, and hours of extras all wrapped up in stylish Mediabook packaging. Highly Recommended
As we’ve covered Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas a few different times now on various formats, I don’t feel like I have a whole lot to add to the mix there. Gilliam’s insanely hilarious and darkly terrifying adaptation is an experience you’ll love or run away from screaming. I don’t think I’ve yet met anyone out there who is content to stick in the middle ground and say “It’s only okay.” For me, I love it, and a big reason why was how I first saw it.
At 16, my best friend in high school was one of those kids who read various notorious books to look edgy and cool, but it also led to some great movie-watching. I barely knew who Hunter S. Thompson was let alone what this movie was when I sat down to see it. All I knew was Gilbert Grape was in it. So with my friend I sat into the darkened mall theater that didn't care about I.D. checks so long as they got that salty, buttery popcorn cash. Holy hell was that an experience - and an addictive one at that! I’ve come back to the film (and the book) again and again over the years and it’s never lost its allure. As soon as Deep utters those first words “We were somewhere around Barstow, on the edge of the desert, when the drugs began to take hold…” and Hunter S. Thompson's cherry red convertible screeches across the screen - I’m all in for it.
I also feel like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a bit of a career marker for Gilliam. There are the movies that came before Fear and Loathing and there are the movies that came after. Before this film, Gilliam enjoyed immense success (well maybe not at the box office but critically) with films like The Fisher King, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Brazil, and 12 Monkeys. After… things have felt like a struggle. Not to say that he hasn’t made good films in those following years, I enjoyed Tideland and The Zero Theorem was pretty decent. However, it’s felt like he’s had to fight tooth and nail to get his films made. If tragedy didn’t take his leading man away, aerial bombardments would scuttle a production - and that was before studios and producers took their scissors to his work. You see edges of past brilliance but something seems to always come up that holds it back from greatness.
Enough of my blithering - here are some different takes on Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas for you to consider:
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Turbine Medien splashes out for their own 4K UHD Mediabook release of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Not that they needed four different covers for this film, but once you get locked into a serious 4K collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can. A three-disc set, you get a BD-66 for the 4K version of the film, a Region Free BD-50 for 1080p and bonus features, with an additional Region Free BD-50 for the documentary Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. Sammached in between that is a 55-page booklet featuring an in-depth look at the making of the film by Christoph Kellerbach (in German but Google Translate is very helpful if you don’t know the language). Each disc loads to an animated main menu, menus are mostly in German but again, not difficult to navigate or change language options.
As the restoration effort of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was a partnership effort between Arrow and Turbine with final approval by Terry Gilliam, it's a hell of a release. This film has seen some terrible discs and some pretty good releases over the years but this one leaves all of those behind at the dealership after speeding over a two-foot embankment backwards! Details are rich and crystal clear with naturally cinematic film grain retained. Some of the effects shots can be a tad noisier in that regard, but nothing so severe to distract or take you out of the moment. From the extreme closeups of Johnny Depp’s eyes to the wide-open Las Vegas deserts to the tortured and destroyed hotel suites, the image is immaculate and beautifully rendered in 4K. Facial features, costumes, clothing textures, production design, and all of the beautiful late 60s and early 70s cars look fantastic.
The Dolby Vision grade is also ace work. Black levels, whites, and the spectacular array of colors get careful attention. Primaries are striking without appearing blown out or too hot. Likewise, skin tones are healthy and accurate without being too peached or pinked. The deep blue skies and bright yellow desert and psychedelic imagery have never looked better. Black levels are spot on with deep inky blacks and excellent shadows - especially for the film’s darker scenes. Likewise, whites are bright and crisp without blooming or any trouble spots. Considering this was a partnership effort, I don’t see any difference between the Turbine or Arrow releases. I wish I had two side-by-side displays to run both discs at the same time but after adequate flipping between the two, I couldn’t spot any discrepancies. Even comparing bitrates, they’re virtually neck and neck. Between the two some of the peaks are a little higher, valleys a little lower - but that alternates between them. Ultimately the average range is almost bit-for-bit the same.
We can enjoy Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in both DTS-HD MA 5.1 and DTS-HD MA 2.0. Considering the immersive nature of the film and as your attorney, I suggest you rent a flashy car with the top down and blast the 5.1 mix as loud as you can handle. Of course, I won’t be with you but if invited I would be hard-pressed to pass up the chance to watch it again! As soon as that cherry red convertible blasts through the desert and those howling screeching things that look like bats come swooping down and attacking the car - this film is a sonic delight. Would I have loved to hear an Atmos mix of this film? Sure - but I will not complain about what we have here. Not one bit. Dialog is clean and clear - at least that which you’re supposed to hear clearly - without any issue. The soundscape is expansive and full so there’s always a sense of space to the mix with plenty of activity to keep the channels working. For comparison's sake, I did roll the 2.0 track and it's pretty damn great too. It might roll better for viewers with a sound bar instead of a full theater set, but even with a different spread for imaging and element spacing, there's really nothing to complain about. I spent a good chunk of it with headphones listening to the film while writing the reviews and if you roll headsets while watching your flicks, it's a good mix.
On the bonus features front we have a nice assortment of new and old. Now, as expansive as this set of extras is, if you have the older Criterion Blu-ray, you’re going to want to hold onto it a piece because not all of their unique extras appeared here - namely their multiple commentaries. That said, you do pick up over an hour of new interviews with a great new commentary on top of some good archival pieces. Sweetening the deal for this set is the inclusion of the excellent and essential viewing documentary Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. All told you have many hours of excellent extras to devour.
4K UHD Disc
Blu-ray Disc One
Blu-ray Disc Two
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a damn wild ride through the depths of depravity. From Oliver Stone to Martin Scorsese, many filmmakers tried to adapt Thompson’s novel - only one succeeded. With Gilliam in peak form, the film manages to deliver an incredible cinematic experience capturing the hilarious and terrifying extremes of the novel with Jonny Depp and Benicio del Toro giving everything they had in the tank.
Now the film is on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray and with the added resolution, Dolby Vision HDR, and excellent audio, you can reexperience this film anew. Germany’s Turbine Medien adds to the collection with their own three-disc Mediabook set. A great transfer coupled with a nice range of bonus features with more readable content within the interior book (fire up Google Translate, it works). To top things off, this release also comes with the feature-length Documentary Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson which is an essential companion piece to Fear and Loathing. A worthwhile set to import if you’re tired of waiting to see if Criterion will ever bring it stateside. All you have to do is decide which cover you want. Highly Recommended
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