Every now and again a film comes out that encapsulates the contemporary cultural atmosphere and becomes an instant classic. Easy Rider is just such a film. In 1969 when this movie was produced America was in the throws of social unrest over the civil rights movement and protests against the Vietnam War. The high ideals of the Hippie movement were beginning to crumble and this nation was struggling to regain its identity. Easy Rider, without directly addressing those specific issues, was able to capture that mood on screen and stood as a bookend to the 60s generation; a kind of counterpoint to Jack Kerouac's seminal novel On the Road.
Easy Rider tells the story of two drug smuggling motorcyclists that ply their way across the country in search of their own personal redemption and find along the way a series of archetypal characters including redneck racists, burnt out idealists and disenfranchised individualists. The film's message and conclusion are open ended and thought provoking making this a story that can be visited over and over again with ever changing reactions.
Easy Rider has been completely restored and the results are stunning. Having only seen this film on broadcast TV I was of the impression that it was intentionally washed out and grainy but this DVD clearly shows that it was never intended to be that way. The images on this release are fully saturated, crisp and clean and look as good as many recently released titles. The transfer itself is beautifully done with no compression artifacts to be seen.
The sound track has been restored as well and is presented in both its original stereo format and in newly remastered Dolby 5.1. Easy Rider is a primarily dialogue driven film so the 5.1 mix won't have your sub booming or your surrounds working overtime but the mix does add a new dimension to the film by making the soundfield more enveloping. There are a number of nice panning effects and the rock music cuts presented throughout have never sounded better.
Easy Rider's main extra is an extensive documentary featuring interviews with most of the primaries including Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda. This fantastic video presentation covers just about every aspect of the film's creation and later cultural impact. Of particular interest are discussions with Hopper and Fonda that clearly show how they used their own experiences as springboards for the situations in the film and how they intended Easy Rider to be an art film in the European tradition. Also included on the film is an audio commentary by Dennis Hopper but it is, unfortunately, a little disappointing. I get the feeling that Dennis said everything he wanted to say in the documentary section and so we find many long gaps in his commentary. It probably would have been more interesting to have a film critic's comments on this track (a la Roger Ebert on Dark City). Other extras include standard talent bios and a useful scene selection menu. The theatrical trailer is nowhere to be found.
Though Easy Rider has few extras the exemplary documentary and the beautiful restoration make it a genuine special edition. The only things sorely missing are the theatrical trailer and comments from Jack Nicholson (whose career was made by this film.) Easy Rider is more than just a movie; it's a cultural icon and has never looked or sounded better than it does on this DVD. Easy Rider deserves a place in any serious film fan's library and I highly recommend this DVD version.