It’s a good year if you’re a Smokey & The Bandit fan, first with The Bandit appearing on TV (it’s a great documentary), now the trilogy itself getting a new release via Fabulous Films. To my knowledge this is the first time the second and third movies have appeared on Blu-Ray, they’re certainly new to me. For the second and third movies, I have some exclusive first-look screen shots, but they proved to be a mixed bag.
Smokey and the Bandit
The first movie is prime manly movie material. We have Burt Reynolds, Sally Field in her prime, the best looking Trans Am ever and Jerry Reed’s manly singing – he wrote the theme in 15 minutes. Not to mention Jackie Gleason arguably owning the show and an awesome Bassett Hound. Few need to be reminded of the premise, a troll in a muscle car must quarter back this thieving pal in his more cumbersome truck loaded with Coors from location A to location B. Jackie Gleason’s pot-bellied, wise-cracking Sheriff is in pursuit. One thing I learned from the press release that has escaped me all of these years, the reason they have a ‘short time to get there’ is because the Coors booty is free from additives and spoils quicker than your average beverage.
The 403-cu.in., 185-horsepower V-8, another ‘star of the show’ contender, was not actually much of a performer. No Bandit would probably ever settle for its real 17 second 1/4 mile weigh in, but it has Burt fuckin’ Reynolds in it, and it sings well north of 3,000 RPM. Trailing that are some of the best one liners from the 1970s, ad-libbed by the legendary Jackie Gleason. The end result, a career best for Burt Reynolds with only Star Wars beating him that year, follow ups like Cannonball Run were poor imitations. Although truth be told, I cannot slate his movie ‘The Best Whorehouse in Texas’ until I’ve seen it… or maybe I’d love it!
It seems that this Blu-Ray movie is a re-issue, but I can’t confirm since I didn’t own the other sole release from the inception of the format. It’s from a VC-1 codec by Universal, so I suspect that it is the same transfer we’re looking at here. Since this movie is apparently one of those releases that they’re just not going to give any special treatment to, maybe this is as good as it gets. For the end result I would say I feared the worst but have also seen worse, the quality is better than you’re going to see with the likes of the recent issue of Tremors, probably comparable to the original Predator Mpeg release. I’ve watched this movie in 1080i on TV over the years, but at 29gb this is noticeably heavier and deeper.
No extras unfortunately, not even a trailer. I can’t speak on the packaging since this is another review copy. A good copy is hard to find, even the ‘HD’ YouTube clips looks weak. But either way, this is probably as good as we’re going to get this generation, for better or worse. The movie? 9/10. The disc, not so much…
Smokey and the Bandit II
The second movie sees the Snowman, Bandit & Frog transport a sickly elephant across the USA. Of course, Sheriff Buford T. Justice and his dimwit son are back in hot pursuit. I don’t think that Smokey and the Bandit II has aged well, all of the ingredients are there including the original cast, improv and Hal Needham’s directing. It even has a more powerful Trans Am this time around. However it has a case of sequel-itus, as in the whole affair seems to have taken the original and what made it work for granted. There’s less speed, (Needham credited the success of the original to ‘speed, speed, speed!’) and weaker humour.
That said, it’s still a fun movie to visit, just less frequently than the still classic original. There’s some nice stunt work and the on-screen chemistry with the cast is still there. It’s a 7/10 movie for me.
But for its first outing on Blu-Ray, Smokey and the Bandit II is disappointing. There are no extras, again, not even a trailer. Which doesn’t surprise since the best movie in the pack doesn’t have any either. But what’s worse is the quality of the transfer. To me, this one is pretty bad. This MPEG-4 AVC transfer has fog, darkness, vagueness and an overall tired look. Including the ‘bad’ type of grain. It’s strange that this movie is the weakest of the three, so it’s certainly not the best selling point of this box set.
Smokey and the Bandit Part 3
Two versions of this movie were filmed, the first did not feature Jerry Reed at all. Instead, the brilliant Jackie Gleason filled in for both Buford T. Justice and The Bandit. Test audiences found this movie confusing, so the whole thing was largely re-shot with Jerry Reed now donning The Bandit’s hat and car.
The version that they eventually put out there is the one we get here, with Reed filling in the title role. There is no Burt Reynolds, save for a cameo at the end.
I’ve always had a difficult time with this movie. Nothing works about it, the humour is off, the story is atrocious and the action scenes are re-hashes of the cool stuff from the first movies, only filmed on a tighter budget. Reed’s ‘Bandit’ scenes are also extremely awkward and its evident that everyone bar Gleason are not at ease in this movie.
There are once again no extras, which is disappointing considering the huge backstory to this failed movie. It would have been nice to have seen something from the first cut, or even the rare teaser trailer for the alternate movie. But hardcore fans are going to be pleased with one thing; the quality of the third movie’s transfer. It is easily the best of the three movies to my eyes, the whole thing seems brighter, more vibrant and effortlessly more crisp… with a nice snow of ‘good’ grain. It’ll help you sit through this ‘experiment’ movie more easily.
I’m sure this trilogy has been on the radar of many for so long now. Since the first movie has already been released and then re-issued, the real value here is the second and third movies. The second movie is fairly decent but has a weak transfer, whereas the third movie is fairly weak but has a stronger-than-decent transfer. For such an old movie, it really holds up.
This looks like the best we’re going to get from this franchise. Unfortunately the lack of extras and lack of care for remastering drags it down from higher potential. Fans will still want to keep an eye out for this.
Smokey and the Bandit: The Complete Collection is released on Region 2 Blu-Ray on November 14th.