Release Date(s)1977 (June 1, 2021)
Studio(s)Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B-
- Extras Grade: C-
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 Thorton once said that it was considered to be a documentary where he came from. All kidding aside, it's easy to dismiss the film 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 film 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 film 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 film was completed, Universal had little faith in the final product and had to be convinced that if they opened in the south first, that the film 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), Smokey and the Bandit 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.
Smokey and the Bandit was shot on 35 mm film with Panavision cameras and lenses, and finished photochemically framed at 1.85:1 for its theatrical release. Universal brings the film to Ultra HD with a native 4K transfer from the original camera negative and a new high dynamic range grade (only HDR10 is available). The 40th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray release certainly improved the look of the film by erasing many of the previous Blu-ray’s missteps. This new UHD presentation takes it a step further. Moderate grain is handled well and though detail hasn’t increased enormously, there is improvement. Blacks are boosted, giving shadows a deep and more refined look, never appearing overly bright. The HDR pass doesn’t widen the gamut too dramatically, though certain shades of red and green do pop a little more than they did before. Flesh tones are more accurate as well. The quality dips only during optically-printed transitions and the opening and closing titles, as is typical of older catalog titles. Even so, they blend a bit better than most films from this era. All in all, this is likely the best the film will ever look on home video.
The audio is presented in a new English Dolby Atmos mix (7.1 TrueHD compatible), as well as French and Spanish DTS 2.0 mono. Subtitle options include English SDH, French, and Spanish. Sadly, the original mono track that was included in the 40th Anniversary Edition is not present. It’s a shame because the Dolby Atmos track is actually fairly faithful to the film’s original sound design. Some may find that to be a negative thing, but this is mostly how Smokey and the Bandit is supposed to sound. The new Atmos track boosts the sounds of vehicles and crashes, but does little else with the dialogue. The score and Jerry Reed’s wonderful music fill out the surrounding speakers well. Occasional speaker to speaker movement, usually from a passing car or truck, stands out. There’s also a few atmospherics and added low frequency activity, giving things a bit more rumble during key moments. The height channels don’t add much to the proceedings, but there’s a healthy amount of activity elsewhere. Note that certain sound effects are missing (such as Fred’s barks and groans) or even added (like an additional laugh from Burt Reynolds where previously he said nothing). Still, it’s a satisfactory track, but having the original soundtrack in DTS or LPCM would have really been the icing on the cake.
In addition to the Ultra HD disc, a Blu-ray of the film in 1080p is included, as well as a Digital code on a paper insert inside the package. Oddly enough, the Blu-ray is not the 40th Anniversary Edition disc, but a previous disc, meaning that the original mono soundtrack for the film is missing in action on both discs in this package. However, they both carry the same extras:
- Loaded Up and Truckin’: Making Smokey and the Bandit (HD – 20:03)
- Snowman, What’s Your 20?: The Smokey and the Bandit CB Tutorial (HD – 8:17)
- 100 Years of Universal: The 70s (HD – 11:02)
- 100 Years of Universal: The Lot (HD – 9:28)
- Trailer (SD – 2:45)
Loaded Up and Truckin' is a brief retrospective featurette while Snowman, What’s Your 20? discusses how to speak CB slang. Also included are the two (now outdated) promotional featurettes: 100 Years of Universal: The 70's and 100 Years of Universal: The Lot. Rounding things out is the film’s theatrical trailer. Sadly, the excellent CMT documentary about Hal Needham, The Bandit, hasn’t been included. Nor has the infamous TV version of the film which creatively censored much of the film’s language. It also included a deleted scene as well.
While Universal’s 4K release of Smokey and the Bandit improves the look of the film, it lacks a bit in the audio and extras department. It’s a nice release, but it could have been a little better.
- Tim Salmons