“… although Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a pretty movie, it’s not a necessary one.”
Hunter S. Thompson is the grandfather of the ‘Gonzo Journalism’ movement and the idol of anti-establishment drug-lovers everywhere. Arguably his best, or at least his most famous work is Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas; the firsthand account of a multi-day drug binge taking part in America’s most forgiving city. The story follows Raoul Duke and his attorney, Dr. Gonzo, as they travel through the sin capital of the world in an attempt to find the American Dream.
Hunter S. Thompson’s book is great. That much goes without saying. His coherent, almost omniscient retelling of these bizarre events that may or may not have taken place are amazing to read. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is such an immersive book because the writing is so succinct. Thompson manages to paint beautiful pictures with as few brush strokes as possible leaving the passages in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas both descriptive and digestible.
The story itself of the veritable improv exercise that is these two characters constantly “yes, and”-ing each other while they are both off their asses is both terrifying and hilarious. Thompson keeps you in check with various break-offs detailing his opinion on the current social climate of the great country of America and how it is still reeling from the ‘Free Love’ movement and the Vietnam war. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a tremendously complex novel with a lot of fun thrown in to make the read a lot easier. It’s not perfect, but there’s not much that could improve it.
Terry Gilliam had a different idea. He saw Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as a story that needed to be told on the big screen, despite how well it was told on the page. He took what is a very personal novel, not emotionally but in the account of the character, and tried to bring the audience into the mind of Hunter S. Thompson. I’m not saying that a movie couldn’t do Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas justice, but I am saying that Terry Gilliam’s version did not.
I guess the point of the movie in Gilliam’s mind was to give a visual representation to the amazing scenes that Thompson paints throughout the novel; giving the audience something to grasp on to at a glance. That would be fine if Ralph Steadman hadn’t already done that with his brilliant illustrations seen throughout Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I’m not saying that two artists can’t work on the same project, but I am saying that Gilliam’s version is very obviously Gilliam’s version whereas Steadman’s version was what became synonymous with the novel in the first place.
In terms of the story, like I said adapting Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is an uphill battle. A lot of the novel revolves around the level-headed narration of situations that are anything but. This juxtaposition allows for the reader to both be immersed in the scenario because instead of inane ramblings you are able to read complete sentences, but also appreciate the situation because the words do wonders of describing in detail what it is like. The movie didn’t have this luxury, and what we got instead was Johnny Depp stumbling and mumbling his way through scenes giving us only one half of this golden ratio.
But we didn’t go completely without Thompson’s brilliant writing because a majority of Gilliam’s film is a glorified audiobook with Depp reading a the novel to us via voice-over. The right there should have been a red flag to anyone conceptualizing this movie. If you can’t do it without having the source material literally read to the audience, maybe you shouldn’t do it at all.
But it’s not all bad with Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, because even though the style was very much Gilliam it complimented the story at times. The look that Gilliam essentially pioneered in terms of visualizing drugs in movies is still prominent today. Gilliam’s need to constantly have the camera moving at weird angles and speeds works well with these scenarios where our main character, and therefore us, is going through a weird trip while trying to check into a hotel. But although Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a pretty movie, it’s not a necessary one.
Overall Terry Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a bastardization of the beloved Hunter S. Thompson novel of the same name. It adds nothing to the story, and actually takes away quite a bit with the removal of the level-headed narrator that was Thompson throughout the story.
I give Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas a C