John Travolta and Debra Winger two-step their way through world-famous Texas honky-tonk Gilley's in Urban Cowboy. One part romance, one part exploration of country western lifestyle, the film has energy and charisma thanks to its leads, but the need for a "story" finds itself treading water in a familiar pool of cliches. Paramount finally debuts Urban Cowboy to Blu-ray with solid results offering up a decent, colorful transfer with an active audio mix to match and some decent bonus features. It's not the greatest film, but it's entertaining and if you're a fan, you'll be happy with this release. Recommended.
John Travolta side-saddles and two-steps his way into Urban Cowboy as "Bud" Davis. A young man who works hard by day at an oil refinery and plays harder by night at the world-famous honkey-tonk Gilley's. Life gets even better when he meets Sissy (Debra Winger) who steals his heart. Things get complicated when Bud has to prove he's a real cowboy and his love when the rough and tough ex-con Wes (Scott Glenn) shakes things up challenging Bud to a winner takes all and $5,000 mechanical bull riding competition.
I had a film professor that wasn't much of a fan of Saturday Night Fever and in turn, would dismiss Urban Cowboy as "Shit-Kicker Night Fever." He just never thought either film was actually about anything beyond showcasing how cool a particular nightclub lifestyle could be. "Meanwhile Martin Scorsese was making Raging Bull," or whatever impressive film from a better filmmaker lined up with a film's release was his other common phrase. He was a delightful curmudgeon who didn't go to the movies for "fun." While I agree there's not much happening in Urban Cowboy - I do find the show pleasantly entertaining. It's not a challenge - you're not going to see your entire worldview turned upside down. But it helps that Travolta and Winger make appealing leads while Scott Glenn gets to ham things up as the bad guy.
When the movie needs to find itself with an actual story to keep things moving - it's not bad. The story for Urban Cowboy plays closer to your average 80s skiing movie where the newcomer has to kick out the angry local who threatens the fun of everyone by challenging him in a duel with some arbitrary sport. Toss in some odd romantic arcs including the out of place pseudo romance with the nice rich city girl Pam played by Madolyn Smith to add extra sexual tension with our leads.
Travolta and Glenn could have simply played a game of HORSE on the basketball court for all the drama it brings, but instead, we get mechanical bull riding - which sounds kinda lame at first thought, but if you've tried it, it ain't easy! Back in the long, long ago when I was in sales I was at a convention in Dallas and while out with the group I was with, we ended up at some bar that had a mechanical bull. About two seconds after that thing fired up I found myself flung past the soft and squishy safety barriers and face down hard into the concrete floor with the wind knocked outta me. It was fun while it lasted! So I respect Travolta going full out doing his own stunts for the riding sequences in this movie.
Before reviewing this Blu-ray I hadn't seen Urban Cowboy in a long time - and even longer since I sat down and watched it in a single sitting. It's one of those movies that was always on cable and I'd pick it up here and there. It's not the best Travolta movie of this era. He's certainly in great form as Bud and rolls with the character convincingly, but the film always feels like a promo for Gilley's rather than an actual movie. If it was Patrick Swayze instead of Travolta you're 80% of the way to watching Roadhouse. Plot and story are incidental to the showcasing of all the fun you could actually be having if only you lived in Texas and liked to go to this one specific honky-tonk every night of the week.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Urban Cowboy sashays its way to Blu-ray for the very first time from Paramount Pictures in a single-disc Blu-ray + Digital set. Pressed on a BD-50 disc, the disc is housed in an eco-friendly case with identical slipcover artwork that doesn't quite replicate the original poster art. Why the beer was airbrushed out to make it look like Travolta is tugging on his shirt is anyone's guess. The disc loads to a static image main menu with traditional navigation options.
Urban Cowboy's debut on 1080p Blu-ray is a largely pleasing affair with a detailed image and an organic grain structure providing for a nicely film-like image. There's always been a diffused, softness to the photography from Reynaldo Villalobos who also shot 9 to 5 and The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez with the same sort of soft focus. However, I can't verify the vintage of this master - it does have some hallmarks of a slightly dated HD master, thick black levels, and some slight speckling. As I mentioned in the review it's been some time since I last watched this movie so my memories were from old standard definition broadcast/cable presentations - but I remember the movie always looking pretty dark.
As much of this movie was shot at the actual Gilley's in Texas, the nightclub itself offers up that thick smokey honkey-tonk vibe with low lighting. Even in those conditions details are always appreciable. Grain can be a bit thicker but there isn't any sign of DNR or egregious smoothing to report. Colors are robust allowing for rich primaries - blues and reds get a lot of play here. Flesh tones are healthy without appearing overly pink. Some soft photography remains for a couple of scenes and black levels for a couple scenes get a tad close to crush territory, but all in all, I call this a satisfactory HD debut.
The bright spot of this presentation is the excellent DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix. The primary highlight are the numerous scenes at Gilley's where crowds are lively giving the massive location a welcome sense of space and dimension. The first touring scene where Bud is shown around is a great example as crowd noise - conversations, clanking glasses, shouts, cheers move around the soundscape with ease. When the bull riding kicks in and the cheers light up the room, the combination of voices and music is well-spaced for a dynamic presence. The oil refinery fire is a big action-heavy sequence. There are a couple of moments here and there where it feels like the voices get a little lost and I had to raise the volume a tad, but that felt more like a side effect of people mumble-speaking their thick Texas drawls than a fault of the mix. When it counts most this is a great audio track.
Urban Cowboy comes with a few decent bonus features. It's not the most robust package out there, but what's here is nice. Mickey Gilley offers up a lot of fun bits about coming up through the music industry, buying Gilley's and the club growing to accommodate 2,500 to 3,500 people a night, and the filming of the movie. Fun fact, his cousin is Jerry Lee Lewis! The rest of the package is a little slim, the deleted scenes offer some character moments but nothing of note is missing.
Urban Cowboy may not be one of the greatest movies ever made - but it's fun all the same. The story within the movie may be a bit rote and routine, but the charismatic leads of Travolta and Winger carry the weight. Top it off with a memorable country western soundtrack and you have a good show. It's not a favorite but I enjoyed reconnecting with the film after so many years away. Paramount Pictures gives Urban Cowboy the due debut onto Blu-ray it's long deserved with a decent video transfer and a solid audio presentation with a couple of bonus features. If you're a fan that's been itching for an HD upgrade, you should be satisfied with this one. Recommended.