"There's no way -- no way -- that you could come from my loins... Soon as I get home, I'm gonna punch your Mamma in the mouth."
For many film lovers of a certain age, the summer of 1977 will always be remembered as the summer of 'Star Wars.' But believe it or not, there really were other films released that season aside from the George Lucas watershed -- and some even worth remembering. One such genuine cinematic highlight was 'Smokey and the Bandit,' a rootin' tootin', utterly ridiculous action spectacle that earned gobs of money, spawned its own little cottage industry of sequels, and cemented the '70s star status of both Burt Reynolds and Sally Field. Who needs lightsabers when you've got car crashes instead?
Reynolds stars as Bo 'Bandit' Darville, the best darn driver-for-hire in the South. Bo's never above evading the law if means turning a little extra profit, so he seems the ideal choice for Big Enos Burdette (Pat McCormick) when he needs to illegally transport a few hundred cases of beer across state lines from Texarkana into Atlanta. But on this trip, Bo and his long-suffering partner Cledus 'Snowman' Snow (Jerry Reed) will get more than they bargained for, thanks to the "runaway bride" (Sally Field) that Bo picks up along the way, and the relentless Sheriff Bufford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason), who will stop at nothing to nab his greatest trophy -- the Bandit.
'Smokey and the Bandit' retains most of its charm, in large part thanks to its cast. Reynolds' winning performance reminds us why he was such a big star in the '70s -- he may be smug and smarmy, but with that huge grin and gallons of charisma to burn, somehow he gets away with it. To his credit, he also lets all of his co-stars shine, including a solid turn by Reed and, of course, Gleason, who turns Justice into the most memorable backwoods sheriff in pop culture history. And then there's Reynolds and his then real-life girlfriend Field, who have genuine, combustible chemistry. You wouldn't think it from her inauspicious early days as TV's 'Gidget' and 'The Flying Nun,' but Field is really quite flirtatious and sexy -- watching her and Reynolds spar throughout the movie is a true cinematic turn-on.
Ultimately, though, 'Smokey and the Bandit' isn't about its characters -- in fact, it isn't really about anything at all. This is just one long car crash of a movie, punctuated by plenty of pit stops for good ole boy comedy, and Reynolds and Field doing their over-the-gearshift romantic banter. Still, 'Smokey and the Bandit' remains superior to all of the demolition derby knock-offs it spawned (including 'Convoy' and 'Dukes of Hazzard') because it's so good-natured in its single-mindedness. The film's humor could have easily been crass or "political," but instead it really is just a classic ode to '30s screwball comedy set on wheels. Perfect nostalgia for those old enough to remember it, 'Smokey and the Bandit' is one road trip down memory lane worth taking again.
Palmer here for a last few comments: Peter did a terrific job covering the movie as a whole, which is why I left the above portion of the review. For me, as a child of the '80s, 'Smokey and the Bandit', 'Knight Rider' (this time, a talking Trans Am), and 'Dukes of Hazzard' were the pinnacle of my entertainment needs. Cars drove fast, flew through the air, and the good ole boys outsmarted the villains who were sometimes dastardly and other times comedic half-wits. Let's call these types of movies or television shows the filmed incarnation of little boys' internal combustion imaginations.
But the question remains, what happens when the adult self goes back to revisit something so fondly remembered. Or, to ask the question another way, does 'Smokey and the Bandit' still work today or was it never really that great to begin with? Personally, I would say yes, it stands the test of time. I've never owned the film on home video, so it's been a while since I've seen the film in its entirety. Funny enough, this might have been my first full viewing ever because I don't recall the opening scene where the trucker is arrested with the trailer filled with Coors Beer -- this is what happens when you grow up watching films on pre-DVR era TV. While 'Smokey and the Bandit' is certainly a simple, straight forward movie, I think Reynolds and Field did a great job with the high-speed love story. The practical (aka, not digitally enhanced) stunts are as exciting as ever. And Jackie Gleason's over-the-top performance is one of his most memorable. For modern audiences, I can't really gauge what the reaction will be. Though the tone isn't the same, 'Fast Five' was a huge hit for Universal last year and perhaps that's what this type of cinema has become.
Overall, if you loved this movie at any point earlier in your life, as an adult or young person, it remains a fun, action-packed movie with lots of silly slapstick and gags. I'm very happy to own it now on Blu-ray.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Universal Home Entertainment is releasing 'Smokey and the Bandit' as a part of its 100th Anniversary celebration. This includes a nice slip-cover that folds open to show where 'Smokey' fits in the '70s timeline of Universal films along with a couple film trivia quotes. The Blu-ray itself is housed in a standard, two-disc case, which includes a DVD of the film (a copy of the 2006 Special Edition DVD). There is also a booklet with instructions about how to download your Digital Copy of the film, which is only guaranteed until December 31, 2013. I saw no markings regarding Region restrictions, but only tested the disc on my Region A equipment. Pop the disc into your player and it will auto play BD-Live enabled trailer content before taking you right to the film itself. This is the first Universal title I've ever owned that didn't go to a Main Menu.
'Smokey and the Bandit' debuts on Blu-ray with what appears to be the same VC-1 encoding (framed at the film's original aspect ratio of 1.85:1) as the 2007 HD-DVD, which is good news. This is what Peter originally wrote:
Remastering a vintage catalog title like 'Smokey and the Bandit' for High-Def would seem to present a pretty much thankless task. The aged source is just never going provide great demo material, so no matter how fantastic a job a studio does with like this, it can only pale in comparison with a modern release. That said, I have to take my hat off to Universal, as 'Smokey and the Bandit' is actually a very nice little remaster that looks darn good for a now thirty year-old film.
The source is been cleaned up rather well. Sure, there's some period-appropriate grain and the occasional faded blacks, but overall the image has some real pop to it. Colors are much improved over past video versions, especially the original DVD monstrosity that the studio released a few years back. Primary colors can be vivid and clean, and fleshtones are finally accurate -- poor Sally Field no longer looks all pink and pallid. Yes, dark scenes still suffer a bit from heavier grain and weak shadow detail, but thankfully 'Smokey' is a movie that mostly takes place during bright daylight, so the image generally boasts some impressive depth. Edge enhancement is also far less intrusive than on some other recent Universal HD DVD releases, such as the ultra-edgy 'The Jerk.' So while 'Smokey and the Bandit' certainly won't replace your demo disc of choice, it turns out to be a surprisingly good-looking ride, considering the circumstances.
Palmer again, with a couple more comments: I was, overall, really impressed with how clean the transfer was. There doesn't appear to be any damage or dirt. And, I know most of our readers are concerned about Universal's past history of noise reduction, but I didn't see any evidence of that, or of the edge enhancement Peter cited above (though to be fair, that isn't one of my pet peeves). Resolution on this Blu-ray is so clear, you can see the texture of the film grain as well as facial hair and clothing fabrics. Heck, you can see dirt on the lens sometimes. My only complaints were a couple blemishes that seemed to be near optical transitions, a couple underexposed shots inside the moving Trans Am which were noisy, and one odd bit of ghosting at the one hour mark (there's a shot of Jackie Gleason talking with a forest and hill behind him where I saw a double image of Gleason a few inches to the left of his actual position. I'm not certain if this is a production mistake or what).
If this was the first 'Smokey and the Bandit' HDD review, I probably would have given it a 4 star review, given how good it looks for its age, but Peter is probably more correct with 3.5 stars. 'Smokey' is certainly an above average presentation that exceeds expectations. However, it can't compete with modern high definition.
'Smokey and the Bandit' arrives on Blu-ray with its first high resolution, lossless soundtrack, but I doubt many will hear a striking difference between the 2007 HD-DVD's Dolby Digital track and this 5.1 DTS-HD MA version.
Though the film's first moment has a front to back pan and the music lightly kicks into all six channels, 'Smokey and the Bandit' is essentially a stereo release. Dialog is the priority here, and generally sounds nice; the one caveat being ADR work which isn't always dubbed in at the same levels (perhaps more noticeable in lossless audio). Sound effects like the crashes and squealing tires and roaring engines are clear and pan well across the entire front soundstage. LFE might be the best part of the track, thanks to the car and truck engines, bass notes in the music, Jerry Reed's deep voice (in addition to playing the Snowman, he also sings East Bound and Down), and blasting tractor trailer air horns.
This is one of those films where I wish they could have done a more modern remix -- it seems all the elements are there -- by directing the car chase chaos a little more front to back. Also, I'm not sure if it's worth an upgrade if you own the HD-DVD. However, given the era, this is probably the best 'Smokey and the Bandit' has ever sounded in the home (even if it won't test out the capabilities of your system).
For 'Smokey and the Bandit's Blu-ray debut, Universal ports over the same extras found on the 2007 HD-DVD as well 2006 DVD "Special Edition" version the film. That's not saying much, though, as the supplements package on those versions were slim. The only new material are a Theatrical Trailer as well as two short fetaurettes tied into the 100 Years of Universal.
The heart of the package is the retrospective featurette Loaded Up and Truckin': The Making of 'Smokey and the Bandit', which is a straightforward, 20-minute look back at this late '70s blockbuster hit. Director Hal Needham and stars Burt Reynolds and Paul Williams all reminiscence about how much fun it was to make the movie, but for once such rah-rah cheerleading seems genuine. There are also some interesting little tidbits here that I didn't know about, including info on the "real" Sheriff Buford, as well as some nice vintage footage of Reynolds and the late Jackie Gleason. The biggest disappointment on this one: where's Sally Field!?
There's also Snowman, What's Your 20 (SD, 8:17), a throwaway feaurette, featuring a real trucker explaining various CB terms and the like, the aforementioned Theatrical Trailer (SD, 2:45) and two 100 Years of Universal featurettes. The '70s (SD, 11:01) is a highlight reel of the films and filmmakers Universal released in the decade. Also, The Lot (HD, 9:25) is a brief look at the filmmakers, and their lasting sets, who called Universal home and how they changed the lot. These are nice, though don't bear specific relevance to 'Smokey and the Bandit', but I wish they were more in-depth overall.
'Smokey and the Bandit' is a classic car chase / slapstick comedy / action movie with memorable characters as well as an iconic villain and hero car. For those who grew up watching this film, I argue that it's still just as fun of a ride today as it was originally (I would also venture the same goes if you did not care for the film). Perhaps even more now because it plays like a period film And how often do we get to admire the true perfection of Jackie Gleason's ad libs.
As a Blu-ray, the film equals the HD-DVD in terms of picture; that is to say, it's an above average transfer that probably couldn't look much better. For audio, the Blu-ray bests the HD-DVD with the film's first lossless soundtrack. However, it's pretty much an era-consistent stereo track rather than a full surround experience, so don't expect modern sonics. The Special Features remain almost the same as the previous 2007 HD-DVD and 2006 DVD releases; here we find a couple minor extras. Recommended for fans who don't own a high-definition release. For everyone else, it's definitely worth a look as a rental or at a comfortable price point.