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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Smokey and the Bandit (HD DVD) (HD DVD)
Smokey and the Bandit (HD DVD) (HD DVD)
Universal // PG // May 22, 2007 // Region 0
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted May 27, 2007 | E-mail the Author
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You get most people started on the '77 Academy Awards and they'll fuss about Annie Hall beating out Star Wars for Best Picture. Me...? I grew up in Ladson, South Carolina; I'm still wondering where the Bandit's statuette is.

Okay, I'm playing that up a little. (Dead giveaway...? Rednecks don't use semicolons.) But I am from the boondocks of South Carolina, and I was raised by a man obsessed with Smokey and the Bandit. I don't mean "obsessed" as in "he's seen it a bunch of times". I mean that my father has the movie on every conceivable format, all the way from 35mm reels to this shiny new HD DVD. Framed posters, autographs, lobby cards, production stills, lithographs, model cars, soundtracks, die-cast minatures... Walk upstairs and you'll see a shot from the movie with my father's head Photoshopped over Burt Reynold's. He tried to get my stepmother in a wedding dress so he could faithfully retrace at least part of the run from Texarkana to Atlanta. He owns a fleet of Trans Ams, and if you spend enough time trawling News of the Weird-style sites, you might've stumbled onto an article about my dad buying a stunt car from the movie that was stolen by a guy legendary for dressing up as Batman. I'm not clever enough to make up something like that.

I mean, look at what the man did to this sweet, impressionable five year old:

I'm supposed to actually say something about the movie at some point, right? Anyway, Big Enos Burdette (Pat McCormick) has a bunch of thirsty buddies, but he can't get Coors east of the Mississip', and every trucker he's sent out west to smuggle back a few hundred cases for him has gotten pinched. He and his funhouse mirror dwarven son (Paul Williams) make an $80,000 bet with legendary speed demon Bo "The Bandit" Darville (Burt Reynolds) that he can't bring back 400 cases of the cold stuff from Texarkana to Atlanta in 28 hours flat. They say it can't be done, and that challenge and an $80K payday are enough to get the Bandit and his trucker pal Cledus "Snowman" Snow (Jerry Reed) west bound and down. Snowman's manning the big rig while the Bandit runs interference in a shiny black Trans Am to keep Smokey off his tail.

It's working, too: they're loaded up and truckin' back home with time to spare until the Bandit nearly plows into a runaway bride whose car petered out. Carrie (Sally Field) bowed out of a wedding with the dim-witted son of Sheriff Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason), and when Carrie saddles up shotgun next to the Bandit, Buford's on them like shit on a shoe, all the way back to the Peach State. ...and yeah, you know how the song goes. Ol' Smokey's got his ears on, and he's hot on your trail, and he ain't gonna rest till you're in jail. You've got to dodge him, you've got to duck him...you've gotta keep that diesel truckin'. Just put that hammer down and give it hell!

Okay, Smokey and the Bandit really isn't about anything. I mean, if you're looking for ethos or pathos or Mentos or whatever, a movie whose plot begins and ends with smuggling Coors cross-country probably isn't your best bet. It's exactly the type of flick you think you'd get if you shoved a seasoned stuntman like Hal Needham behind the camera. Shot back in the days when car chases used...y'know, cars instead of computer-generated models warmed over from an Xbox game, a lot of the stuntwork still manages to impress. Cars fishtail, flip over, careen off bridges, soar in the air and land on the bedliner of a truck, wind up stacked one on top of the other like dominoes, get lopped in half, plow through bleachers at a ball game...and for the most part, Smokey and the Bandit doesn't puss out and speed up the footage to make the cars look as if they're going faster than they really are either. This may be the movie that cemented Burt Reynolds' place as the top draw of the '70s, but that black and gold Trans Am is the real star of Smokey and the Bandit.

No, it's not some profound insight into the human condition, but Smokey and the Bandit just sets out to be a hell of a lot of fun, and that's exactly what it is. The movie boasts a great cast headed by Burt Reynolds, who sports the charm and deservedly cocky swagger a legend like the Bandit out to have. You can buy that Sally Field, who's surprisingly sultry without really even trying, could be so effortlessly charmed by a guy like that, and their real-life romance sizzles on the screen. Jerry Reed has a campy redneck charm as Snowman, and his southern fried country score -- headed up by the ridiculously catchy "East Bound and Down" -- is a perfect fit. The movie has that truckers-as-rebel-heroes mindset that made "Convoy" a chart-topper, and the Bandit gets a much-needed hand throughout the movie from CB hams who're about to go a-huntin' bear. He may be the bad guy, but Jackie Gleason steals the movie as the vulgar, backwater Sheriff Buford T. Justice, and nearly all of the heavily quoted dialogue from the movie is spouted out of his mouth. Possum pecker, tick turd, sumbitches, pile o' monkey nuts...the man's a poet.

High speed chases. American muscle. Goofy puns. Sally Field's ass. Just a hell of a good time. Recommended.

Video: Smokey and the Bandit looks better in high-def than I thought it would, but you can tell at a glance that this was shot in the '70s. The image is grainy and has a slightly soft look to it, and the movie sports the same dingy colors as just about every other flick filmed between 1970 and 1979. It's a noticeable step up from the 2006 DVD re-release but doesn't exactly land a knockout haymaker. The palette's better saturated in high-def, particularly the Bandit's bright red shirt, and as grainy as a lot of the movie is, the film grain is tight and doesn't ever devolve into a smeary, blocky mess. Crispness and clarity are decent enough, limited mostly by the quick-'n-dirty '70s photography, and there's really not any speckling or visible wear. Probably about as good as can be expected.

Audio: Purists might be miffed that Universal didn't tack on Smokey and the Bandit's original monaural audio, and I'm pretty sure this 5.1 track is the same remix that ruffled some feathers on DVD for tossing in new sound effects. It'd be a six hour round trip for me to find a copy of the movie old enough to have the original mix, but at least to my ears, any newly-recorded effects aren't particularly distracting.

That's kind of the strange thing about this six-channel mix, actually. It's surprisingly atmospheric at choke-'n-pukes and at the race track in Atlanta, taking care to spread discrete effects into every channel to establish a strong sense of ambiance. During the chase sequences -- when you'd expect the mix to get really aggressive -- the surround channels cut out almost completely. A set of whirring helicopter blades near the climax and the banjo-pluckin' and slide guitar in Jerry Reed's score are about it. The fidelity's pretty typical for a flick of this vintage, with its dialogue sounding slightly muffled and not offering much in the way of throaty, rumbling bass. Perfectly listenable but nothing all that great.

The English 5.1 mix is the only soundtrack on this HD DVD, although there are optional subtitle streams in English and French.

Extras: Getting the same short end of the stick as The Sting, Smokey and the Bandit may have been one of Universal's highest grossing flicks of the '70s, but that's apparently not enough to make 'em want to rustle up much of a special edition for its thirtieth birthday.

There are only two extras on this HD DVD, both offered up in standard definition and in anamorphic widescreen. The twenty minute featurette "Loaded Up and Truckin'" piles together new interviews with director Hal Needham, Burt Reynolds, and Paul Williams along with excerpts of vintage clips with Reynolds and a cranked-to-11 Jackie Gleason. It's not a bad little retrospective, touching on the disappearing beers that inspired Needham to write the screenplay, how the cast -- all the way down to a publicity stunt to find Fred the basset hound -- was put together, how Jerry Reed penned "East Bound and Down" overnight, Gleason improvising fist-sized chunks of his dialogue, and a run through some of the more dangerous stunts in the movie, one of which wasn't even planned.

"Snowman, What's Your 20?", an eight minute glossary of CB lingo, is it for the extras.

Conclusion: With most of the studios supporting HD DVD and Blu-ray sticking to really timid release slates, it's great to see Universal plowing through most of their hits; practically every blockbuster of theirs from the past thirty-something years without Spielberg's name somewhere in the credits is either on HD DVD now or is coming in the next few months. It is kind of a drag that a pop culture touchstone like Smokey and the Bandit doesn't get more in the way of extras, and as nice as the movie looks in high-def, it's probably not night-and-day enough for owners of the most recent DVD special edition to want to shell out another twenty bucks. Still, if it's been a while since you last chased down the Bandit, the flick's still a helluva lot of fun, and the sticker price online is exactly where it ought to be. Recommended.
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