"Easy Rider" is a story that sticks with you and forces you to remember it, and in turn, because of this, it forces you to remember why the hippie/liberal movement was important in the first place.
Easy Rider (1969, Blu-ray)
Directors: Dennis Hopper
Writers: Peter Fonda (written by) & Dennis Hopper (written by) & Terry Southern (written by)
Features: * 35-page Digitbook * Commentary * Documentary
Peter Fonda ... Wyatt
Dennis Hopper ... Billy
Jack Nicholson ... George Hanson
Available on Blu-ray October 20, 2009.
I was not alive when "Easy Rider" arrived in theaters, but part of me wishes I was. Iíve spoken with fans and historians who recount seeing streams of tears running down moviegoersí faces (mostly teens) during the tragic finale. For them, "Easy Rider" wasnít just a film -- it defined a generation tattered by angst and it represented a lost war, an era of innocence long gone.
Today, "Easy Rider" plays more like a strange time capsule that takes you on a bizarre trip without the need for drugs. The film is rough around the edges, to be sure -- not every performance is flawless -- but itís still impacting and gut-wrenching in spots.
The picture is layered with social commentary and biting armchair politics with some notions that have yet to fade out of the mainstream consciousness. The age-old birthing pains of the liberal vs. conservative argument live on here, seen in brilliant color through director Dennis Hooperís wayward lens.
And the film is laced with great performances, the most memorable of which is Jack Nicholson who plays a drunken lawyer in search of adventure, and a purpose. Hooper is also stunning, but heís overshadowed by cinema-legend Peter Fonda, who drives the narrative forward as he and his comrade search for meaning, not realizing that life is passing them by with each stop they make.
Thereís so much to dissect in "Easy Rider" itís almost hard to take it all in with just one viewing. With each viewing, I tend to pick one topic (politics, religion, social justice, the hippie movement, etc.) and watch the film with just this topic in mind. This way, every time I watch the film, I pick up something new and rediscover the movie over and over again.
Frankly, Iím not really sure how the current generation of youths will absorb "Easy Rider." Some will likely find it boring, or stupid -- the product of a generation that donít understand (or hate). But many, I assume, might just be as compelled as audiences were in the late 60s and early 70s -- connecting to the angst and disillusion of the film, something most teens share as youths.
If nothing else, "Easy Rider" is a story that sticks with you and forces you to remember it, and in turn, because of this, it forces you to remember why the hippie/liberal movement was important in the first place, even if this movement has yet to turn the tides.
Film Report Card:
Entertainment Value: A
Film Value: A
"Easy Rider" is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen using the AVC MPEG-4 codec on a dual-layered BD50 disc consuming 34 gigs of disc space. The film itself consumes 27.4 gigs of space. The transfer presented here is far from reference, wrought with crushed, milky textures and little depth. But, I'm not too surprised, either. The film wasn't exactly shot using top-quality film stock and I imagine there was little that could be done to polish the original master. With that in mind, this transfer's pretty solidly remastered.
The print is free of any intrusive dust elements. There are very few encode flaws, either. I did spot a few edge haloes from time to time, though. Annoyingly, grain seems to have been smoothed away using DNR, but perhaps I'm mistaken on that. Colors are soft, with a preponderance of brown everywhere in sight, barring the psychedelic graveyard sequence. Image sharpness, like I said earlier, is lacking with only a handful of scenes that really pop (mostly indoor moments). Frankly, I imagine this print is about as good as it is ever going to get, but who knows, perhaps a detailed 8k-scanned frame-by-frame remaster would yield better results. Frankly, I don't see that happening anytime soon. But donít fret, "Easy Rider" looks damn good on Blu-ray.
Audio choices are English, French and Portuguese 5.1 TrueHD, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 and English Mono with English, French, Portuguese and Spanish subtitles and English captions for the hearing impaired. Center dialogue is clean and crisp and discrete effects are surprisingly effective, stable and incredibly well balanced between front and rear surrounds, though some spots sound a little tinny. Bass is robust and powerful, giving weight to the film while surround usage gives an added dimensionality to the feature. Never once was a disappointed by this mix. Fans are sure to be pleased with the results. If not, the mono mix is also included. Purists will likely prefer that mix.
Extras and Packaging:
The copy of the film, provided from Sony, came packed in a single-disc BD Digibook case with the filmís re-release artwork. I like these books in concept, but the delivery is almost always underwhelming, as it is here. The book is packed with press notes, trivia, cast breakdowns and more, but all of this could have been placed on a BD-Live site.
There arenít many on-disc extras, but whatís included is worthwhile nonetheless.
ē Commentary -- Director/writer/star Dennis Hopper chats about makes his movie, from its cultural impact to production trivia. He gets a little dry in spots, but on the whole this is a terrific listen.
ē Documentary: Shaking the Cage (75 minutes, SD) -- This terrific retrospective documentary examines the production and the filmís impact. The doc certainly covers territories discussed in the Hopper commentary, but adds even more flavor to the mix. Combined with the commentary, fans are given the most complete history of the film currently available.
Moving on to BD-exclusives, weíve got Sonyís standard BD-Live connectivity. Thereís also a BD-Live extra called "MovieIQ," which allows you to enjoy up-to-date info on the filmís cast and crew. A neat idea that I hope gets implemented on more releases in the future.
"Easy Rider" is a ceminal piece of filmmaking. And this terrific Blu-ray only adds to the film's brilliance. If youíre a fan of this film, Iíd highly recommend picking this release up.
Blu-ray Report Card:
HD Content: C-
Recommendation: A must-own title for cinema fans.
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----R. L. Shaffer