Blu-ray Review: Urban Cowboy

Inspired by an article by the same name in Esquire Magazine, and capitalizing on the late 1970’s early 1980’s popularity of country music, Urban Cowboy stars John Travolta as Bud Davis, a rural Texan who moves to Houston for a job with his uncle in the city’s oil refinery industry. At a sprawling honky-tonk bar called Gilley’s (A real place owned by country music’s Mickey Gilley, who appears in the film), Bud meets Sissy (Debra Winger), and the two marry after a whirlwind romance.

The marriage is soon strained by Bud’s obsession with riding Gilley’s mechanical bull, and Sissy’s desire to do the same. Wes Hightower (Scott Glenn), a good-looking cowboy, and a natural with the bull (who happens to be a parolee), is happy to teach Sissy the art of mechanical bull riding.  Bud finds himself in a fight for his marriage, and he’s left fighting Wes for a large mechanical bull riding cash prize.

Urban Cowboy was considered a comeback for the then 26-year-old Travolta. He was Hollywood’s biggest star after the back-to-back releases of Saturday Night Fever in December of 1977, and Grease in June of 1978. But his star dimmed with Christmas 1978 release of Moment By Moment. Co-starring Lily Tomlin, the film was a box office dud.

Urban Cowboy brought Travolta back to the dance floor, and the country soundtrack burned up the charts as the film played in theaters. The double-LP soundtrack hit No. 1 on the country charts and crossed over to the pop top 10 as well. Urban Cowboy may not have been as big a box office hit as Saturday Night Fever or Grease, but it certainly spawned a pop culture phenomenon–for a while there everybody was doing the toe-step and countless restaurants and nightclubs installed mechanical bulls.

Shot on location at Gilley’s, the production design is authentic, and along with the music, remains the films biggest selling point. However, forty years later, other aspects of the film haven’t aged well. Sissy jumps into marriage, her romance with Bud is rocky. He hits her. Sissy’s romance with Wes is even worse, he treats her like a human punching bag, and doesn’t even try to be faithful. She goes back to Bud after he promises not to hit her again. The better of two dismal options.

Debra Winger gives the most interesting performance here. Sissy has to be tough-as-nails to survive, but both Bud and Wes are skilled at taking advantage of the slightest vulnerability or moment of weakness.

Presented in the 2.39:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer represents a significant improvement over previous releases of the film, but there are some spots and specks evident throughout the presentation. Grain is inconsistent; some scenes appear naturally filmic, while others looked smoothed out. This is still a perfectly presentable image, even it’s far from remastered reference material. Some areas around the image can look soft, but interiors are good. Colors are a bit flat, but acceptable. Black levels are deep, nearly too deep at times, skin levels look natural. Pedestrian maybe, but this is the best Urban Cowboy has ever looked.

Paramount uses a robust DTS-HD Master 5.1 track in the English language. It shows of some depth during crowded scenes at Gilley’s and at the oil refinery. Separation is good. The score by Ralph Burns (All That Jazz, Star 80) comes through well. But more prominent would be samples of country music from the likes of: Jimmy Buffett, Dan Fogelberg, Mickey Gilley, Anne Murray, The Eagles, Boz Scaggs, and more. It all sounds very solid, and only adds to the genuine, unique atmosphere of Gilley’s.

English SDH, French and German subtitles are included.

The following extras are available:

  • NEW! Good Times with Gilley: Looking Back at Urban Cowboy (HD, 15:10) Mickey Gilley looks back at his career, his bar, the movie, the music, and more.
  • Deleted Scenes (HD, 8:02 total run time) Included are Your Folks Didn’t Like Me, Did They?; Rent’s Free, Can’t Beat That; I Guess I Better Find Myself Another Job; and How Come I Ain’t Seen Ya At Gilley’s?.
  • Outtakes (SD, 4:08 total run time) Included are John Travolta and Debra Winger Dancing and John Travolta Dancing.
  • Rehearsal Footage (SD, 4:05 total run time) Included are Debra Winger on Mechanical Bull, John Travolta on Mechanical Bull, and Travolta and Winger on Mechanical Bull.


Urban Cowboy (1980) (40th Anniversary Edition)
Urban Cowboy

Movie title: Urban Cowboy

Country: USA

Duration: 135 min

Director(s): James Bridges

Actor(s): John Travolta, Debra Winger, Scott Glenn, Barry Corbin, James Gammon, Jerry Hall

Genre: Drama, Western

  • Movie
    (2.5)
  • Video
    (4)
  • Audio
    (3.5)
  • Extras
    (2.5)
3.1
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