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Urban Cowboy (40th Anniversary Edition)

Paramount // PG // June 2, 2020 // Region 0
List Price: $22.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by William Harrison | posted August 21, 2020 | E-mail the Author

THE FILM:

This 1980 John Travolta drama about a mechanical bull is not among his best. Sure, that is oversimplifying the plot a bit, as Urban Cowboy is also about domestic violence and a honky tonk, but this movie does not hold up well forty years later. James Bridges directs Travolta and a supporting cast that includes Debra Winger, Scott Glenn, Barry Corbin and Madolyn Smith, and he and Aaron Latham adapt the screenplay from Latham's "Esquire" article of the same name. The best thing I can say about the film is that it captures the atmosphere of a big country bar fairly well. The film has obvious parallels to Travolta's Saturday Night Fever but is not as iconic. Fans of country music may enjoy Urban Cowboy as background entertainment, but as a compelling drama it cannot last the full eight seconds.

Bud Davis (Travolta) moves to Houston to work with his uncle at an oil refinery. There he is introduced to the local watering hole, Gilley's honky tonk bar, which is owned by singer Mickey Gilley. Bud falls for Sissy (Winger) when she asks him one night at Gilley's if he is a real cowboy. The pair marry, holding their reception at the bar, and move into a new single-wide mobile home. Bud does not appreciate Sissy's spunk and independence and expects dinner on the table when he gets home. At the bar, Bud becomes entranced with riding the mechanical bull, but forbids Sissy to do the same. When paroled felon Wes Hightower (Glenn) starts working at Gilley's, tensions rise, and Bud and Sissy's relationship is strained by infidelity and resentment.

The narrative follows the path of many similar 1980s films: The new kid in town has to prove himself to the locals and get the girl. Well, sort of. Bud gets the girl pretty quickly, then socks her in the mouth, cheats on her and finds redemption atop the mechanical bull. I know Urban Cowboy has its fans, but I am not one of them. The story is cheesy and off-putting, as is the constant bickering and physical violence between Bud and Sissy. I do not find Bud a particularly likeable or compelling character, and Sissy puts up with far more of his moody antics than she should. The ultimate bull-riding showdown between Bud and Hightower is laughable but almost amazing in a way that only an early 1980s drama can be. These sequences at least somewhat entertain.

As I mentioned, Urban Cowboy does a pretty good job capturing the spirit of an early 1980s country bar. Travolta did disco with Saturday Night Fever and rock and roll with Grease, and Urban Cowboy did manage to spotlight country and Southern rock music. The film features cameos from Bonnie Raitt, Johnny Lee and Charlie Daniels, who performs "The Devil Went Down to Georgia." Weak narrative aside, Winger's performance is strong, and the supporting cast is enjoyable. Urban Cowboy just feels out of touch, with dated ideas about gender roles and personal fulfillment, and is not in danger of being atop Travolta's filmography.

THE BLU-RAY:

PICTURE:

The film makes its Blu-ray debut with a 2.39:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer. The image is acceptable but not particularly noteworthy. Fine-object detail is generally good, and close-ups reveal intimate facial details and solid object texture. Much of the film is shot in the smoky, dimly lit Gilley's, and black crush can be an issue here, as background details kind of fade away into oblivion. The film's grain is generally stable, and I did not notice any major issues with noise reduction or edge halos. Colors are nicely saturated, skin tones appear accurate, and the print is clean.

SOUND:

The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack does a nice job replicating the chaotic interior of Gilley's, with frequent ambient effects like crowd noise, breaking bottles and whooping patrons to immerse the viewer in the beer-soaked revelry. The country music soundtrack is nicely replicated, and these songs are given ample spacing in the mix and provided good LFE support. Dialogue is generally solid, but I did notice a couple of spots with murkier dialogue when background noise and music was pumping. German and French 2.0 Dolby Digital Mono mixes are included, as are English SDH, French, and German subtitles.

PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:

This single-disc release is packed in a Blu-ray eco-case that is wrapped in a slipcover. A digital copy is included. A sticker on the slipcover labels this the "40th Anniversary Edition." Extras include Good Times with Gilley: Looking Back at Urban Cowboy (15:10/HD), in which Gilley discusses his career, his bar and this film. You also get Deleted Scenes (8:02 total/SD); Outtakes (4:08/SD); and Rehearsal Footage (4:05/SD).

FINAL THOUGHTS:

This 1980 John Travolta vehicle may recreate the mood of a big country bar, but the narrative leaves a lot to be desired. This cheesy drama about a man's quest to conquer a mechanical bull feels dated on its 40th Anniversary. Skip It unless you're among the fans that have been waiting for this Blu-ray debut.

William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.

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