Universal // 1977 // 96 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Ryan Keefer (Retired) // July 12th, 2007
"Before I tell you where I am, Sheriff, there's just one thing I wanna say. You must be part coon dog, 'cause I've been chased by the best of them, and son, you make 'em look like they're all runnin' in slow motion. I just wanna say that."
Universal continues to baffle when it comes to releasing catalog titles in the next generation HD DVD format, and the 1977 car porn film Smokey and the Bandit is another release in the format. The Burt Reynolds-Sally Field-Jackie Gleason vehicle was such an influential and popular film (don't worry, America flocked to a film with Dirty Harry and an orangutan in the same relative era, but at least that was good), so much so that it spawned two sequels. So how does the Bandit look and sound?
From a story by Robert Levy (better known as a producer of films such as Wedding Crashers) and directed by Hal Needham in his first directing work (he would work with Reynolds on the sequel, along with similar Reynolds auto-themed tomes like Stroker Ace and The Cannonball Run, the basic outline of the story is simple. Big Enos (Pat McCormick, Scrooged) and his brother Little Enos (Paul Williams, Georgia Rule) have a strong desire for some Coors beer. However, their urge is for several hundred cases, and to drink it in Georgia, which for whatever reason forbids its consumption. They bet a presumably washed-up truck driver named The Bandit (Reynolds) almost $100,000 to drive from Georgia to Texas and back with the beer. Bandit runs interference in a souped-up Trans Am designed to attract scores of state troopers, while his friend Cledus (Jerry Reed, The Waterboy) does the actual hauling by truck. Complicating things is when the Bandit picks up Carrie (Field), a bride who is running away from a wedding orchestrated by a Texas Sheriff named Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason, The Hustler). Can the Bandit return and collect his winnings, while fending off the aggressive chase of Justice? Well, two other movies were made, so you might presume to know how things transpire.
As one who is just outside the window of recollection to understand how iconic Burt Reynolds and the Trans Am were in the late '70s, I've got to wonder for those that remember it: what's wrong with you people? Did the world really clamor for this back then? If I wanted to watch some nutjob drive fast and avoid the police, I would have moved to Los Angeles or followed around a college or professional athlete with a videocamera between the hours of ten in the evening and five in the morning.
Since you can't really get around 90 minutes of fast cars, trucks and trucker talk on the radio, you've got to focus on the performances, and the performances are, well, unimpressive. Reynolds smiles and laughs through most of this, Field looks nice, though she appeared to stay out late more than once during the production, and the only real joy was watching Gleason put his own comedic touches onto Buford T. Justice. It helped spark a minor resurgence in the twilight of his career, and he's the only one that comes close to carrying the film. Otherwise, the film reeks of so much '70s cheesiness that the only things missing are the Dewar's and the Winstons.
The VC-1 encoded transfer really doesn't make that much of a difference as far as the film goes, to be honest. There are a lot of Georgia woods that are shown off by the transfer, and shots of some of those woods do look nice for a film of this age. But don't expect anything revelatory, blacks are a little inconsistent and the film grain is a bit distracting, and I'd even guess that some edge enhancement was done to Burt's hat, or maybe I'm dreaming. The Dolby Digital-Plus soundtrack is nothing better for that matter. The opening credits have a little bit of surround placement, but after that, sparse use of the subwoofer and almost no use of the rear speakers commences. A bit of a waste, considering that The Fast and the Furious gets all kinds of audio options. The extras are replicated from the standard definition disc, with a twenty minute making of retrospective with new interviews with Needham, Williams and Reynolds, who looks a bit like Mason Verger in Hannibal. Seriously, it's disturbing. A piece of trucker dialogue is next and unless you're really interested in it, it's not worth the ten minutes of airtime.
Admittedly, the stunt driving is pretty cool. There are some scenes where you can readily see that this spawned the Dukes of Hazard show that would be released later on television and become a programming stalwart on Friday nights. Needham's accomplished and acclaimed stunt work helps to underscore that he knew what he was doing when it came to driving fast, and the movies were moneymakers to the point of spawning many sequels and carbon copy impersonators.
Smokey and the Bandit -- The Superbit Edition might have a nice ring to it, but the audio and video are decent if not overly bland, the extras are minimal, and if you're buying the film because you like it, you know who you are and are going to buy it anyway. To the unknowing consumer, I'd maybe wait to see it as a rental or television airing before making a financial move.
The court has got a long way to go and a short time to get there, so we'll spare you the preamble and get the guilty verdict out of the way.
Review content copyright © 2007 Ryan Keefer; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 1977
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Making of Featurette
* CB Tutorial/Trucker Interviews