Easy Rider appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Overall, the picture looked good, especially considering the age of Easy Rider and its small (roughly $400,000) budget.
When sharpness faltered, it did so due to issues with the film stocks. As I mentioned, this film wasn’t exactly a glossy, high-budget production, so the mild softness that occurred was perfectly appropriate. The movie showed more than acceptable clarity and definition. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and edge enhancement was absent.
To my surprise, source flaws never caused distractions. Grain could be heavy, but that was another artifact of the original photography, so I had no problem with that aspect of the presentation. Indeed, lessened levels of grain would’ve been bad, as that would’ve meant too much noise reduction; the film’s grain looked natural. Otherwise, print flaws were virtually non-existent.
Except for the washed-out Mardi Gras/cemetery sequences, colors appeared strong and rich. The tones were nicely lively and dynamic for the most part. Blacks looked quite deep; check out Wyatt's leather outfit to see some good examples of that strength. Shadow detail seemed more than acceptable. Again, the nature of the original photography meant that some murkiness would occur, but the shots looked perfectly fine given those constraints.
Honestly, this presentation of Easy Rider was something of a revelation. In an objective sense, the film remained too flawed for me to give it “A”-grade consideration; from the grain to the softness to the iffy shadows, too many shots seemed a bit “off” for a top rating. Nonetheless, I considered an “A-“ just because the Blu-ray looked so good despite all of the natural problems inherent with the footage. The flick has never looked better on home video, and it probably didn’t look this good during its theatrical run either.
Though not quite as impressive, the sound also seemed positive for 40-year-old movie. Easy Rider offered a remixed Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack. While it remained monaural at heart, there was some use of effects in other channels. For example, at the start of the film, a plane entered from the rear channels and panned to the front, and later on, motorcycles popped up in other speakers. We also heard some gentle rear channel ambiance in scenes like nighttime forests. The film's famed musical track used stereo capabilities well, and the songs also cropped up with some added punch in the rears.
For the most part, audio quality seemed acceptable though unspectacular. Except when intentionally muddled, dialogue appeared clear and intelligible, but the lines also came across as a bit thin and flat. Effects sounded about the same, with decent general clarity and that was about it. Some loose bass occasionally accompanied louder elements like the plane or explosions. The music sounded better. Those aspects of the track depended on the source material, but they usually were pretty dynamic and lively. Despite some faults, this remained a mostly positive sound mix for a film of this vintage.
How did the picture and sound of this Blu-Ray compare with those of the 2004 Anniversary DVD? Both offered similar audio. Really, there’s only so much improvement that could come here due to the dated nature of the original recordings. Both discs sounded fine, and the Blu-ray demonstrated no clear auditory upgrade.
However, the Blu-ray clearly presented vastly improved visuals over the DVD. It was significantly sharper and cleaner. I didn’t expect to be quite so impressed, but the Blu-ray gave us a really fine presentation.
As we head to the extras, we open with an audio commentary from director/actor Dennis Hopper. He offers a running, screen-specific track. Hopper tells us about the project’s genesis, its locations, the actors, editing, and elements of the shoot like the many improvised bits.
At times, Hopper presents good insight, but two problems befall the piece. For one, he often just tells us the names of locations and actors with little more detail than that. In addition, the commentary suffers from a ridiculous amount of dead air, as most of the movie passes without any information. Hopper presents just enough material to make this a sporadically useful but mostly frustrating track.
Next up is a nice 64-minute and 51-second documentary called Shaking the Cage. This features movie clips, archival materials, and modern interviews with Hopper, associate producer Bill Hayward, camera assistant Seymour Cassel, production manager Paul Lewis, cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs, and actors Peter Fonda, Karen Black, and Luke Askew. The show goes into the origins of Rider and its development, shooting at Mardi Gras, the general chaos of the production, casting, drugs in the movie and the atmosphere of the era, choosing the motorcycles, cinematography, improvisation, locations, music, the characters and various shooting notes, editing and the movie’s reception.
The program follows the shooting schedule for the most part, which means we don’t always hear about sequences in the order shown in the movie. For instance, the Mardi Gras info shows up first although those scenes come at the flick’s end. Much of the show is essentially anecdotal, which lends it a lot of energy. We learn a ton about the production and hear many amusing and interesting stories in this fine documentary. Indeed, it’s good enough that it essentially renders the commentary superfluous.
Some ads appear under Previews. We find clips for Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Da Vinci Code, Ghostbusters, A River Runs Through It, Damages S1, Blood: The Last Vampire, Moon and Tyson. No trailer for Easy Rider shows up here.
Finally, the package includes a 36-page booklet. It includes info about the film’s songs, career facts for Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda, Jack Nicholson and Terry Southern, and an essay about the impact Easy Rider had on Hollywood. The booklet offers a nice compendium of material.
I don't believe I'll ever think of Easy Rider as a great film, but I now have a somewhat greater appreciation of it. The Blu-ray provides good audio and surprisingly terrific visuals. Despite a very spotty audio commentary, we get some nice supplements, mainly via a fine documentary. While I’m not much of a fan of the movie, I find myself impressed by the Blu-ray, especially in terms of the picture quality. This is a worthwhile upgrade for those who love Easy Rider.
To rate this film, visit the Special Edition review of EASY RIDER