While Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) ultimately acts as a retrospective on the 1960’s counterculture, it is most often noted for its depictions of illegal drug use, particularly that of hallucinogens and psychedelics. With that in mind, what better way to view the film than through Google’s DeepDream?
Originally code-named Inception, after Christopher Nolan’s Academy Award-winning film Inception (2010), DeepDream is a computer vision program that uses a convolutional neural network to find and enhance patterns in images through algorithmic pareidolia. Developed for the ImageNet Large-Scale Visual Recognition Challenge in 2014 and released in July 2015, the software is designed to detect faces and other patterns in images, with the aim of automatically classifying images and attempt to ascertain what is happening in a picture.
As a result of this process, however, psychedelic and surreal imagery is generated, and the dreamlike appearance of the deliberately over-processed images is often compared to the aesthetic of LSD and psilocybin-induced hallucinations.
After DeepDream’s launch, Google made the code open source, which enables users to subject their own digital photos and videos to the program. This inspired YouTube user Roelof Pieters to apply the code to a scene from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, creating the clip, Deep Dreaming Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas: the Great San Francisco Acid Wave.
Taken straight from Monty Python member Terry Gilliam’s (Brazil, 12 Monkeys) film adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s defining piece of gonzo journalism (which was originally printed as a two-part series for Rolling Stone magazine in 1971 and was later published as a book in 1972), this scene shows narrator Raoul Duke (Johnny Depp) navigating his way through a San Francisco nightclub as Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love” plays in the background.
Although it is stated in the first-person narration that the author’s alter ego is experiencing the effects of the hallucinogenic drugs, the visual effects are not shown in the original clip. It is only in Pieters’ rendition of the scene that we see the Duke and his fellow club-goers cross the line between human and animal-like forms. Perhaps this trippy addition comes closer to any illustration by Fear and Loathing artist Ralph Steadman than the average CGI one your typical summer blockbuster might produce.