❉ The Smokey and the Bandit comedies starring Burt Reynolds, Sally Field, Jackie Gleason and Jerry Reed and a pregnant elephant, now together on Blu-ray.
Yee-haw! At last, the Sunday afternoon filler franchise for so many UK kids in the 1980s comes to Blu-ray. Thanks to these movies and countless repeats of ‘The Littlest Hobo’, ‘The A-Team’ and other prime examples of White America, UK kids of my generation got a pretty good handle on the culture of the southern states of the US; Confederate-tinged, of course.
‘Smokey and the Bandit’ was the idea of musician and stuntman Jerry Reed, who was all set to make the movie with Hal Needham as a B-feature until the director’s friend Burt Reynolds read the script and offered to star. Given that Reynolds was the top box office star in the world at that point, the budget obviously got bumped up a little, although, oddly, not as much as you might suppose; from $1 million to $4.3 million, with Reynolds’ salary making up a cool million of that. The first film is, frankly, the only one with a plot worthy of the name, but it must be said that in all three films, the car (and air) stunts are the main focus of the production. They’re also pretty decent, particularly in the first two films, and will suit those of you, who, like me, find it hard to warm to CGI-driven stunts in modern Hollywood. They CAN be excellent (‘Deadpool’ is an example that comes to mind), but I find it hard not to be impressed by the far more hazardous and skilled work which was required when the technology just wasn’t available.
The other feature of the franchise that is likely to keep your interest is the performances from Reynolds and Sally Field. There’s a very good reason why Reynolds was a massive box office star, and Field shares his charisma. It’s no surprise that the two had a relationship whilst making the first movie, and part of the second movie is written by Field, as Reynolds wanted to know what she really thought of him. It’s to both their credits that the result is quite touching and instructive.
The extent to which both films rely on their presence is obvious when you watch the third movie, which, frankly, is a waste of everyone’s time. Reed, excellent as a sidekick, can’t step into the Bandit’s boots, and although he has a charm of his own (he was a successful singer, after all), he’s unable to carry a pointless rehash of the second film’s plot. Said plot was actually abandoned halfway through the second film, which I feel should have been a sign. Jackie Gleason, who was such a good foil as the Bandit’s nemesis, Buford T. Justice, can’t step up his performance to compensate for Reed being out of his depth, and there’s not even as many stunts to serve as a valuable distraction. There are some quite impressive bare boobs to wake a certain section of the audience up, but if they don’t impress you, there’s very little to make it worth putting in your player.
But how are the films served by Blu-ray? As far as picture quality is concerned, it’s pretty decent, on the whole, with a few scenes here and there which are presumably unavailable on the original negatives which have a noticeable drop in quality. With the exception of a theatrical trailer (for the second film only), there are sadly no extras, and the menu on the first film is bizarrely complex for a release that simply offers scene selection and alternate language dubbing/subtitles. The menus on the other two releases are much simpler, with no alternate language options at all, although my copy of the third film had the video and audio loop of the second film on its menu. The icon for the title was correct, but it doesn’t help with the feeling of deja vu. Hopefully this will be fixed for the actual release!
Anyone who enjoys the films when they turn up on TV will enjoy them on this set, but it’s a matter for the individual as to whether they’re prepared to pay the price for the Blu-ray transfer, especially as there’s practically nothing in terms of extras. Still, if Burt Reynolds in beautiful Blu-ray turns you on, you could probably do worse.
❉ ‘Smokey and the Bandit Ride Again’ and ‘Smokey and the Bandit III’ are both released on Blu-ray by Fabulous Films/Fremantle Media on 14 November 2016, RRP £14.99 ea.
❉ ‘Smokey and the Bandit: The Complete Collection’ is released on Blu-ray by Fabulous Films/Fremantle Media on 21 November 2016, RRP £39.99.