Smokey and the Bandit Blu-ray ReviewJune 08, 2012
Smokey and the Bandit was a movie I couldn't stand to watch as a kid. It was one of those movies that, on any given weekend, was playing on one of the cable superstations. If it wasn't on WGN, it was on TBS - and my parents would devour it.
But as you get older, and your tastes become a little more inclusive, you're more apt to give things a chance. At some point while I was in college, I gave Smokey and the Bandit a chance, and to this day if I see it in the cable listings, then my remote control is guaranteed a break for a couple of hours.
Universal, as part of its 100th anniversary celebration, released the classic cat-and-mouse film starring Jackie Gleason and Burt Reynolds, respectively, as the titular characters this week, and while the technical aspects of the presentation aren't entirely up to snuff, the movie itself still holds up in a big, bad way.
During a break in the action at a truck rodeo where he's scheduled to perform, Bo "Bandit" Darville is approached by the father-son tycoon team of Big and Little Enos with an interesting offer: If the Bandit can retrieve 400 cases of Coors' beer in Texas and transport it back to Georgia, they'll pay him $80,000. Why the big fee? Well kids, (imagine your history teacher's voice for this bit of exposition), in 1977 when the movie was made, transporting alcohol across the eastern border of Texas without proper documentation was considered bootlegging.
The Enos's give Bandit enough cash to procure a "speedy" car (the Bandit's now-iconic black Pontiac Trans Am), to run interference for the truck carrying the beer (driven by his cohort, Snowman, played by Jerry Reed who also contributes the songs for the movies soundtrack).
The enterprise seems to be going off without a hitch until the Bandit gives runaway bride Carrie (Sally Field) a ride, which draws the attention of the hot-headed Sheriff Bufford T. Justice (Gleason) and his less-than-bright son, Deputy Junior Justice.
What follows is the kick-off for the gold standard by which all car-chase movies are judged. To put it in context, if you go to see a car-chase picture now, you'll come away from the movie thinking, "Two or three of those action scenes were pretty cool, but the rest fall flat." In Smokey and the Bandit, once the action starts, it doesn't let up.
Co-writer/Director Hal Needham, a former stuntman himself, has put together the perfect mixture of madcap humor and action that hasn't quite been matched in the intervening 35 years.
Besides the brilliant action and stunt sequences, the dialogue is constantly sharp and funny, and there's never a point where it becomes stale, which is just as much a testament to the actors as it is to the writers (Gleason's dialogue is almost entirely-improvised, and this performance stands as one of the shining diamonds in this almost-forgotten screen legend's resume).
As for the Bandit himself, this is Burt Reynolds at his absolute best. He's charming, funny, and we as an audience are instantly enamored with him to the point that we want to follow him on his adventure, and we want him to succeed - a rarity in modern film acting. Even the best actors today will, at some point in a movie, wear thin with an audience.
As I look through what I've written so far, I realize I'm starting to come off as an old man griping about how "they don't make 'em like they used to." My take on Smokey and the Bandit is more akin to, "They don't make 'em like this anymore."
It's part thrill ride, part cat-and-mouse game, part comedy... it's a movie that has it all but never seems distracted by itself. It's a movie that strives to touch all the bases and, more often than not, succeeds.
Today, it's more likely that your grandparents are the ones who allow Burt Reynolds on the run from Jackie Gleason to run your weekend TV viewing, but do yourself a favor: Give Smokey and the Bandit a chance now.
Universal presents Smokey and the Bandit with a VC-1 encoded transfer that is more than serviceable, but a 35-year-old movie getting its first high-def transfer is only going to look so good. The lush greens along the countryside during the Bandit's run are nicely eye-popping, and the brighter colors in the spectrum are noticeable without being distracted. There's just enough grain and noise in certain scenes, though, that it becomes distracting at points.
The sound is equally hit-and-miss. Universal has given the film a 5.1 HD-Master Audio mix, but there's only so much that a clean-up of a soundtrack that's three decades old can do. Dialogue is always understandable, but there are some scenes where the movie's mono beginnings are distractingly-evident. In particular, a scene where the Bandit talks Snowman into taking the Ennos's offer sounds as though it was recorded under water.
Beyond the Feature
If you have the Smokey and the Bandit DVD, then the odds are good that you've already seen most of the bonus features included on this release.
There are two new features, both of which tie in to Universal's 100th anniversary celebration, and aren't specific to the film. 100 Years of Universal: The 70s features interviews with celebrated filmmakers and actors of the era, including Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard, about the studio's releases during the 70s, including Jaws, American Graffiti, and The Sting, among others.
The other new feature is 100 Years of Universal: The Lot, where we're guided to some of the highlights of Universal's legendary lot.
The other bonus features are as follows:
Also included is a DVD copy of the film.
The bonus features are less-than-stellar, and the video and audio presentation of the movie has its share of issues that may be distracting to viewers who have a voracious appetite for the minutiae of high-def transfers.
But if you just want to enjoy a movie, there are few movies I can recommend more than Smokey and the Bandit.
- Jason Jarman
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