SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT
MOVIE: **** (out of 5)
BLU-RAY EXPERIENCE: **1/2 (out of 5)
BY KEVIN CARR
Back in 1977, my parents flat-out refused to take me to see “Smokey and the Bandit,” not necessarily for anything inappropriate but rather because they hated the idea of watching a movie about a multi-state car chase. Even though all of my friends saw it, I got over my disappointment because “Star Wars” was also tearing up the theaters at the same time, so I was plenty distracted with that movie.
I finally saw “Smokey and the Bandit” about a year ago when I saw it was available through Netflix’s Watch Instantly service. However, that version of the film was a pan-and-scan copy that looked like it was dubbed off a crappy 3/4” tape from an decrepit television station. Consequently, I didn’t enjoy the movie that much, and this is a fantastic example of how presentation can impact a film. (Other films that I’d seen over the years suffering from bad VHS pan-and-scan presentation and yielding a lower opinion include the original “Mad Max” and even the classic “Alien.”)
With Universal’s 100th Anniversary release, I finally had a chance to see “Smokey and the Bandit” in a good format, on high definition and widescreen. Sure, the film has some serious grain issues, and the common flip-flop choice of Universal to scrub their digital prints is evident throughout, but a decent picture and good sound went a long way to helping me appreciate the film.
“Smokey and the Bandit” tells the story of a famous bootlegger named the Bandit (Burt Reynolds) who agrees to run a shipment of Coors beer from Texarkana to the Southern Classic in Georgia in only 28 hours. Bandit runs interference for the truck in a new Pontiac Trans Am. Along the way, he picks up a runaway bride (Sally Field), whose disgruntled fiancé is the son of a mean sumbitch Texas sheriff. The Bandit tries to keep ahead of the sheriff, get the girl and make the run all the way to Georgia to win the bet.
You can’t take a movie like this too seriously, and I can easily see how it became a phenomenon in the 1970s. With the explosion of interest in CB radios and the audience’s penchant for car chase films, “Smokey and the Bandit” was lightning in a bottle. It’s a silly film for anyone who has dreamed of being just enough outside of the law to have fun and not hurt anyone.
Growing up on a steady diet of episodes of “The Dukes of Hazzard,” I found a lot of fun in this film, especially on a second viewing. I am ashamed a bit to have laughed so heartily at parts of the movie, but the good ol’ boy nature of the film and the brilliantly over-the-top performance of Jackie Gleeson as Sheriff Bufort T. Justice just makes me giggle. It’s quintessentially 70s and still a ton of fun.
The 100 Years of Universal “Smokey and the Bandit” Blu-ray also includes a DVD of the film and a Digital Copy disc. The bonus material includes the theatrical trailer and the featurettes “Loaded Up and Truckin’: Making Smokey and the Bandit” and “Snowman: What’s Your 20?: the Smokey and the Bandit CB Tutorial.”
Additional bonus material includes the 100 Years of Universal featurettes “The ‘70s” and “The Lot.”