BADass SINema Unearthed - Blu-ray Review
- Published Date
- by Loron Hays
The odds were not in Easy Rider's favor. Coming off of Roger Corman's The Wild Angels and the Jack Nicholson-penned The Trip, Peter Fonda was digging his heels into the counterculture scene. He and wild man Dennis Hopper, driven to tell another tale of freedom, brought the idea of two drug-dealing bikers on a road trip to New Orleans in search of the real America to Corman first. He immediately saw his role in it as producer and set to work to get the film released through American International Pictures.
The project was a deeply personal film for them; they wanted to rattle the cages of the studios that were still making Gidget and Beach Blanket Bingo flicks. They wanted to offer a film for the youth of 1969 and Fonda knew the audience was hungry for authentic tales only B-movies could offer. Only they would get the beauty of two lone figures of the counterculture on two wheels with John Ford's America as a backdrop.
While Terry Southern of Dr. Strangelove fame gets the official screenwriting credit, Hopper and Fonda officially "wrote" the largely improved script and Corman was on board to produce...until a loudmouthed executive at AIP suggested that Hopper, already an actor with a loaded reputation, was not reliable as the film's director. Corman, having worked with Hopper on The Trip, tried unsuccessfully to calm the waters.
Columbia Picture, well aware of the financial success of Corman's The Wild Angels had three years prior, swooped in amidst the disgruntled chaos and offered the duo a better deal. Corman told them to take advantage of the film company's generosity and, to this day, the loss of Easy Rider is the B-movie King's biggest regret. It's hard to know; however, what sort of impact he would have had on the film. His plan was to be on the set during the entire shoot and anyone who knows Corman knows he runs a pretty tight ship.
And, yes, Hopper - as the film's director – during the seven-week shoot became unhinged and unpredictable. There are wild tales documented in several books involving drugs, sex, alcohol, complete with a paranoid tantrum or two from him. He was controlling and manipulative and that was just the first week of shooting in New Orleans. The incoherent dailies made Columbia executives uneasy.
Haphazardly filmed by László Kovács after Hopper broke a guitar over the head of the film's original cinematographer, the footage that made up Easy Rider was assembled by Hopper into a four-hour film that no one wanted to see. Hopper whittled that down to 2 and a half hours and still Columbia was not pleased. Fonda and editor Donn Cambern, much to the displeasure of Hopper, took a stab at assembling the film and presented it in its current 95 minutes and the result is pure cinematic heaven. Take a load off indeed.
With Jack Nicholson's ni-ck, ni-ck, ni-ck performance as George Hanson, the film became a powerhouse, grossing $60,000,000 worldwide. It was an influential juggernaut that sent a clear message to Hollywood: the youth run this; get out of their way. The motorcycle became a symbol. Freedom, man, freedom. Fonda doesn't believe in any way that he started America's love affair with that image but, man, he certainly helped kick it off. Easy Rider has everything. From intolerance to lifestyle experimentations, it's all found along the highways that stretch from the California-Mexico border and straight into New Orleans. And the whopper of an ending is pure poetry.
Easy Rider, complete with a Roger McGuinn-heavy soundtrack that features two Steppenwolf classics, The Band, The Holy Modal Rounders, The Electric Prunes, and Fraternity of Man's "Don't Bogart that Joint", predates MTV with its collection of music and images and commentary. It remains a spellbinding experience that, courtesy of Criterion's restored high-definition digital transfer, is more than just an acid trip.
Buy the ticket. Take the ride.
MPAA Rating: R.
Runtime: 95 mins
Director: Dennis Hopper
Writer: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper
Cast: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson
Genre: Drama | Adventure
Tagline: A man went looking for America. And couldn't find it anywhere.
Memorable Movie Quote: "If god did not exist it would be necessary to invent him."
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Release Date: July 14, 1969
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: May 3, 2016
Synopsis: Two counterculture bikers travel from Los Angeles to New Orleans in search of America.
Available on Blu-ray - May 3, 2016
Screen Formats: 1.85:1
Subtitles: English SDH
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD)
Region Encoding: A
Supervised by director of photography László Kovács, the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer is a thing of rugged beauty. There is a new depth to much of the film. From plateaus and vistas to the French Quarter, details are abounding. Black levels are strong, too. Grain has never looked this inviting. The details through this feature are simply scrumptious. From fabrics in the jackets of the actors to the facial imperfections of both leading men, this AVC encoded image (1.78:1 aspect ratio) 1080p transfer gets the look of realism right. Supported by the phenomenal soundteack – presented here in either a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 or a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 – Easy Rider definitely carries the weight of its legacy.
- There are two audio commentaries included with this release: one from 2009, featuring actor-director-writer Dennis Hopper, and the other from 1995, featuring Hopper, actor-writer Peter Fonda, and production manager Paul Lewis.
Unfortunately, there is nothing new included with the release. Up first are the documentaries about the movie, which include Born to Be Wild (1995) and "Easy Rider": Shaking the Cage (1999). Both delve into the history and the cultural impact of the movie. Up next are television excerpts showing Hopper and Fonda at the Cannes Film Festival in 1969, an interview from 2010 with BBS Productions cofounder Steve Blauner, and the film's theatrical trailers. An essay by film critic Matt Zoller Seitz rounds out the collection.
- Born to Be Wild
- Shaking the Cage
- Cannes Film Festival Excerpts
- Steve Blauner Interview
- Theatrical Trailers