There’s something about the great outdoors that makes a movie seem…right. Sounds weird, right? That’s what Easy Rider is, a movie about being there, sometimes in the wrong place at the wrong time. Peter Fonda (Captain America/Wyatt) and Dennis Hopper (Billy) are two bikers on their way to New Orleans to “get down” at Mardi Gras. They have just “hit the big one” by scoring some cocaine and sold it to a wealthy man in Los Angeles. Knowing that they are financiall set for quite a while, they decide to head on to the great outdoors. Now, in a nutshell, that’s it. Two guys ride cool bikes and come across some unfortunate things, movie ends.
But it ain’t like that. This was released at the tail end of the 60’s, a decade that changed the way we are…forever. As Dennis Hopper says in the documentary, the Summer of Love was over and so were the 60’s. On their way to Mardi Gras, they come across Jack Nicholson’s character, who they meet in jail. They were arrested for “parading without a permit”, typical…Oddly enough, George (Nicholson) is an ACLU lawyer, but also an alcoholic. Things happen and he heads off with them, only to be the brunt of some local hicks violence.
That’s what this movie is about, how people are viewed. It showed that even after all the Civil Rights marches and “Peace”, that people were still judged by their looks, color of skin, length of their hair…What they learn from George is that people in general are afraid of them (Wyatt and Billy) not because of what they look like, but what they represent—Freedom. People are so set in their ways that they’ll resort to violence (and do) to keep things in a status quo.
Now don’t get me wrong, Easy Rider is a movie that I haven’t seen until now, but I loved it instantly. I had always thought of it as “that motorcycle movie”, but now I realize that it’s something much, much more. It’s a journey, not only across America, but perhaps a bridge from the 60’s to the 70’s and beyond…Not to be missed!
Video: How does it look?
Easy Rider was once in the hands of Sony (or way back when, Columbia/Tristar) but was added to Criterion’s slate a couple years ago as part of a box set. Like a few of those other movies, this now has a stand alone release in case you didn’t want to drop a few hundred dollars on the set. This appears to be the exact same disc from that set and, as such, the same video transfer. There’s not a lot I can say about Criterion’s releases and Easy Rider is no exception. The image was given a brand new 4K restoration a couple of years ago and it looks amazing. I still have my old DVD of the movie and broke it out for comparison’s sake and let me tell you that the difference is nearly night and day. The 1.85:1 AVC HD image has a more clean and polished look and that’s saying something as this movie hasn’t always been easy on the eyes. The harsh lighting, the abundance of sunlight (bear in mind that this is a “road” movie) create some harsh shadows. Everything has been cleaned up, some dirt and grain are still prevalent but not an intrusive way. Chalk another one up for Criterion as they’ve taken this modern classic and given it a new lease on life.
Audio: How does it sound?
Years ago, this movie featured a remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. That’s now gone and has been replaced by one of three available tracks on this disc. The obvious choice, for me anyway, would be the included DTS HD Master Audio mix. Yes, it doesn’t hold a candle to some of today’s soundtracks, but in my opinion, it’s the best the movie has ever sounded. Vocals don’t have that annoying “pop” to them and this seems to have just the right mix of ambiance and depth to really impress. Also included is a DTS HD Master Audio 2.0 track which sounds nearly as good and the film’s original mono track. Either way you go, it’s going to satisfy and it’s nice to have such a variety of choices here.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Audio Commentaries -Two total, the first with Dennis Hopper is probably the one I really enjoyed the most. Hopper, who is no longer with us, seems to have a real affinity for this film as well he should. Yes, there are some dead spots, but it’s actually a very nice track and if I’m not mistaken, the one that appeared on the Sony disc from years past. The second track features Peter Fonda, production manager Paul Lewis, and Dennis Hopper. This one is, understandably, a little more chatty but nonetheless chock full of information about the shoot and the film as a whole.
Born to Be Wild – Also included is this BBC documentary which features some interviews with the cast and crew. Running at only 30 minutes, I’m sure there could have been a lot more, but this is a good crash course in the film, its history and some of the key players involved.
Shaking the Cage – If you do have a bit more time on your hands, then this 65 minute documentary does go a bit further into the production along with the assorted interviews with the cast and crew.
Hopper and Fonda at Cannes – Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda were filmed for a French television show on May 22, 1969 as they tell the story of the film, all the while trying to blend in (and it doesn’t really work out that well for them).
Steve Blauner – New to this Criterion release is this segment which, in a nutshell, boils down to one thing – studio involvement. I’ll leave it at that, but it’s an interesting watch for sure.
Trailers – Two total.
The Bottom Line
Easy Rider is one of those movies that was hailed as an instant classic the moment it came out. It’s a snapshot of one of the most important and instrumental times in the history of the United States. Though Hopper and Fonda get the accolades, it did provide a segue for Jack Nicholson to make his mark on the world of acting. Criterion has done this right, as usual, though if you already own the box set that this appeared in – there’s no reason to pick up this stand alone disc.