Sony Pictures | 1969 | 96 mins. | Rated R
I’m not sure there’s ever been a popular film that has so completely captured one slice of a particular time and place, as well as Easy Rider did. Written by Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Terry Southern, Easy Rider is a quintessential road picture, fueled by the sex, drugs and rock and roll lifestyle that defined many who were a part of the sixties counterculture. The script lacks much of a defined structure, but that seems appropriate given the amount of upheaval the United States was experiencing at the time; from the opening riffs of Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild,” audience’s members realized they were in for a new kind of cinematic journey.
Easy Rider follows freewheeling motorcyclists Wyatt (Peter Fonda) and Billy (Dennis Hopper) as they purchase drugs in Mexico and quickly sell them in Los Angeles for a hefty profit to finance a cross-country trip to attend the Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans, Louisiana. More importantly, the big score will allow the two men the freedom to travel the country, unimpeded by time or schedules. Along the way, they pick up a hitchhiker (he never gives his name), who introduces them to life at a hippie commune. In a small town in Texas, they get arrested and thrown in jail for ‘parading without a license.’ There, they meet George Hanson (Jack Nicholson), an alcoholic lawyer, who proudly states he’s done a lot of work for the ACLU.
Fascinated by Wyatt and Billy’s carefree spirit negotiates their release in exchange for a ride to New Orleans. Since New Orleans is Wyatt and Billy’s last stop, they readily agree to take him along. Unfamiliar, with Marijuana, Wyatt and Billy quickly introduce their new traveling companion to its charms. Yet, the tone of the film changes when Jack Nicholson’s character enters the picture; there’s a sense that a delicate balance has somehow been disturbed.
In a small town close to New Orleans, the freedom of the American open road turns on them when they encounter small town redneck bigotry. In George’s fireside speech about the freedom Wyatt and Billy represent, their lack of understanding shows a naivety about their own way of life and the beliefs of the larger populace. Having Billy and Wyatt be unaware of what their lifestyle represented to outsiders, made the story more accessible to viewers, rather than just a quick trip into the world of hippie-dom.
Very much a product of its time, Easy Rider is heavily influenced by the ‘psychedelic” feel of the late sixties. It’s very evident in the prolonged LSD scene, but director Dennis Hopper used countless quick, jerky movements with a handheld camera that can be a bit much at times. Of course, that’s someone looking at the film forty years later, who wasn’t even around when Easy Rider first hit the theaters. While one might be able to complain about some of the camera work, there’s no denying that it’s the soundtrack, the Captain America bike and the open road that most people will remember after seeing Easy Rider. If you’ve never seen it, make the time; Easy Ride us a snapshot of a brief period in American life that is gone forever.
Easy Rider comes to Blu-ray with a spectacular 1080p, 1.85:1-framed transfer. Detail is generally exceptional throughout; whether the scuffs on Wyatt’s red, white, and blue helmet or the textures seen on the desert rocks at the Hippie commune, the transfer showcases a clear, sharp, and natural film-like image. There’s also a solid sense of depth; backgrounds are generally sharp and nicely rendered without much loss in detail. Colors are beautifully reproduced. Also featuring strong black levels and natural flesh tones, Easy Rider represents a fine transfer of forty-year-old a catalog title.
Easy Rider has a solid Dolby TrueHD 5.1 lossless soundtrack. The track enjoys several moments of amped-up special effects. A few planes scream from front to back during a drug deal early in the film; the effect is accompanied by a fair level of bass, plenty of volume, and seamless flow from front to back. Dialogue is fine, though there are a few instances where voices drop a bit. Easy Rider’s soundtrack is all about the music, and its delivery here is exceptional. “Born to be Wild” features superb clarity through the entire range, including a solid low end. The other tracks are all very well presented.
Easy Rider has the following special features:
• Audio Commentary: Actor/Writer/Director Dennis Hopper discusses the film’s roots, writing the script with Peter Fonda, shooting locations, the film’s budget, the soundtrack serving as part of the narrative of the story, and more. Despite some stretches of silence, fans will enjoy this track.
• Easy Rider: Shaking the Cage (480p, 1:04:51), an in-depth documentary that recounts the history of the production from beginning to end. The cast and crew discuss writing the film, the difficulty of the shoot, the role of drugs in culture and in the film, shooting on a tight budget, adding the soundtrack, the film’s reception, and more.
• Digi-book: A 35-page full-color booklet which contains the following: “Head Out on the Highway: The Songs of Easy Rider;” bios of stars Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, and Jack Nicholson; a short biography of Co-Writer Terry Southern; and the essay “Born to Be Wild: Freedom and Captivity in Hollywood Post-Easy Rider” by Travis Baker.
• BD-Live functionality
• MovieIQ that offers live, up-to-date details about every scene, including cast and crew filmographies and biographies, soundtrack listings, and more
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