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Easy Rider: 40th Anniversary (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

October 16, 2009 by  



“A fantastic film which is literally a time capsule capturing the late 60’s with its avant-garde style of filmmaking at that time, it’s groundbreaking musical soundtrack, the fact that the cast and crew were drugged out most of the time and the amazing experiences that happened behind-the-scenes.  ‘Easy Rider: 40th Anniversary’ is historic film of Americana during the late 60s that is captured on film and looks and sounds incredible on Blu-ray.  This is the definitive version to own of the film right now and is highly recommended!”

Images courtesy of © 1969, renewed 1997 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Easy Rider: 40th Anniversary

DURATION: 95 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:85:1), English, French and Portuguese Dolby TrueHD 5.1, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, English Original Mono

COMPANY:  Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

RATED: R

Release Date: October 20, 2009

Directed by Dennis Hopper

Written by Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda and Terry Southern

Executive Producer: Bert Schneider

Producer: Peter Fonda

Associate Producer: William Hayward

Cinematography by Laszlo Kovacs

Edited by Donn Cambern

Art Direction by Jeremy Kay

Starring:

Peter Fonda as Wyatt

Dennis Hopper as Billy

Jack Nicholson as George Hanson

Luke Askew as Stranger on Highway

Antonio Mendoza as Jesus

Tony Basil as Mary

Karen Black as Karen

LuAnn Anders as Lisa

Sabrina Scharf as Sarah

Sandy Brown Wyeth as Joanne

Robert Walker Jr. as Jack

Phil Spector as Connection

Experience the real ’60s counterculture in this compelling mixture of drugs, sex and armchair politics. Academy Award®-winner Jack Nicholson (Best Actor, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, 1975; Best Supporting Actor, Terms of Endearment, 1983; Best Actor, As Good As It Gets, 1997) stars with Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper (who also directs) in this unconventional classic which Time Magazine hails as “one of the ten most important pictures of the decade.” Nominated for an Academy Award® (1969) for Best Original Screenplay (written by Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Terry Southern), EASY RIDER continues to touch a chord with fans everywhere.

In 1969, the film “Easy Rider” debuted with much fanfare in America.  Not only would the film receive distinction as an important film that depicted the late 60’s in America but it would be the first Independent film to be created with a low budget (under $400,000) and made $19 million dollars in the box office.   And help install confidence for the film studios that a Independent films can be successful and also a film created on a low budget can be successful as well.  Not only that, the film would be groundbreaking in that it used contemporary rock music at that time by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Byrds, Steppenwolf and more.

“Easy Rider” would star very good friends Dennis Hopper (“Colors”, “The Last Movie”, “Hoosiers”) and Peter Fonda (“The Last Movie”, “South Beach”, “3:10 to Yuma”) in which Hopper would direct and Fonda would produce.  The two also wrote the film along with Terry Southern (“Barbarella”, “Casino Royale”, “The Telephone”).

The film revolves around two bikers Wyatt (Fonda) and Billy (Hopper) who begin the movie by smuggling drugs from Mexico to Los Angeles and making a very good profit.  With the money, the two can do what they want and that is to go on a on a road trip on their Harley Davidson choppers and drive to New Orleans, Louisiana for Mardi Gras.

Wyatt hides the money in his motorcycle’s gas tank and the two embark on a trip enjoying the scenery and the freedom of traveling America.  Throughout the trip, we see the two drive and see the scenery of the trees, mountains and the open road way with popular music at that time.

During their trip, they encounter a hitchhiker (Luke Askew, “Manhunter”, “The Quest”) who they pick up and drive to a hippie commune.  Then the two end up driving through a parade in which they don’t have a permit and end up being put in jail.  This is where they meet ACLU lawyer George Hanson (Jack Nicholson, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, “Terms of Endearment”, “As Good As It Gets”) and learn that he is a drunkard but has always wanted to go to Mardi Gras.

So, when the two are released, they head out to New Orleans but what they don’t expect is that what may have seem like freedom so far, until they hit certain areas they learn that people’s perception of them are different.  People with long hair or people wearing leather pants are being looked at as “hippie queers” and the prejudice runs deep in those parts of America.

“Easy Rider: 40th Anniversary” was hailed by Time Magazine as “one of the ten most important pictures of the decade” and entered the Library of Congress National Registry in 1998 because the film showcases America during that volatile time back in the late 60’s.

The independent film was also quite volatile behind-the-scenes as Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda who were close friends at the beginning of the film, because of the demands of the film, the two had a falling out.  The film featured a lot of fighting between the crew, there was a lot of drug use with not only the cast but also the crew.  In fact, some of the scenes used on the film, the talent were wasted on marijuana and some have said that it was remarkable how much the actors were able to work while high on drugs.

The famous choppers that the two drove, although there were four total, two for backup.  The person in charge of watching over the choppers, Tex Hall, had a robbery attempt at his home with a shotgun on him and his girlfriend and the motorcycles were stolen.

And as for the people in the small towns, Hopper used actual people not actors and thus what we are truly seeing in the film are real reactions by Southerners in Louisiana reacting to the men who had long hair (Hopper) and Fonda’s black leather pants.  These were just a few things that happened behind-the-scenes of “Easy Rider”.

Needless to say, “Easy Rider” is definitely a time capsule for that moment of time and not only do you get the film, you also get the “Easy Rider: Shaking the Cage” in which viewers get to learn from each cast and crew of how volatile things were while shooting the film and things that happened behind-the-scenes that will definitely surprise people.

VIDEO & AUDIO:

“Easy Rider” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:85:1) for the first time.  For a film created back in 1968, the film looks absolutely great, not perfect but still great.  No blemishes and certain outdoor scenes look absolutely fantastic and for a film 40-years-old, I have to say that it looks better than many films that I have seen released back in the 1980’s and 90’s.  Grain is kept and for the most part, detail of the chopper’s, Billy’s clothing, Wyatt’s sunglasses, you see that detail. There were some scenes, such as the visit to the commune where picture quality seems a little aged compared to the rest of the film but for the most part, this is the best looking version of “Easy Rider” to date.

As for audio, the film is presented in English, French and Portuguese Dolby TrueHD 5.1.  Also in Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital and the original English mono soundtrack.  For the most part, the film is front and center channel driven and during my first viewing, but that impressive soundtrack that this film is known for is nice and clear, dialogue is nice and clear and the revving of the motorcycles is nice and clear.  The film is dialogue and music driven and there is surround channel usage during the trippy drug-induced parts of the film when you hear voice all around you but also during that brief and tragic action sequence at the end of the film.  But the music…from hearing that bass guitar and percussion in union on “If 6 was 9” from The Jimi Hendrix Experience to that electric guitar and well known vocals of Steppenwolf of “Born to Be Wild” with the men on their bikes, that’s classic but to hear it on DolbyTrue HD is awesome!

Speaking of the film’s soundtrack, “Easy Rider” was one of the first films to have an original score and feature popular contemporary rock songs at that time.  Included in the film are:

  • Steppenwolf – The Pusher
  • Steppenwolf – Born to Be Wild
  • The Byrds – Wasn’t Born to Follow
  • The Band – The Weight
  • The Holy Modal Rounders – If You Want to Be a Bird
  • Fraternity of  Man – Don’t Bogart Me
  • The Jimi Hendrix Experience – If 6 Was 9
  • Electric Prunes – Kyrie Eleison
  • The Electric Flag – Flash, Bam, Pow
  • Roger McGuinn – It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)
  • Roger McGuinn – Ballad of Easy Rider

As for subtitles, the subtitles are in English, English SDH, French, Portuguese and Spanish.

SPECIAL FEATURES

“Easy Rider: 40th Anniversary” receives Sony’s special digibook packaging with a total of 36-pages and information on the music, the talent and an essay of the importance of the film and the beginning of New Hollywood.  As for special features, the following are included:

  • MovieIQ – Viewers can watch the film via BD-Live and get up-to-date details on the characters, behind-the-scene factoids, music and more.
  • Audio Commentary by Dennis Hopper – When it comes to “Easy Rider”, as mentioned by the people who worked on the film, everyone has a story and in this case, we hear Dennis Hopper’s commentary of the film.  For the most part its informative but Hopper tends to not speak for long stretches in time (I’m guessing he was engrossed in watching the film) and he’s actually quite quiet.
  • Easy Rider, Shaking the Cage Documentary – (1:04:51) The crew and talent of “Easy Rider” give us a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of this film, how volatile things were and also dangerous.  An amazing documentary. Note: This documentary was featured in the DVD release and is featured in standard definition, English stereo and subtitles in Portuguese and Spanish.

“Easy Rider: 40th Anniversary” makes it’s HD debut and for the most part, the result is making this Blu-ray release the definitive version to own with its impressive picture quality and for those who wanted to hear that awesome soundtrack in lossless audio, you have that option as well as the original theatrical mono version as well.

When I was watching the film, you can tell how special and how unique the film truly was.  It’s one thing to have a motorcycle road film and showcasing the allure of someone that can be seen as an outlaw but in this film, it truly is a time capsule as we are watching something that captures America during that time.  From recreating the hippie commune of New Buffalo (in New Mexico) of many hippie men and women with kids all over the place to capturing that Southern feel towards hippies and men in leather (the guys weren’t gay but because of they were outside of the norm of that area, they were considered offensive) and of course, the music, the motorcycles, the drug use.  That’s the late 60’s.

Also, some may view “Easy Rider” as a creative and artistic film as Hopper wanted to take advantage of creative editing styles but it would be interesting to see how his original 220 minute feature would be compared to the Henry Jaglom edited final 95 minute theatrical version.

“Easy Rider” was also a first.  Being an independent film created less than $400,000 and making millions.  Jack Nicholson who was planning to quit from acting, was made a bonafide star thanks in part to this film and of course, ushering the new era of Hollywood and received the distinction of being in the American Film Institute’s “Top 100 Films of All Time” (at #88) and Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild” at #29 for “Top 100 Songs of All Time”.

And of course, the behind-the-scenes making of the film and knowing how drugged out the talent were during the filming and how some improvised scenes or scenes that were not in the script, ended up in the film is quite interesting.

If you have never owned “Easy Rider”, this film deserves to be in your collection.  This is one of those rare films that manages to capture American culture at that time.  This film embodies the term “sex, drugs and rock n’ roll” and once you are done with the film, “Easy Rider: Shaking the Cage”, the documentary will definitely impress you.

If you are a cinema fan, “Easy Rider: 40th Anniversary” on Blu-ray is a film that deserves to be in your collection.  Even if you owned a previous version and not much is added in terms of special featuers content, the film is worth the double dip for that awesome HD presentation and it’s rockin’ lossless soundtrack.  This film is highly recommended!

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