Director Tom Thurman's 2006 documentary Buy The Ticket, Take The Ride: Hunter S. Thompson On Film is a look at exactly what the title states, that being the films that Thompson's life and exploits inspired, primarily Where The Buffalo Roam and Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas. Those looking for an in-depth documentary or biography on Thompson himself may walk away disappointed from this one, but for those who want some background information on the unique films that were made based on the late author's work, the film proves to be pretty interesting.
Made up of archival clips (many of which can also be seen in Breakfast With Hunter and Fear And Loathing In Gonzovision) and interviews with various writers, actors and directors inspired by the man as well as acquaintances and friends, the film does give us a quick biography to set the scene. We learn of Thompson's early days in Kentucky and how he became a juvenile delinquent before enlisting in the U.S. Air Force where he began his journalistic career. From there we're told of his early works and how he rose to prominence after covering the Kentucky Derby. Thompson would go on to commit suicide in 2005, and his ashes were shot out of a cannon across the grounds of his ranch as per his request thanks in no small part to Johnny Depp. Once the stage is set, the film switches gears and focuses primarily on the aforementioned films. Nick Nolte provides some appropriately gravelly sounding narration for the film.
Interviewees wrangled for the film include Bill Murray and Johnny Depp (the two actors who are best known for their portrayals of Thompson), Gary Busey, John Cusack, Benicio Del Toro, Harry Dean Stanton, and Sean Penn as well as authors, journalists and critics like Leonard Maltin, Ed Bradley, William Brinkley, and Tom Wolfe. Hunter's former wife, Anita Thompson, shows up to speak about her time at the Woody Ranch in Colorado that Hunter called home for so many years.
Highlights in the film include an eccentric Gary Busey harassing the director and trying to get him to interview him in a more interesting manner, Cusack talking about playing shotgun golf with Hunter on the ranch, and Thom Wolfe explaining why Thompson's writing is so important and comparing him to Mark Twain. Everyone who appears on camera shows an obvious admiration for the man and his work, and everyone has their own story about an encounter with him or about how he influenced them in one way or another. This doesn't lend the documentary a whole lot of serious critical depth or analysis but it does put a personal touch on the film that lends the picture some charm. The interviews with friends and those who knew Thompson on a more personal level are the highlights of the picture and it's in these segments that the movie really succeeds in painting a more intimate picture of the infamous scribe. Artist Ralph Steadman's recollections on his adventures with the late author are also amusing and at times even a little touching in a strange sort of way.
At under eighty-minutes in length, the film is a little on the short side but Thurman has paced his film well and he does seem to cover the ground he set out to cover. The documentary effectively takes us quickly through Hunter's life and then explains the significance of his work and his influence on the films that were made about him. Depp and Murray get a lot of screen time, which is understandable since they played him, and as interesting as these two actors can be they are, surprisingly, some of the weaker links in the picture. They discuss their take on playing the man but don't really get into the fine details though Murray's recollections of his meeting with Thompson is definitely amusing and it's obvious from Depp's reaction to some of the questions that he certainly had an affinity for the man. A few too many clips are used in the film and as such it does feel a bit padded in spots but aside from that, it does a decent job of examining the films even if it could have been a better picture by spending a bit more time on Thompson's life and times.
With that said and done, make sure you sit through the end credits if you're a Harry Dean Stanton fan.
Buy The Ticket, Take The Ride arrives on DVD in a solid 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. While the newer interview footage looks nice, some of the older clips of Thompson from the sixties and seventies aren't in the best of shape. That said, they're all perfectly watchable even if many of them are faded and soft looking. The modern footage is bright and colorful and comes through without any heavy compression artifacts or obvious edge enhancement. Detail levels are fine if unremarkable and the movie looks fine on this disc.
The English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track is far from fancy but it gets the job done without any serious issues. There are a few spots where, in the archival clips, Thompson mumbles a fair bit and as such is a little difficult to understand but that was the way he spoke a lot of the time and that's not so much a problem with the DVD as it is with its subject. Aside from that, things are decent. The newly shot interview clips sound nice and clear and while some of the older clips aren't quite as clean sounding as the newer material, most of them come through without any problems.
Aside from static menus and chapter stops, Starz has supplied a couple of television spots used to promote the film. Other than that, this puppy is barebones, which is a shame as it would have been nice to hear a commentary or see some deleted clips from the various interviews that make up the bulk of the feature.
While this isn't the best documentary on Hunter S. Thompson ever made, it is an interesting look at the films that his life inspired. The interviews are, for the most part, fairly interesting and while we don't really learn anything new about Thompson from this film, it's at least an interesting examination of his life, times and influence. Recommended for Thompson junkies, a solid rental for everyone else.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.