Smokey And The Bandit Review
Ah, Burt Reynolds. As quickly as he made the ascension to global superstar, he faded just as fast. But in his prime the man was box office gold, and 1977 wasn't just about a certain floppy-haired farmboy heading out into the galaxy; it also belonged to Smokey And The Bandit, to the tune of $125,000,000 in takings. Adjust that for inflation, and it's currently 64th on the all-time list of box office champions, ahead of Men In Black, Close Encounters, Fellowship of the Ring etc. Not bad for a film about some good ol' country boys.
The plot is so simple it's barely there, but it does give the film a strong sense of momentum. Legendary truck driver Bo 'Bandit' Darville is challenged to get to Texarcana, TX, pick up 400 cases of Coors beer and get it back to Atlanta, GA inside of 28 hours to claim a prize of $80,000. Aided by his friend Snowman, he picks up a runaway bride along the way, and hot on her tail is her simple minded husband-to-be and his crazed policeman daddy. Cue plenty of of laughs, some decent stunts and a whole lot of cursing as they race to the finish, headed up by that gorgeous Pontiac Firebird Trans Am driven by the Bandit.
Hal Needham's film is still a very enjoyable ride nearly 35 years later, and for one reason above all others: there's genuine chemistry between all the players. Alongside Reynolds was his then-girlfriend Sally Field as Carrie, the wantaway spouse, and his pal, country music star Jerry Reed, filled in as Cletus 'Snowman' Snow (as well as providing the hit songs for the movie, natch). They play it loose and naturalistic with plenty of improvisation, in true '70s style. Many of the laughs come from the Snowman's reactions to the Bandit's exploits and, of course, the caustic mouth of Sheriff Buford T. Justice, played to the hilt by Jackie Gleason. And Mike Henry's dim-witted Junior is a perfect foil to Gleason's gloriously OTT performance.
The movie comes to Blu looking very much like the American HD DVD which was released a few years back. It's presented in 1.85:1 widescreen, VC-1 encoded, and looks very, very respectable indeed. In fact, I can hardly believe that it's come from Universal. Their approach to catalogue titles has generally been to dust off whatever master they have laying around, add a healthy dollop of noise reduction and then sharpen it back up with some edge enhancement. But Smokey appears to have come from a recent scan, looking very stable with no sign of gate weave. There's the occasional scratch or bit of dirt, otherwise it looks very clean.
It's not eye-poppingly sharp, but given the movie's age and production values I wasn't expecting more. The level of detail is quite acceptable and there's a light layer of grain, both of which are unavoidably affected by the opticals sprinkled throughout the film. Colour is generally very strong, looking bold without appearing overly saturated. No modern teal revision either. There are a few night-time shots, and they show off some decent blacks. The only downside is a slight but obvious lick of edge enhancement, resulting in thin white halos around high-contrast edges. Still, it's quite restrained compared to what Universal usually do. The encode itself appears to be free from any major artefacts.
So, it's not 100% perfect, but Smokey is easily one of Universal's most respectful efforts so far.
We get a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 encode of the remixed audio which debuted a few years back on the American SE DVD. I don't have the original mono mix to compare it to, and apparently a great deal of the sound effects have been replaced, but this remix is pretty restrained. There's moderate use of the LFE to bolster that big ol' rig whenever it passes by, and the music gets some support too. The rears get a handful of discrete effects. The music is spread across the front of the soundstage and sounds clear enough, although the songs aren't as punchy as I would've liked. The dialogue can sometimes get lost amongst the vroom of the cars, but it's discernable for the most part (the looped dialogue is always easy to spot because it sounds so clear!).
Nothing whatsoever; the new featurettes found on the SE DVD (and HD DVD) have been junked. One of those features, about CB radio users, was instantly forgettable but the other one concentrated on the making of the film and it really should've been included. We don't get so much as a trailer. Hell, the menus aren't even in English, just a load of cryptic symbols which obviously make encoding one disc for worldwide use that much easier (see the list of language options). But with that in mind, what's doubly annoying is that you still have to select your language from a screen prior to that. Other companies have figured out how to get their 'worldwide' discs to play with whatever language by looking at what the player itself is set to, so why is it such a stretch for Universal?
Smokey And The Bandit is still a cracking little comedy, and the Blu-ray does it proud with an authentic video presentation. The remixed audio may not be to everyone's taste, but the lossless DTS encode makes it sound as good as possible. The lack of the DVD extras is a big disappointment though. I don't doubt that we'll see a US Blu-ray release with the extras intact at some point, so if you're a die-hard fan you may want to hold on. But if you just want the movie, then you can't go wrong with this all-region UK release.