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Johnny Depp in the film version of "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas"

'Love it or hate it'

Gilliam takes on Hunter S. Thompson's 'Fear and Loathing'

Web posted on: Thursday, May 21, 1998 5:35:48 PM EDT

HOLLYWOOD (CNN) -- It was only a matter of time before "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," Hunter S. Thompson's classic counterculture tale of a mad, drug-induced rush into the lights of Las Vegas, made it to the silver screen.

The book, originally published in 1971 in Rolling Stone magazine, is what Thompson calls his "frenzied experiment" in "gonzo journalism," a search for the nonexistent American dream.

From its opening paragraph, "Fear and Loathing" rides at a torrid pace, taking readers on unimaginable trips through paranoid delusions, addictions and crimes, all of them seemingly justified by Thompson's sardonic wit. The book is made for Hollywood.

But only now, 27 years after it was first published, is "Fear and Loathing," the movie, being released. And thanks to the the Hollywood attention, the book is rising up book charts.


Watch the trailer to "Fear and Loathing"

(6 Mb QuickTime movie)

True to Thomspon

Directed by Terry Gilliam ("Twelve Monkeys," "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen") and starring Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro, the film does not try to sanitize the book to market it for mass appeal.

"It wasn't like sitting down and saying, 'Let's see if we can design a film that will capture the book, but maybe work for a mass audience,'" director Gilliam said. "There was none of that. It was 'Can we translate this book into a film?'"

Depp, who has proven he can take on characters from real life in movies like "Ed Wood" and "Donnie Brasco," jumped at the chance to play Thompson's character, code-named in the book "Raoul Duke." The actor spent four months with Thompson, even travelling with him as a road manager.


"And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about a hundred miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas."

-- From "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" by Hunter S. Thompson

"I was known as 'Ray, Head of Security' in the bookstores and stuff where he was signing books," Depp said. "I just spent an enormous amount of time with him and watched him like a hawk. Studied him. I tried to steal his soul."

Depp has earned raves for his imitation of Thompson's drug-crazed drawl.

"This is bat country"

'Love it or hate it'

The film was shot in a rapid-fire 55 days, with a budget of just under $18 million. Gilliam says the film is not for the typical movie crowd. In fact, he expects to receive a wide range of responses.

"If you're going to be one of the sheep, that our clever marketing technique lures into the theater, you're going to be in trouble," Gilliam said. "I want people to love it or hate it. I don't want people to say, 'Oh, that was OK, not so bad.' We want to get responses from people, see if they are alive."

"I'm sure when the book came out a lot of people called it a masterpiece and a lot of people called it garbage," Del Toro said. "I hope some people can respect it for what it is."

"Let's get down to brass tacks here, man. How much for the ape?"

What the book is now is a paperback best-seller, according to the Independent Bestseller List, which has it listed at number three this week. But if the movie and the book aren't enough for fans, there's more.

The film's Web site makes excellent use of Internet multimedia to send Web surfers on a virtual trip that would make Raoul Duke proud.

"Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" opens in theaters on Friday. It's also playing at the Cannes Film Festival. All aboard for the American dream.

Correspondent Dennis Michael contributed to this report.

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