It’s been almost half a century since Hunter S. Thompson immortalised his semi-autobiographical chronicle of wretched, debauched and drug-addled mayhem in America’s most psychedelic city. The book’s many quirky and hysterical adventures of Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo’s failed attempts to cover the Mint 400 race, then the Police Convention on Narcotics, have become legendary. It’s fitting then that now, fifty years on and twenty years after the “unfilmable” book was finally brought to yoke by Terry Gilliam, that there is a new Blu Ray release of the cult classic.
While it’s well known that the characters of Duke and Gonzo are thinly veneered stand-ins for Thompson and his lawyer Oscar Acosta, the honest truth of how much really occurred can only ever be guessed at. But the story remains: two crazy men visiting Las Vegas in an open-top car, with an article to write and a suitcase full of illegal drugs to fuel them. From there comes an orgy of screaming, knives, guns, watermelons, white rabbits and Barbara Streisand. Whipped into form with Johnny Depp channelling Thompson’s manic energy and frantic gurning, offset by Benicio del Toro‘s ever more threatening, sinisterly-studied, monolithic portrayal of Acosta.
The film is a roller-coaster of madcap vignettes, strung together with Thompson’s lyrical prose and a top drawer cast of Hollywood faces filling out almost every minor role, and a sense of fun that defies the inherent danger ever-present amidst the coke, ether and adrenochrome-saturated moments. It’s a story that defies the audience to make sense of it. Although not complex, Gilliam’s film captures layers in ever scene, and merits further revisits with new discoveries. This is certainly the case with Arrow Video’s pristine 4K restoration transfer.
A question one might ask is that after 50 years whether there really is much more to be said about Hunter, Gonzo journalism, and Fear and Loathing in written or celluloid form? Considering that there are already several Blu-ray releases of the film, including the excellent 2011 Criterion Edition release, it’s fair to ask whether this is a release anyone needs. The answer is a clear and resounding affirmative, and only an ibogaine-addicted imbecile would fail to see it.
The package comes with a swathe of brand new extra material, including a recently recorded director’s commentary from Gilliam, who regales stories and affected “aaahs” with breathless joy and a wistfulness that feels very much in keeping with the story. In addition, there are interviews with del Toro and producer Laila Nabulsi, deleted scenes and the feature-length documentary Buy the Ticket Take the Ride: Hunter S Thompson on Film.
However, the real cherry on the cake is the limited edition second disc, which is devoted entirely to the work of the much-overlooked contributor to Gonzo journalism’s legacy, Ralph Steadman. This contains the 2012 documentary For No Good Reason, which charts the life and work of the artist, as well as his relationship with Thompson and influence on what became known as Gonzo. Rounding out the package nicely, and just in time for Christmas.
Available on Ltd. Ed Blu-Ray from Monday 9 Dec 2019