Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

The story begins abruptly, as we find our mock heroes out in the desert en route to the savvy resort of Las Vegas. The author uses a tense hitchhiker as a mode, or an excuse, for a flashback that exposes the plot. An uncertain character picked up in the middle of the desert who Raoul Duke, the main character, feels the need to explain things to, to help him rest easy. They had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half-full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multicolored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers....Also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of Budweiser, a pint of raw either, and two dozen amyls. They were on assignment from a fashionable sporting magazine in New York, to cover the 4th Annual "Mint 400" dirt bike and dune buggy race. A savage journey to the heart of the American dream.

Before one can review the motion picture "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas", he must first research the full length novel of the same name. The book first appeared in 1971 in issues 95 and 96 of Rolling Stone magazine, published November 11th and 25th respectively. Although the two part series stated its author was someone called Raoul Duke, the story was copyrighted in 1971 by Hunter S. Thompson. Raoul Duke is actually the false name under which Hunter Thompson portrays himself as main character and narrator.

The film was produced in the early goings of summer in 1998 almost as a tribute to the re-release of the novel in June. Directed by Monty Python's Flying Circus animator Terry Gilliam [12 Monkeys], the film was received quite poorly in the box office and even by the counterculture which was its target audience. Not even an impressive list of cameo appearances could salvage box office respect. This list featured Cameron Diaz, Cristina Ricci, Gary Busey, Lyle Lovett, Verne Troyer ["Minime" from Austin Powers], Penn Jillette [of Penn and Teller], Michael Jeter, and Flea [Red Hot Chilli Peppers]. Contrary to other book-to-screen translations such as Jurassic Park, where the entire plot line was compromised, the film of Fear and Loathing does the book justice and, occasionally, reads straight from the novel itself. Starring Johnny Depp [as Duke] and Benico Del Toro [Dr. Gonzo, Duke's attorney and confidant], the film has to be the best account of what the early seventies in the western United States were like despite Thompson's own denouncement saying "no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world".

The story is split into two parts: covering the Mint 400 in part one, and the National District Attorneys' Conference in part two. The action maintains a fairly constant pace throughout the account, disregarding select high intensity scenes at hotels and diners. While the movie stays fairly consistent to the book through the first part, the second half needed directorial inference due to the book's confusion. To connect several detached thoughts and afterthoughts that end the story, a long flashback was improvised in the film after an elaborated and exaggerated bender. This is the only real change to the storyline and, while I dislike alterations and change in any form, I can see it was necessary in this case for an attempt at coherence.

Experienced director Gilliam has always done a excellent job with cut flashbacks and wholesome confusion in movies like 12 Monkeys and Time bandits and the tradition continues. He makes you think and entices change in your life. Much the same as Hunter Thompson who like to mix life messages in his writing such as "learn to enjoy losing" in chapter 7 and "...you can get a lot higher without drugs that with them." Thompson is, in my opinion, one of the best American authors of all time. He explains everything using a large vocabulary but doesn't come off wordy. It's not like "look how many words I know, I'm smarter than you, you're dumb" but not Robert Munch either. I feel I have a better understanding of what my parents [or at least my Mom, my Dad was a square] went through. I look forward to reading the many other high quality books by