- May 9, 2003
Smokey and the Bandit drives onto Blu-ray in a nice edition that can really take the viewer back to 1977 for 90 minutes of sheer moviemaking fun. The Blu-ray comes with the same HD transfer used for the 2007 HD-DVD, the extras from the 2006 DVD plus a trailer and some unrelated featurettes. The package also includes the 2006 DVD for good measure. The movie still holds up to repeat viewings today, on the strength of the cast and the improvised banter from Burt Reynolds, Sally Field, Jerry Reed and, most crucially, Jackie Gleason as the legendary Buford T. Justice. As Reynolds puts it on the included featurette, this is a movie meant for a rainy Saturday afternoon. Just put it in the player and enjoy the ride. Recommended.
Studio: Universal/Rastar Productions
Length: 1 hr 36 mins
Genre: Action Comedy/Truckers/CB
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
BD Resolution and Codec: 1080p, VC-1 (@ an average 32 mbps)
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (@ an avg 3.3 mbps up to 5.0 mbps), French DTS 2.0
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Film Rating: PG (Mild Thematic Elements, Innuendo, Lots of Salty Language)
Release Date: June 5, 2012
Starring: Burt Reynolds, Sally Field, Jerry Reed and Jackie Gleason
Screenplay by: James Lee Barrett and Charles Shyer & Alan Mandel
Story by: Hal Needham & Robert L. Levy
Directed by: Hal Needham
Film Rating: 4/5
There is a great moment early on in Smokey and the Bandit that sets the tone for the rest of the movie to follow. Bandit Bo Darville (Burt Reynolds) has just eluded the first police car to see his signature Trans-Am speeding down a night road. After the cop car goes flying by in the background, Darville slowly eases the Trans-Am forward until he is directly alongside the camera. He then looks directly into the camera, right at the viewer, and breaks out into an infectious, chow-eating grin. And then happily speeds off. Once you do that in a movie, particularly when you’re Burt Reynolds at the height of his popularity in the 1970s, you’re pretty much guaranteed to have the audience eating out of your hand for the next hour or so. Now, if you’ve never seen this film, you owe it to yourself to spend about an hour and a half discovering how much fun it is. It really is that simple.
SPOILERS HERE FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO HAVE NEVER SEEN THIS MOVIE. AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT, WHY HAVEN’T YOU? Now, nobody would ever accuse Smokey and the Bandit of being anything more than the summer Saturday afternoon picture Burt Reynolds has said it is. But what fun ride it is at that. The plot is quite simple. The Bandit is dared by the notorious Big and Little Enos Burdette into making an illegal run of 400 cases of Coors Beer from Texarkana to Georgia in 28 hours. Realizing that the police will easily stop an 18 wheel truck with that cargo, Bandit has the Burdettes finance him a super-powered 6.6 liter engine Trans-Am to act as a blocker for the truck, which will be manned by his best friend Cledus the “Snowman” (Jerry Reed). Getting to Texarkana is no problem – the only policeman to give chase gets the treatment we’ve already discussed. It’s once they start the return trip that the real fun begins. Things take off as Bandit picks up runaway bride Carrie (Sally Field), who’s already being pursued by her husband-to-be and his angry father, the estimable Sheriff Buford T. Justice of Montague County, Texas (Jackie Gleason). Once Sheriff Justice catches up to the Bandit, the real fun begins and the number of police cars piling up on the side of the road begin to mount.
MORE SPOILERS: Of course, this isn’t a lot of plot. And it’s really more of a skeleton on which to hang a series of car chases and crashes, punctuated by some very funny ad-libs by Reynolds, Reed and particularly Gleason, who reportedly improvised up to 80 percent of his dialogue. We should keep in mind that Gleason’s dialogue, which is laced with some extremely colorful language, brings this movie right to the edge of what would have been permissible in a 1977 PG film. (At certain moments watching the movie again today, I have been struck with how rough Gleason’s language can be.) There’s an almost Roadrunner Cartoon quality to the movie. Time after time, Sheriff Justice thinks he has the Bandit cornered, only to be eluded or outwitted, and to add injury to insult, to then have his police car damaged further. (By the end of the movie, he’s barely driving a set of wheels…) And then we repeat the situation, only with different police cars in a different state or jurisdiction, and the whole time this is happening, the Snowman keeps driving that truck full of bootleg Coors without any policeman realizing what his cargo is. The movie is peppered with some very funny CB back-and-forth between Jerry Reed and Burt Reynolds, and a surprising level of romantic chemistry between Sally Field and Burt Reynolds. (An earlier scene at a bus depot actually has a disarming level of vulnerability between them – it’s no shock that the two began dating during this production.)
STILL MORE SPOILERS: Likely the reason this all works is due to the charm of all the improvised dialogue and a few inventive stunt chases and crashes. And of course, there’s Jerry Reed’s classic country song score. His famous “Eastbound and Down” was written for this movie and is prominently featured multiple times. (I’m more partial to his song “The Legend” which brackets the opening titles…) Watching the movie now, it’s clear that this was not a high budget production or a completed script when the shooting began. Knowing that the script wasn’t of the highest caliber, both Burt Reynolds and Jackie Gleason signed on with the intent of doing a lot of improvising, which worked out to everyone’s benefit. And having Jerry Reed easily pattering the CB dialogue with a basset hound next to him, and Sally Field warming up her moments with Reynolds put the whole thing over the top. There are still a few holes, which the movie drives through with great cheer. We as an audience understand that Carrie is on the run from the Sheriff (since she ditched his son Junior at the altar) but Bandit never makes this connection – until perhaps the very end when Carrie gives one throwaway goodbye to Junior. We as an audience accept that Big and Little Enos Burdette are daring “every gearjammer there is” to do this bootleg Coors run, even to the point of promising $80,000 to the Bandit if he makes it. But let’s think about that for a second – how much money do these guys have, and why is it so important to them to play this game? And there’s the ending, where Bandit realizes that he and Snowman are not only being paced by a dozen cop cars but also an overhead helicopter, and prepares to throw in the towel. Except that Snowman throws the rig into overdrive and blasts through the roadblock ahead to allow them to complete the run with ten minutes to spare on their timeline. So as they charge onto the fairgrounds with their cargo, the cop cars all conveniently pile up outside and the helicopter disappears long enough for our heroes to switch cars and make their escape without any policeman noticing that the very noticeable guy in the cowboy hat and bright red shirt is driving out among them in a convertible Cadillac. And there are a few moments during the chases that may make an observant viewer say “Huh?” when a police car magically crashes to allow the Bandit to escape again. But all of this is in good fun, and the viewer is not expected to ask these questions while the movie unspools. And the charm of the movie is that it’s so much fun, you don’t want to ask these questions. When it comes to the movie’s two sequels, it is unfortunate to have to note that lightning did not strike twice. The first sequel in 1980 simply retread many of the jokes of the first film while its new additions didn’t register. And the lest said about the second sequel, the better. But the original film still has its charm and appeal, in spite of the ravages of time and sequels alike.
Smokey and the Bandit will be released on Blu-ray on June 5th, marking at least its fifth appearance on DVD and its umpteenth on home video. Leaving aside all the videotape and laserdisc matters, the movie appeared on DVD in 1998 near the birth of the DVD format. It was re-released with the same transfer in a 2004 “Pursuit Pack” that included both of its sequels. In 2006, a Special Edition DVD was issued from a new HD master, including two featurettes about the production and the CB lingo. In 2007, an HD-DVD was issued using that same master. In 2010, a 7-movie “Outlaw Collection” pack was released on standard definition, this time including not only the three theatrical films but also four TV movies from 1994 to boot. The new Blu-ray arrives with the 2006 picture transfer, a DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix of the sound, and the 2006 featurettes. To this has been added two 2012 Universal 100th Anniversary featurettes, and the movie’s original trailer. The packaging also includes the 2006 DVD and instructions for downloading a digital copy. This is also the latest release to not have a regular Main Menu. Instead, the movie starts up right away, and you’ll need to hit the pop-up menu to access any functionality. Given the content and the appeal of the movie, this is an easy title to Recommend. If you haven’t seen the movie in a long time, or if you’ve never seen it at all, this is a good way to get to see the movie and enjoy the ride.
VIDEO QUALITY 3 ½/5
Smokey and the Bandit is presented in a 1080p VC-1 1.85:1 picture transfer that is carried over from the 2007 HD-DVD. It’s not a consistent affair, and there is a definite digital look to it at times. At some points, the grain can’t be seen. At other points (the early night pursuit scene, the scenes right after one of the more memorable car chase/crash scenes), the grain level shoots up. On the other hand, the HD picture reveals many details I had never noticed before. Signs and stickers on the doors and walls of various locations are easily legible now. Snowman’s vest patch reading “Truckers Do It BEST!” with a colorful graphic can now be read. The fact that Snowman forgot to turn on his calculator in his truck is now pretty obvious. The first reveal of the beautiful Special Edition Trans-Am easily shows the 6.6 Litre notation on the hood (which incidentally conflicts with the Cover Art on the DVD). Some stunt driving shots now reveal obvious stunt doubles – shots when Sally Field is supposed to be driving the Trans-Am now reveal a man with a light brown wig and 5-o-clock shadow! An early shot where Bandit drives the rig into Snowman’s front driveway is clearly being handled by another driver before the close shot brings Bandit out of the cab. Most interesting is a gaffe that has never been clear to me before. When Sheriff Justice makes his first dramatic entrance, the star on the door of his car reads “Montague County”. But when the end credits roll, he is credited as “Sheriff Buford T. Justice of Portague County”. Hmmmmm… One could argue that a whole new transfer should have been made from the original negative, but I have to say that while I could make that argument about a Gone With The Wind, or a Patton, I don’t have a problem with the use of the older transfer here. It’s perfectly serviceable and the movie doesn’t suffer for it.
AUDIO QUALITY 3 ½/5
Smokey and the Bandit is presented in an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that gives some throaty support to the muscle in the Trans-Am and truck engines. Most of the mix lives in the front channels but the song score rings throughout the channels and there is a definite atmospheric presence in the surrounds. The Blu-ray also includes a French DTS 2.0 mono mix. There’s a small caveat here, and I’m not sure if it’s a real issue. I have read that when the Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 mixes were made for the 2006 Special Edition DVD, some elements were changed or redone. I can’t prove this myself as I do not have an older copy of the movie with which to compare. And the sounds of Fred the Basset Hound barking in the finale match to my memory of them from 30 years ago. If anyone has more information on this, or can demonstrate changes, I’d be interested in reading about it here.
SPECIAL FEATURES 3/5
The Blu-ray presentation of Smokey and the Bandit comes with the same special features as the 2006 Special Editon DVD, with a few more pieces added to the puzzle.
My Scenes – The usual Blu-ray bookmarking feature is available here, allowing the viewer to set their own bookmarks throughout the film.
Loaded Up and Truckin’: The Making of Smokey and the Bandit (20:00, 480p, Anamorphic) (AVAILABLE BOTH ON DVD & BLU-RAY) – This featurette is carried over from the 2006 DVD, and it provides a pretty good overview of the making of the movie. Hal Needham, Burt Reynolds and Paul Williams are interviewed at a pretty good length about how things came together. Reynolds notes how the multiple “Sumbitch!” references by Jackie Gleason came from his own father’s use of the term. (And of course the elder Reynolds was actually a policeman himself.) Needham notes how the movie was really put together under trying conditions where the cars were cannibalized for parts when they were no longer drivable. Both Needham and Reynolds note that several chase sequences were actually quite dangerous – especially one where the Sheriff’s car is struck by the truck early on, and another one where the Trans-Am jumps onto a football field where teenagers are playing a game. Reynolds’ best line about the movie is the summary he says came from Billy Bob Thornton – that down South, they think of this as a documentary…
Snowman, What’s Your 20?: The Smokey and the Bandit CB Tutorial (8:17, 480p, Anamorphic) (AVAILABLE BOTH ON DVD & BLU-RAY) – This short featurette, carried over from the 2006 DVD, is led by trucker Steve “Big Dog’ Cronin, who takes the viewer on a ride and explains a bunch of the CB lingo heard in the movie. This includes several varieties of bear on the road (“Air Bears”, “Polar Bears”, etc) and some of the other references. Not everything is included here, but on the other hand, it’s a good start.
Theatrical Trailer (2:45, 480p, Full Frame) (BLU-RAY ONLY) – A full frame copy of the movie’s original theatrical trailer is included here, possibly for the first time since 1998. It’s a fairly long trailer and gives a pretty solid overview of the movie. Of course, it starts out with the romantic elements before slowly getting into all the chases and the fun stuff.
100 Years of Universal: The ‘70s (11:01, 1080p) (BLU-RAY ONLY) – This high definition featurette showcases selected Universal releases of the 1970s, discussing the time as one of great freedom for filmmakers. The Sting, Jaws, Smokey and the Bandit, and inexplicably, The Jerk, are all provided as examples here. Of course, the featurette leaves out other elements of the 1970s, such as the three sequels made from Airport, and the sequels that stemmed from Jaws. More offbeat fare like Silent Running aren’t even included in the discussion. Nor is the whole era of Sensurround, which Universal used to spice up the subwoofer effect for movies like Earthquake, Rollercoaster and even the theatrical release of Battlestar Galactica. The 70s era of Universal television, which kept the lot running at past full capacity for years is also not discussed.
100 Years of Universal: The Lot (9:25, 1080p) (BLU-RAY ONLY)– This high definition featurette gets into the backlot itself and the various famous stages and settings. The ever-present Studio Tour is mentioned in passing – one of the interesting parts of shooting at the Universal Backlot is that you will regularly see Tour trams roll by your set. The famous “Phantom” soundstage where the set of the opera still stands is shown. The Bates House is also shown, including some information on how it originally only had the two sides you saw in Psycho but was later augmented to finish it off. Selected areas of the backlot exteriors are also shown, including the lake, the Western area, a Roman forum built for Spartacus and a pass by the other streets. (For the record, the European Street is a very interesting construct on the side of a hill which both looks realistic and is fairly simple to film.) But, of course, no mention is made about the fact that since the late 60s, it hasn’t been the movies but rather the TV shows that kept the lot constantly humming. Speaking from the experience of my crew, I can attest that during the 1970s, there was a heck of a lot of TV work and feature work keeping that lot running like a factory. In many cases, people actually worked for the LOT, and not for individual productions. Construction workers would report to the mill and then be sent off to the various stages to do work assignments for the different TV shows, reporting back to the foremen when done with each task. This is a part of the business we’ve lost over the years, and it’s one that probably hasn’t been documented that well. It’s the same sort of idea mentioned in the Wizard of Oz commentary by Margaret O’Brien – how in the 1930s, actors would be under contract to a studio and would report to the Makeup Building at their calltime in the early morning before being dispatched to whatever stage their current movie was filming…
SD DVD – (1.85:1 Anamorphic Letterbox) – As a bonus, the package also contains the 2006 standard definition DVD of the movie. This DVD contains the movie with the then-new Dolby Digital 5.1 (448 kbps) and DTS 5.1 (765 kbps) sound mixes. It contains the first two featurettes in the above list. And when the disc is first inserted, previews are shown for the DVD releases of Munich, Brokeback Mountain, SNL Best of Cheri Oteri, SNL Best of Commercial Parodies, The Rockford Files Season One, and the Blues Brothers 25th Anniversary DVD. This would almost be enough to convince me that this is the same disc I already own as the Special Edition DVD. Except that the front of the DVD doesn’t have the colorful label. Instead, there’s a clear front with the movie logo and a 2008 copyright. So as a little test, I used the memory function of the PS3 that allows you to resume playback where you left off when you eject a DVD. What do you know? When I ejected the DVD from the new package and inserted my old 2006 DVD, playback resumed at the moment I had stopped. You may draw your own conclusion – but on the other hand, I wasn’t expecting a new pressing of the DVD to go with this package. After all, what was provided in 2006 is a perfectly good DVD presentation of the movie and is a nice supplement here.
Digital Copy – Instructions are included in the packaging for downloading a digital copy of the movie to your laptop or portable device. The instructions include a deadline of December 31, 2013 for activation.
The movie and special features are subtitled in English, Spanish and French. The usual chapter and pop-up menus are present. As I said, there is no Main Menu, but you can access everything you need via the pop-up option. I do need to note again that this tendency is becoming a bit annoying, in that you have no option but to start the movie right away. You can pause it in its first moments, but I’m not a fan of the idea of being thrown right in. I’m sure that there are many readers who will have the opposite impression and would rather get on with it, but this is not a trend of which I’m a fan.
IN THE END...
Smokey and the Bandit is a fun ride with some great characters that has not lost its appeal in the 35 years since its theatrical release. Time and some poor sequels may have faded its memory a bit, but the original still has the spark the sequels couldn’t find. The Blu-ray provides a nice way to see Burt Reynolds, Sally Field, Jerry Reed and Jackie Gleason all operating at their best in the mid 1970s. If you’ve never seen the movie, this is a good introduction to Reynolds at the peak of his popularity and a good example of how to make a fun movie without a lot of money or complications. And if you have seen the movie but don’t have it in high definition, this will be a worthy upgrade. If you have it on HD-DVD, the only question is whether you’re still using the player as much, or if a sale price here will help.
May 25, 2012.
Equipment now in use in this Home Theater:
Panasonic 65” VT30 Plasma 3D HDTV – set at “THX” picture mode
Denon AVR-3311Cl Receiver
Oppo BDP-93 Blu-ray Player
PS3 Player (used for calculation of bitrates for picture and sound)
5 Mirage Speakers (Front Left/Center/Right, Surround Back Left/Right)
2 Sony Speakers (Surround Left/Right – middle of room)
Martin Logan Dynamo 700 Subwoofer