The great opportunity with new presentation formats for established forms of entertainment is that newcomers can be introduced and experience them for the very first time; the burden with them is that longtime fans have to forage through multiple editions and decide which one is best. Enter "Making The (Up) Grade," Cinematical's examination of these new, alternate, special editions of films that have long since become favorites. This week's selection, Easy Rider, is one of those cases where people may or may not have purchased the film before, but because it's been so thoroughly discussed and dissected in cinematic culture for the past forty years, it seems almost a redundant choice for any person who considers him- or herself a cinephile.
Is this new 40th Anniversary Blu-ray really better? Let's take a look and see.
What's Already Available: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment released a Special Edition in 2002 and then a 35th Anniversary Deluxe Edition in 2004, both of which featured a commentary track by Dennis Hopper and the 67-minute documentary "Shaking the Cage," which details the film's troubled production all of the way through to its triumphant cultural impact.
What's In The New Set: All of the previous special features, as well as Sony's MovieIQ feature that allows fans to check out real-time information about the cast and crew while they are watching the movie.
What's The Difference In The Movie Itself: It's not clear whether this version offers the full 1080p version of the exact same transfer that was previously created for the 35th Anniversary Deluxe Edition, but suffice it to say that Easy Rider has probably never looked better than it does here. The producers savvily have not reduced or eliminated any of the film grain that was visible in the source material, which has caused uproar in other Blu-ray remasters, but they did create the cleanest, clearest version of those grain-intensive images, making the film look both authentic to its era and its technological source, and suitable for audiences expecting something a little glossier. Meanwhile, the sound mix is muscular and clear, but doesn't overpower the images; rather, the combination further enhances director Dennis Hopper's original intention to allow the songs to comment and reveal information about the characters in the story in lieu of dialogue or other specific visual cues.
What's The Difference In Everything Else: Unfortunately, nothing. The "Shaking the Cage" documentary was produced in the era prior to widespread widescreen presentation, so it's not even 16:9, so while it's a worthy and honest look at the moviemaking process, it's undeniably familiar to folks who have already purchased previous editions. Otherwise there are trailers from more recent SPHE releases like The Da Vinci Code, but that doesn't qualify as "new" material as far as the film itself is concerned. And while one previous version actually included a CD of the soundtrack, this one instead offers a booklet describing each of the songs and artists used in the movie, and throws in an essay on the film that essentially reiterates the content covered in the documentary.
What's The Final Grade: C-. Easy Rider's artistic and cultural significance cannot be overestimated, but after at least three Deluxe Edition releases, including this one, it's a little tough not to feel like you're being taken for a ride by The Man. That said, if you haven't purchased the film before now, this is by all accounts the definitive collection of extras that will be associated with Easy Rider, and by far the best presentation of the film itself.