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  Directed by
  Starring
  Specs
  • Widescreen 1.85:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Dual Layer (RSDL )
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • French: Dolby Digital Mono
  • Spanish: Dolby Digital Mono
  • German: Dolby Digital Mono
  • Italian: Dolby Digital Mono
  Subtitles
    English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Hebrew, Czech, Greek, Polish, Hungarian, Dutch, Portuguese, Turkish, Icelandic, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, Hindi
  Extras
  • Audio commentary - by director Dennis Hopper
  • Cast/crew biographies
  • Documentaries - 67-minute retrospective, 'Shaking the Cage'

Easy Rider - Collector's Edition

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 92 mins . M15+ . PAL

  Feature
Contract

Recently I picked up Peter Biskind's excellent book, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, which chronicles the decline of the Old Hollywood studio system and the empowerment of the new, fresher directors such as Scorsese, Spielberg and Coppola. The joy of reviewing DVDs is that I get to see many of these classic groundbreakers in the highest possible quality in my own home.

Easy Rider was one of the most important of the New Hollywood films, being the first independent film ever to be distributed by a major studio and possibly the first film to truly document America as it was in the 60s. The tale of two bikers crossing America was simple enough, but the real breakthrough was in the unusual style of the film, which initially had the studio utterly confused. Mostly shot freeform, many scenes were improvised and the footage was so shambolic that director Dennis Hopper took a year to edit it.

Biskind's book tells of the problems within the production team, detailing arguments about the authorship of the script, physical fights, actor walkouts, constant, excessive drug consumption and the paranoid mania of Hopper, who began attempting to hide the film stock within his room. There are so many stories about the production process that I don't believe we'll ever know the truth about the making of Easy Rider, but that just adds to the intrigue.

  Video
Contract

Considering the age of this film (this disc is a 30th Anniversary edition), and the often-stoned crew, this DVD looks amazing! Images are generally sharp and detailed with natural colour, but certain scenes are far inferior to the rest of the film. For example, crowd footage shot in the New Orleans Mardi Gras were shot by stoned amateurs with 16mm cameras, and exhibit unnatural colour and excessive grain. Apparently a film case containing unexposed footage of the LSD scene was accidentally opened before processing, altering several shots, but hey, it's a representation of being on acid, so surely it should look a little strange!

These isolated 'problems' lie with the source print, rather than this transfer, which continues Columbia's tradition of excellence. There are very few film artifacts and no noticeable digital artifacting on this 1.85:1 anamorphically-enhanced transfer. The layer change is well-placed and does not distract.

Overall, a very pleasing, filmlike transfer than exceeded my expectations.

  Audio
Contract

Okay, here's a disc that illustrates an issue I have with the current "EVERYTHING MUST BE IN 5.1 SURROUND" mentality that seems to have everybody enthralled.

Sure, surround soundtracks are nice, but is it really right to remaster a classic film into 5.1 channels without leaving the original mono track somewhere on the disc so people can experience the film in it's original form? How can people criticise the colourisation of old black-and-white films (which should be a criminal offence), yet eagerly clamour for modification to the audio, which can be just as destructive to the original sound design as colourisation is to the cinematography?

With that beef over, I should report that the soundtrack is generally isolated to the front hemisphere, with only minimal surround usage. Music tracks are full and well-balanced (and spread across the three front channels, rather than just the left and right speakers, which helps people sitting to one side of the room) but dialogue and sound effects have obviously dated fidelity. This never presents a problem in intelligibility, however, and the audio is not harsh at reference volume.

  Extras
Contract

It's quite odd that a film as classic as this could be released in a 30th Anniversary Edition without a trailer - surely one exists somewhere!

Regardless, this is what you do get:

  • Audio Commentary - in which director Dennis Hopper gives his interpretation of the making of the film, which can and does differ from the memories of other cast and crew members! Personally, I doubt I believe much of what he says is gospel, but his take on the film is interesting.
  • Making-of Documentary - made in 1999 by Columbia, this 67-minute piece entitled 'Shaking the Cage' is a fascinating look back at the film, with interviews with virtually all the cast and crew bar Jack Nicholson. The disc would be worthwhile just for this doco for fans of the film.
  • Facts and Filmographies - the standard stuff. What is perculiar is that Dennis Hopper's filmography only mentions the films he directed, ignoring the huge back catalog of films he acted in!

There are a respectable amount of audio tracks and subtitles, but Columbia still need to take more care with their packaging; one of the subtitle languages is 'Spansih'!

  Overall  
Contract

One of the most important films of the sixties, this film delivered a very loud message to the Hollywood executives who were still making expensive flop musicals and beach pictures. It ushered in a new era where truly superb films were made (Taxi Driver, The Godfather, The French Connection, must I go on?), despite the fact that the studio heads didn't understand them. I can only hope we will one day see film regain its place as an artform, rather than a special effects demonstration or a platform to sell crap music to teenagers.

Highly recommended.


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      And I quote...
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