Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas Blu-ray Review
'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas' is presented in widescreen 2.35:1 with VC-1 1080p coding.
Although never a gorgeous looking movie to begin with, the print always carried a certain charm that perfectly captured the 70's Vegas era. Right from the outset it's obvious that this release offers a significant increase in picture quality over the impressive Criterion DVD release. Facial close-ups are jaw dropping, exposing Duke's crooked, stained teeth, powder dusted nostrils and bloodshot eyes, as well Gonzo's vomit encrusted, sweaty chin. Fabrics are plainly visible, such as the woollen shirts of Dr. Gonzo, linen suits, green and gold Chinese silks and plenty of plaid and other “early 70's” type clothing. I also noticed lipstick on Duke at one point which I did not previously recall. The backgrounds of the very busy picture now really come to life, with hideous lizards, piranhas in fish tanks and the craziness of Bazooka Circus now positively bursting with detail. People are now clearly visible in many of the scenes, a facet of the presentation that was somewhat hazy on DVD.
The image at times is simply stunning, with lots of detail and razor sharp definition. It's possible to see the furry texture of Depp's Hawaiian shirt in the opening scenes, the fine hairs on his arms and the brand name on his cigarette. Textures are plentiful, such as the leather covering of Duke's tape recorder. The devastation in the hotel room following a three day drugs binge now reveals a huge amount of damage and collected debris. There is a smattering of grain in some of the scenes but to be honest it's barely noticeable, which was a surprise as I was expecting a grain heavy release on BD.
The colour palette is bold and solid, with ruby red cocktails and pale pink/lime green telephones everywhere! The colouring overall is bright and vibrant, perfectly recreating the garish backdrop of The Strip in all its neon glory. All of the filters which Gilliam employs now shine through. For example, during the andrenochrome scene, things take on a more reddish hue, to reflect the hellish trip which Duke is embarking on. I also recall that some of the scenes were somewhat dark and muted on the DVD release but this is a non-issue here. Shadow detail is greatly improved, with all of the dark and seedy Vegas back corridors and bars now exposing a lot more detail. The contrast ratio is strong, with some startlingly bright scenes, especially during the outdoor desert sequences. There are also some nice inky blacks on display, such as during the courtroom scene.
There are scant few instances of thee-dimensionality and the image remains stubbornly flat for the majority. There is a pleasing depth to some of the outdoor scenes but there are also some scenes of lesser quality, which have inherent softness that even BD can't rectify. These criticisms aside, it's the very noticeable improvement over the already outstanding Criterion DVD release which earns this release a high eight.
'Fear in Loathing in Las Vegas' comes packed with a 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio surround track.
Like the video presentation, the audio mix was never top drawer stuff so I wasn't expecting a reference standard track on this BD release. That being said there is some improvement here over the dts mix which was previously available on the DVD release. The uncompressed mix is largely front orientated and there are plenty of instances of excellent steerage and use of the front listening plane. For example, as the car whooshes by in the opening scene, you can really feel the power and speed of the Chevy. The surround channels are not overly active but there are a few instances where they provide some nice ambient effects. I did find this portion of the mix a little lacking and it's only during a couple of scenes, such as the bat attack sequence, where they really come to life. The sub complements the fronts but never produces any really gut rumbling bass. The exception to this rule being the andrenochrome scene which rocks the house - it's only a pity that the rest of the presentation is so subdued in comparison. Depp's narrative (including every “Eeeeeee” and “Oh shit”) and all other vocals are locked to the centre channel and never difficult to follow, although I did note some minor crackles but these were not overly noticeable.
The score, while containing some bone fide classics such as Tom Jone's “It's Not Usual”, Jefferson Airplane's (or is that Starship's!) “Somebody to Love”/”White Rabbit” and The Stone's “Jumpin' Jack Flash”, is mixed in an usual manner which doesn't always present the music in a typical fashion. For example, “Somebody to Love” is presented in LSD induced “fuzzy audio”. This is as the director intended and overall the sound engineering really suits the presentation. Surround bleed is adequate (if a little low in the mix) but I felt as though the score was definitely underpowered in the bass department.
All in all I don't think that this release will ever sound any better than this. The sound design is as quirky as the source material and this BD release come recommended.
Disappointingly, the extras portion on this Universal BD release is a far cry from the stellar selection of additional supplements which were available on the Criterion DVD release. The D-Box motion coding is included but unless you are a wealthy American chances are you will never avail of this (seemingly) fantastic feature. BD Live (with its usual collection of trailers), My Scenes and a “How To” guide about the BD's features is also included.
Deleted Scens (SD 11mins) Four scenes of unfinished quality are available here. The first features Gonzo and Raoul as they pretend to be police officers, filling a real officer of the law's head with depraved stories of a waitress her had her head chopped of in broad daylight outside a McDonalds! The second involves Raoul having a conversation with a backwater convenience store owner in Baker. The third involves Raoul's efforts to drink a dust free beer at the Mid400 bike race. The fourth is an alternate (and bizarre) “Government warning” style introduction to the movie. Some are amusing but are no real loss.
Spotlight on Location (SD 10mins) - This is basically a behind the scenes look at the making of the movie. Gilliam, Depp and Del Toro all give their thoughts on the movie and how they came to be involved. They speak about the methods for putting the scenes together and the very rapid manner in which the whole package was assembled. Amusingly Del Toro and Depp spent a lot of time getting drunk together in preparation for their respective roles in this movie.
'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas' was released in 1998 and was directed by ex-Python Terry Gilliam. This movie is an adaption of Hunter S. Thompson's novel of the same name, which has gained notoriety over the years. The content is twisted and depraved and it's hard to imagine a director more suited to take on the task than Gilliam. Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro take on the two main lead roles and are simply stunning. This movie is a hellish journey into the seedy underbelly of Las Vegas under the influence of countless substances set to a classic 70's soundtrack. It's sometimes difficult to watch but contains top flight performances from Depp and Del Toro and also features Gilliam's best work. Earning “cult classic” status over the years this is one of my all time favs and comes highly recommended.
The transfer is razor sharp and well defined for the majority but the quality of the source material (which is engineered to look from the 70's era) means that there are a couple of scenes of poorer quality. The audio is a little front heavy but this lossless mix does the well engineered surround track justice. The extras package lets this release down badly and is frankly a disgrace when compared to the Criterion DVD release. Overall this BD is well worth the upgrade but hold onto your Criterion release for the definitive collection of additional supplements.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £16.73
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