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The Towering Inferno

Universal Home Video
Movie C+
Special Features B-
DVD Geek Factor 5 (out of 10)

I probably failed at least three tests in my pre-college school days, because I would bug my parents to let me stay up and watch this thing whenever it came on television. The sucker was incredibly long on TV, and I would wind up comatose for school the next day, most assuredly booting a quiz or two.

Back in the day, this movie was an event every time it was broadcast. It also managed a few respectable Oscar nominations, including nods for Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor (Fred Astaire)

The reality is that this movie was, and still is, pretty damned bad. Oh, it's fun to watch, in a campy sort of way, but it's utterly ridiculous.

Paul Newman stars as a big-city architect who has designed the tallest building in the world, an 1,800-foot glass-tower skyscraper in San Francisco. He's a good enough fellow who just wanted to build something really big. The bigwig who hired him (William Holden) decides to cut costs, and his snotty son-in-law (Richard Chamberlain) cheats a bit with the building's wiring. This results in a blown circuit box in a room full of oily rags, starting a blaze that quickly turns into an inferno!

Steve McQueen stars as the craggy fireman called upon to save the day, and it is pretty cool to see the likes of Newman and McQueen sharing screen time. Other cast members included Robert Vaughn, Robert Wagner, Faye Dunaway and O.J. Simpson as a grouchy security guard.

The special effects were monumental in 1974, and some of them still hold up pretty well today. There are plenty of pyrotechnics and explosions, with many stunt people running around on fire. John Williams provided the score, which sounded very much like some of the work he would do for E.T. in 1982.

Special Features: A two-disc set that tries real hard to impress, but suffers from some poor production quality on its supplements. It includes plenty of featurettes examining the making of the movie, with the likes of Vaughn and Chamberlain sitting down for interviews, and a rather rusty commentary from film historian F.X. Feeney.

Smokey and the Bandit: Special Edition

Universal Home Video
Movie B-
Special Features C+
DVD Geek Factor 5.5 (out of 10)

This '70s phenomenon gets another DVD treatment. It marked the arrival of Burt Reynolds as the world's biggest star, a mantle he would hold until he started making those damn Cannonball Run movies with pal Hal Needham (the director of this movie).

The plot was simple: A couple of guys ask the Bandit (Reynolds) to illegally transport some beer in record time for a whole lot of cash. Bandit elicits the help of his truck-driving friend (Jerry Reed); they load up, and head out for a wild and wooly time. Along the way, they pick up a wedding-skipping bride (Sally Field) and attract the attention of a cantankerous sheriff (Jackie Gleason).

There was some major product placement in this film: The Bandit was escorting a truck full of Coors beer and driving a Trans Am. Both products' popularity would take off considerably after the movie's release.

Jackie Gleason, who improvised many of his lines, was and still is hilarious as Sheriff Buford T. Justice. The strings of profanity he managed to deliver on cue are the stuff of legend. He would return to the role for the film's two lousy sequels (Reynolds only did a cameo in Smokey and the Bandit 3).

The film is schlock, but it's schlock before schlock got really annoying. It's still fun to watch, but one does wish the talented Reynolds would have quit while he was ahead with the car-chase movies. By the time Cannonball Run 2 hit theaters, his career was on the way to ruin.

Special Features: The disc has a decent documentary featuring Needham and Reynolds offering their thoughts on the film. Reynolds reveals that he was promised a Trans Am for life for his work promoting the vehicle in the film, but never got his cars. There's also a rather uninteresting CB tutorial.

Munich: Collector's Edition

Universal Home Video
Movie A
Special Features B
DVD Geek Factor 7.5 (out of 10)

This was one of last year's finest films, and it was a year in which director Steven Spielberg had two triumphs (this and War of the Worlds). A hired assassin (Eric Bana) is commissioned by Golda Meir to seek out the terrorists who murdered Olympic athletes at the 1972 Munich Games.

The film is one of the bleaker works in the Spielberg canon. Bana deserved an Oscar nomination for his work in the central role. His portrayal of the character's struggles and crisis of conscience is one of the great performances of 2005.

Special Features: The relatively hard-to-get two-disc set contains some excellent featurettes on the making of the movie and documentary footage of the actual event.

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