Length: 118 minutes
Director: Terry Gilliam (Brazil; Twelve Monkeys)
Writers: Terry Gilliam (Brazil; Time Bandits), Tony Grisoni (Tideland; Brothers of the Head), Alex Cox (Repo Man; Sid and Nancy), and Tod Davies (Three Businessmen)
Starring: Johnny Depp, Benicio Del Toro, Cameron Diaz, Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci, Ellen Barkin, Gary Busey, Harry Dean Stanton, Mark Harmon, Flea, Penn Jillette, Craig Bierko, Lyle Lovett, Hunter S. Thompson, Verne Troyer, Christopher Meloni, Laraine Newman, Michael Jeter, Katherine Helmond, Tim Thomerson, Richard Portnow, Debbie Reynolds
Cult animated filmmaker Ralph Bashki (Fritz the Cat; Cool World) once spent a weekend with one of Hunter S. Thompson’s girlfriend’s in the ‘80’s trying to convince her to sell him the rights to make a cartoon version of Thompson’s masterpiece “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” accompanied by the drawings of Thompson illustrator Ralph Steadman. Thompson had given her the rights after his unhappiness with the earlier flat bio-pic of him, “Where the Buffalo Roam”. Bashki failed and said a cartoon version would be the only proper way to make a film of the book. Many years later when Bashki saw Terry Gilliam’s live action version he said that he was “right”, that Gilliam had essentially made a cartoon version of the film. Like most of my contemporaries (unless they are bullshitting you), I knew little about Hunter S. Thompson before I saw this film. I had read a few of his Rolling Stone articles, but had never read “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” or any of his other works. I went to the theaters in 1998 because it was a Terry Gilliam film about drugs that had Johnny Depp in it. The movie blew me away and my cousin Curtis and I ended up seeing it at the AMC Orange Park four times in the two weeks that they actually played it. I took an interest in Thompson immediately and start picking up some of his books. Though I never picked up “Vegas”. The movie had been so panned by critics- critics who I assume were aggravated because they didn’t think the movie did the book justice- that I wasn’t sure I wanted to read it just yet. That maybe somehow it would ruin the film for me. Now at the age of twenty six, I finally have read the book. What can I say? It was brilliant. Worth all the praise. The day after I finished it, I popped in the Criterion DVD of the movie and watched it. I was very pleased that the book hadn’t ruined it, though I believe they are two separate entities- if that makes any sense. I laughed a lot when I read the book, even though I had all ready laughed at the same bits during the many times I had seen the film over the years. The book had, of course, a lot of parts that didn’t make it into the movie and the movie had parts that it elaborated on that worked. And ol’ Bashki was right- the movie is essentially a live action cartoon. That’s what makes it work so well. “Sid and Nancy”/”Repo Man” director Alex Cox was one of the handful of directors (including Martin Scorsese) who tried to bring a film adaptation to the screen (he is credited with co-writing the script here, but only due to some bullshit Writers Guild rule). As much as I respect Cox, I don’t think he could have made a version of the movie that would have done the book justice. Gilliam, the only American “Monty Python” member and one of the best living directors we have around, has the eye and imagination needed to make it work. Anyone who has seen the documentary “Lost in La Mancha” knows how his mind works, how much of a perfectionist he is. Only the man who brought movies like “Brazil” and “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen” could have pulled this off. Johnny Depp is absolutely perfect as Thompson- or Raoul Duke rather. Thompson himself vetoed the casting of John Cusack after meeting Depp, saying he was the only person that could play him properly. Benicio Del Toro as Thompson’s attorney, Oscar Acosta (or Dr. Gonzo as he is referred here), is also perfect. They fit in with the madness and are willing to go as far as Gilliam needs them to. Watching it again, I was even more amazed at Gilliam’s work, mystified that the critics didn’t appreciate what he had done, yet vindicated that movie has deservedly become a cult classic over the years (even if it means putting up with a bunch of dorks repeating the “bat country” line whenever you mention the movie to them). I’ll never forget leaving the theater after watching this for the first time. I had seen a movie that was like nothing I had ever seen before, from a director that I had all ready loved, but this time backed by a voice that was new to me. That doesn’t happen every day.