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Easy Rider - 35th Anniv. Deluxe Edition


Rating: R

Distributor: Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment

Release Date: September 28, 2004
Review posted: September 21, 2004


Reviewed by Greg Malmborg




“We blew it”


Those immortal last words of Captain America (Peter Fonda) capture the theme of this timeless classic that still resonates today.  Easy Rider captured not only the overwhelming feeling of change and intensity of the 1960s, but also touched on the ideals of true freedom in America and the reactions of society when faced with it.  Easy Rider was one of the first successful independent films (it was budgeted around $350,000 and grossed over $60 million) and the film is credited by some as the first classic of independent cinema.


The story revolves around two guys from Los Angeles, Wyatt, also called Captain America, and Billy (Dennis Hopper), who pull off a large drug deal in order to get enough cash to be free of the restrictions of society and travel around America on their motorcycles.  They have a destination in mind, hitting New Orleans for Mardi Gras.  On their trip from California to Louisiana, they find their way into a hippie commune out in the desert, get thrown in jail for riding their bikes in a parade in a southern town, meet up with a young ACLU lawyer named George (Jack Nicholson) who joins up with them, and end up offending most of the southerners they come across just with their looks and free attitude.  It was a turbulent time in the South (and in the country as a whole) and there were a lot of prejudices towards change and everyone representing it, and Billy and Wyatt realize the depth of this prejudice in an extreme and violent way.




Easy Rider is modern classic, embodying a generation’s idealism and launching the vast multitude of “road movies” that never quite matched its raw power.  There weren’t many films that touched so realistically upon the use of drugs and the armchair politics and philosophizing that spawned from it at this time.  Easy Rider captured the spirit of a people during a time of near revolution and managed to stir up even more controversy than was at its core. 


One of the film’s strongest assets is the outstanding soundtrack.  The music of the 60s is used as a focal point; it drives their journey across the country and helps capture the character of the times.  There are numerous long shots of the beautiful desert of the southwest and the music accompanying these shots alleviates these into something more and melds them into the themes of the film.


Dennis Hopper proves himself as a very competent and creative director, using styles and tricks from a variety of sources and making something wholly original.  His use of jump cuts, zooms, and his ever-changing focus made for a very interesting picture.  The camera is always moving and there is a high energy running through the film.  One of the ingenious moves by Hopper is how he filmed his actors.  He just let the camera run and let his actors improvise and see where the moment took them.  It made for some of the most interesting and arresting moments of any film of that generation (or any other).


The acting is just outstanding across the board.  Peter Fonda is the core of the film and he grounds the film in a cool, intelligent, and deep vibe.  His Captain America just sees everything exactly for what it is and he never loses his cool.  Dennis Hopper’s Billy is exactly the opposite; he is unnerving, hotheaded, and dimwitted.  Hopper fits him perfectly, totally embodying the character in Hopper’s itchy, improvisation style of acting.  As great as both Fonda and Hopper are, it is Jack Nicholson’s performance as George that truly reverberates and stays with you.  His character becomes the true heart and soul of the picture for what he represents and for the famous speech on America and how it used to be “one helluva place”.  Nicholson garnered a Best Supporting Actor nod for his amazing performance and it launched his brief career as a solid character actor before Five Easy Pieces launched him into his legendary leading man career.  The rest of the supporting cast is also terrific.  Hopper used real people not actors for many of the supporting roles and it really paid off giving the film such a realistic grounding.




The transfer on the 35th Anniversary disc is exceptionally good.  For a film made on such a low budget in the 60s (and that most of the footage is done with handhelds), the quality of the video is just outstanding.  The raw footage of the desert and the New Orleans scenes are exceptionally great looking.




Columbia Pictures presents Easy Rider in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound and the audio is fantastic.  The balances are terrific and the dialogue is crisp and clear.  The soundtrack, which is one of the strongest points of the film, sounds great.




Commentary by director Dennis Hopper – Dennis Hopper gives his full-length audio commentary on the film and he is very informative and extremely detailed.  He goes at length into the hardships of the production and what obstacles were overcome to get it made.  He also has some interesting anecdotes on the other actors and the reasons for some of the funny moments in the film.  It’s a shame they didn’t get everyone involved in the film to add to the commentary.  It would have been a blast to hear Fonda, Hopper and Nicholson do the commentary together.  But from the stories told from Hooper and from the documentary, it doesn’t seem like the three of them remained very close.  In fact, there seems to be some bad blood between them.  That may be the reason for only Hopper on the commentary track.  Hopper does a great job on it, but you can’t help wishing there was more.


Easy Rider: Shaking the Cage – This is a documentary on the making of the film.  This is an absolutely terrific making of documentary, with some great inside information diligently shared by the films stars and crew.  Like the fact that Nicholson was actually high in that scene were he goes on about alien invaders and that Fonda had the entire crew back to his hotel room often for all night parties and “smoke outs”.  This is an extremely entertaining, insightful, and hilarious documentary.  There is one big, gaping hole in it though: no Jack Nicholson.  Whether it was for personal reasons or scheduling conflicts, the documentary does suffer from the prospect of how tremendously classic it would have been if they had Jack. 


Bonus CD Soundtrack – This is a well thought out and terrific extra.  The soundtrack is such an absolutely big part of the film, so it makes sense that they would include it in the 35th Anniversary edition.  There are countless classic songs on the disc like Born to Be Wild, Get Together, and The Pusher.


British Film Institute Modern Classic Book “Easy Rider” – This was an original and interesting extra, it is a book that is included that goes through the personal history of everyone involved in the film up to that point in the time, the making of the film, the release, and the effects of the film as a whole.  A very informative and interesting read.




Easy Rider is more than just a great road movie, it is an unconventional classic that captured the spirit of a generation and provided its own unique signature on the ideals of a nation.




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