Release Date(s)1977 (July 11, 2017)
Studio(s)Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B-
Growing up in the south, Smokey and the Bandit was nigh impossible to miss as it was in constant rotation on TBS, not to mention that most households always seemed to have a copy of it. Even Billy Bob Thornton once said that it was considered to be a documentary where he came from. All kidding aside, it’s easy to dismiss the movie as it’s soaking in southern culture and eventually became a part of the lexicon. On the flipside, Smokey and the Bandit is easily one of the most enjoyable road movies ever made, as well as, what many contemporaries would describe as, a “handshake” movie.
After becoming one of the most famous stuntmen in the business, Hal Needham, who was living with Burt Reynolds at the time, decided to make a movie with Burt in the lead (although Jerry Reed was his original choice). Eventually convincing Universal Pictures to allow him to do this, he shot the movie throughout Georgia and much of the original script was tossed out and replaced once Jackie Gleason became involved. He improvised most of his own dialogue, even suggesting and eventually filming a scene in which Sheriff Justice accidentally runs into the Bandit unknowingly. Much of the stunt work used in many of Needham’s previous films was also utilized, included a very memorable moment when a police cruiser lands in the back of a moving semi-truck.
Once the movie was completed, Universal had little faith in the final product and had to be convinced that if they opened the movie in the south first, that it would find its audience right away. However, with Jerry Reed, Bill Justis, and Dick Feller providing the film’s soundtrack, the presence of the new-to-the-market black and gold Pontiac Trans Am, the height in popularity of CB radio culture, and the performances from all involved (notably from Reynolds and Gleason), the movie was a smash hit in 1977, directly behind Star Wars. While a number of sequels were made, including one with the original cast, none of them were as popular as the first. These many years later, even with the passing of fads and the changing of social climates, Smokey and the Bandit is still an entertaining classic that many continue to hold up as one of their all-time favorites, myself included.
Universal presents Smokey and the Bandit on Blu-ray for the second time in the U.S (technically third). It appears to be sourced from the same master that was previously used, but with a different and much more improved encode. Grain levels are minimal, which leads me to believe that a little excess digital scrubbing has been carried out, but not to the point of textures appearing too smooth. It still retains a filmic quality regardless. Fine detail is abundant, although some mild edge enhancement is also evident. Colors are strong without particularly popping (not that any of the colors ever really popped in this movie). Skin tones range from decent to natural, but a lot of that has to do with the original cinematography more than the quality of the transfer itself. Black levels are deep while brightness and contrast levels are virtually perfect. It’s also a very stable presentation with little to no film artifacts leftover. As for the audio, three options are available: English 5.1 DTS-HD, as well as English and French 2.0 DTS. Fans of the film should take note that this release contains the original soundtrack for the first time on the format, although not in lossless form. In my opinion, having it at all is reason enough to celebrate. The 5.1 track that’s been carried over from previous releases, including DVD, was not only remixed but contained a lot of revisionism in the sound effects. It’s always been an unsatisfactory track for that reason alone, so having the original makes this release a must-own. As for its quality, it sounds pretty much the way it always has. It shows its age with vintage sound effects and obvious overdubbing, but with clear dialogue and a strong musical selection. Subtitle selections include English, Spanish, and French.
In the extras department, everything has been carried over from the movie’s previous releases, with one new addition: The Bandit, a long-form documentary about Hal Needham that was produced by CMT, and is actually very good. Also included is the Loaded Up and Truckin’: Making Smokey and the Bandit featurette, the Snowman, What’s Your 20?: The Smokey and the Bandit CB Tutorial featurette, the movie’s theatrical trailer, two promotional featurettes: 100 Years of Universal: The 70s and 100 Years of Universal: The Lot; a DVD copy; and a paper insert with a Digital Copy code. I personally would have liked to have had the infamous "scum bum" TV version as an extra for completists sake, which also made use of a deleted scene. As is, it’s still a decent set of supplemental material.
It’s safe to say that owning Smokey and the Bandit on Blu-ray has always been a sore spot for many of its fans, mainly due to the aforementioned lack of the movie’s original soundtrack. Now that that’s been fixed, there’s room for other improvements, and perhaps for the movie’s 50th anniversary, something more elaborate could be done. Despite this, this Blu-ray release of Smokey and the Bandit is quite satisfactory and is definitely the only release of the movie worth owning.
- Tim Salmons