Five Easy Pieces appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. We got a good – and sometimes great – transfer here.
Sharpness seemed inconsistent but usually solid. Most of the movie displayed positive delineation, and some shots came across with a tremendous amount of detail. However, occasional elements appeared rather soft; that usually appeared during wide shots. Nonetheless, the majority of the flick boasted good clarity.
No issues with jaggies or moiré effects occurred, and edge haloes remained absent. I detected no signs of digital noise reduction, as the movie maintained a good natural sense of grain. Source flaws were virtually non-existed across this clean presentation.
With its fairly natural palette, Pieces boasted nice colors. These rarely excelled, but they consistently looked full and rich. Blacks were deep and dense, but shadows could be a bit up and down. Some low-light sequences displayed good clarity, while others seemed a little dense. Despite some drawbacks, I mostly thought the film looked fine, and parts of it offered very strong visuals.
Given the film’s scope, you shouldn’t expect much from its monaural soundtrack. Speech became the dominant factor, and that side of the mix sounded fine. Lines occasionally appeared a bit thick, but they usually showed good distinctiveness.
Music came only from country songs or classical pieces, so the movie didn’t provide a standard score. Most of the music existed more like background material, and that meant those components didn’t boast great presence. Still, they were acceptably clear. Effects also lacked a strong role, but they seemed reasonably concise and accurate. Nothing here stood out as memorable, so I thought this track was pretty average for its age.
When we shift to the set’s extras, we start with an audio commentary from director Bob Rafelson and interior designer/Bob’s then-wife Toby Rafelson. Both recorded individual running, screen-specific tracks that got edited into this single piece. They chat about set design and locations, cast and performances, music, script/story and cinematography, working with the studio and the production company, costumes and the film's title.
While not the most exciting commentary I've heard, the Rafelsons cover the flick well. We get a good background for the production along with a nice number of insights. The piece moves at a solid pace and keeps us involved, so it's a fine companion to the movie.
Another audio piece arrives via Bob Rafelson at the AFI. Recorded in 1976, this provides a 46-minute Q&A session in which Rafelson discusses themes and his background, how Head came to be and writing its script, casting Bruce Dern in The King of Marvin Gardens, how BBS worked and Rafelson's functioning in Hollywood, and aspects of other film projects. Due to the nature of the Q&A, it tends to be somewhat disjointed; it flits from one film/subject to another, so it doesn't follow a concise line.
Nonetheless, it offers quite a few nice observations. The audience members manage to come up with thought-provoking queries and don't go off onto silly tangents. That means the chat turns into an interesting compilation of notes.
Soul Searching in Five Easy Pieces lasts nine minutes, eight seconds and includes statements from Rafelson and actor Jack Nicholson. We learn about the project’s origins and development, real-life influences for movie scenes, and the flick’s original ending. Unfortunately, we don’t get much from Nicholson; it’s good to see him, but he adds little. At least Rafelson fleshes situations out well and avoids repetition with the commentary. He makes this a valuable extra.
A documentary entitled BBStory fills 46 minutes, 35 seconds with notes from Rafelson, Nicholson, filmmakers Peter Bogdanovich, Fred Roos, Harry Gittes, and Henry Jaglom, film critic Richard Schickel, and actors Karen Black, Bruce Dern, Micky Dolenz, Timothy Bottoms, and Ellen Burstyn. “BBStory” covers the company’s origins and the creation of various films starting with 1968’s Head and finishing with 1972’s King of Marvin Gardens. “BBStory” offers a pretty nice little overview. It gives us a good series of anecdotes and creates an entertaining and informative take on its subject.
Finally, we locate some ads. The disc includes two teasers and one trailer.
A big old 112-page booklet covers all seven films in the “America Lost and Found” boxed set. It includes essays on five of the seven flicks: Head, Easy Rider, The King of Marvin Gardens, Five Easy Pieces and The Last Picture Show. It also delivers an essay about BBS, credits and photos. Criterion usually produce excellent booklets, and this one delivers another terrific companion to the movies.
Five Easy Pieces shows a different side of Jack Nicholson than the one best known to fans. It delivers a good character examination that delivers an involving experience. The Blu-ray offers fairly solid picture quality, average audio, and a consistently informative set of supplements. Criterion creates a fine release for a memorable film.
Note that as of December 2010, this Blu-ray version of Five Easy Pieces can be found only in a seven-movie boxed set called “America Lost and Found: The BBS Story”. This package also includes Easy Rider, Head, The King of Marvin Gardens, The Last Picture Show, Drive, He Said and A Safe Place.