Urban Cowboy (1980)

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Released 4-Dec-2002

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio & Animation
Featurette-Rehearsal Footage
Rating ?
Year Of Production 1980
Running Time 129:19
RSDL / Flipper RSDL Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By James Bridges

Paramount Home Entertainment
Starring John Travolta
Debra Winger
Scott Glenn
Madolyn Smith
Barry Corbin
Brooke Alderson
Case ?
RPI $29.95 Music Ralph Burns

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None German Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles Arabic
English for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement Yes
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

My mind boggles when I try to think of how I am going to describe the plot of Urban Cowboy, as it is one of the most curious films I've seen to date. It can also be blamed for putting John Travolta's career into a coma for about ten years, although I think the fault in this film lies with the underdeveloped script or the editing. Well, it has to take part of the blame, since Travolta also made some wickedly bad career choices around this time (it's an often-published fact that the roles Travolta rejected in the early 1980s were the same ones that shot Richard Gere to stardom). There's also the slight problem that the film could have been edited down by about twenty minutes and made the same amount of sense.

Buford Uan Davis (John Travolta) moves out of his family's home and heads towards the city, hearing that there's good money to be made there if one is ready to get his hands dirty. He meets his uncle Bob (Barry Corbin) and his aunt Corene (Brooke Alderson), and they take him to the local watering hole where he proceeds to meet women and do a bit of dancing. Eventually, he meets Sissy (Debra Winger), and marries her, but things don't go smoothly in the early days, and then a rather unsavoury type by the name of Wes Hightower (Scott Glenn) causes everything to fall down. Soon, while Buford, or Bud as he is generally called, is crying on the shoulder of a richer woman called Pam (Madolyn Smith), a sort of indoor rodeo is being organised.

One of the primary events of the rodeo is bull riding, a curious sport in which cowboys attempt to hold onto a bucking bull for eight seconds while the judges give them scores for style and grace. After Sissy tries riding a mechanical bull and finds she's got a knack for it, Buford gives it a go, and it isn't long before the two are trying to one-up each other, which ends with the latter breaking his arm. After Buford makes up his mind that he wants to win the rodeo and the five thousand dollar prize, he trains under the watchful eye of uncle Bob. After about two dozen interminable bull riding and dance sequences, the film finally comes to an end with everyone living happily ever after, of sorts.

1980 wasn't a good year for anybody, it seems, and John Travolta certainly wasn't an exception. Not too long after this film was released, he became "that guy from Grease who doesn't get any work anymore". The constant transitions from scene to scene, and the rocket-sled pace of the first thirty minutes, especially in comparison to the ultra-slow eighty-minutes that follow, leave me in no state of surprise as to why this film flopped. There's only one reason to watch this stinker, and that is to see Travolta with a shaggy beard that looks like it would make a good strainer. I think Travolta is still rueing the day that he signed on for this one, and he'll be rueing it for a lot longer now that it's available on DVD.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality


The video transfer is presented in the original aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and it is 16x9 Enhanced.

The transfer is not exactly sharp while the important level of detail is there and easy to make out, finer details are lost. Instead of the detailed look we are normally seeing in video transfers, this one has more of a smooth oil painting look to it, with well-represented small dabs of fine colour making up one large image. The shadow detail is very limited, with the darker parts of the image having minimal detail in them at best. This can be blamed on the 1980 film stock rather than the transfer. There is no low-level noise.

The colours in this film are fairly muted and drab, with browns and greens taking up most of the picture, and these colours having little vibrancy to them. There were no composite artefacts or smearing in evidence.

Early on in the film, the edges of some objects take on a grainy appearance that could be compression artefacting, but MPEG artefacts were otherwise not present in the transfer. Film-to-video artefacts are also far better contained in this transfer than I am used to seeing on Paramount DVDs, with only minor examples being apparent on the bar at 11:57, or on stairs at 96:26. The few other instances of aliasing I noticed were so borderline that I doubt anyone is going to be too upset by them. Film artefacts were frequently noticed in this picture, but they are generally small and easy to ignore, although a few larger ones do show up in the last half-hour.

Another example of the improvement over previous Paramount DVDs that this one represents is that the English for the Hearing Impaired subtitles are very accurate to the spoken dialogue, with only the occasional slight variation.

DVD producers must be getting better at hiding these RSDL layer changes, as I didn't seem to find one on this disc.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


There are five soundtracks on this DVD, in order they are: a German dub, the original English dialogue, a Spanish dub, a French dub, and an Italian dub. All of these soundtracks save for the English dialogue are in Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo with 192 kilobits per second. The English soundtrack has been remixed into Dolby Digital 5.1 with 448 kilobits per second.

The dialogue sounds slightly muffled a lot of the time, but it is still generally easy to make out. There did not appear to be any problems with audio sync.

The music in this film consists of a score composed by Ralph Burns, with a number of Country And Western numbers played during the dance sequences by musicians who appear in the film. Charlie Daniels' old classic The Devil Went Down To Georgia also gets played in one of the more interesting dances, but like the rest of the film, there is not much amongst the music to hold one's interest.

The surround channels were not really used all that well, with most of the film being very front-centric, almost monaural in places. The music often gets directed into the surround channels, but this served to create a difference in the quality of the musical numbers and the rest of the film, which is never a good thing. There were some directional effects, such as thunder at 94:34, or crickets at 121:47, but these were the exception rather than the rule. In the end, this sounds more like a stereo soundtrack with the occasional monaural surround effect.

The subwoofer was used sparingly to support the music and some sound effects such as the aforementioned thunder, but it was not worked too hard by this film. This can hardly be blamed on the transfer, however, as more LFE than this would have been quite conspicuous in context of the film.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use



The menu is heavily animated, accompanied by Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio, 16x9 Enhanced, and takes an interminably long time to load.


This submenu has two choices in it, these being John Travolta And Debra Winger Dancing (1:23), and John Travolta Dancing (2:31). Both of these outtakes are presented in the aspect ratio of 2.35:1, 16x9 Enhanced, with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio.

Rehearsal Footage

Again, this is a submenu, with three choices in it: Debra Winger On The Bull (1:58), John Travolta On The Bull (1:00), and Debra Winger And John Travolta On The Bull (0:58). All of these featurettes are presented in the aspect ratio of 2.35:1, 16x9 Enhanced, with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

The Region 4 and Region 1 versions of this disc appear to be fairly identical, except that there are a lot fewer subtitle choices available on the Region 1 disc, and a different set of soundtrack choices.


Urban Cowboy is what happens when you take a writer, director, and editor who have no sense of pace, lock them in a room for a few hours, hand them a lump of cash, then tell them to go out and make a film. It is slow, boring, and occasionally stupid, but it is really worth a look just to see what kind of idiotic ideas could have been made in the 1970s or 1980s on the basis of John Travolta's ability as a dancer. What this film really needed was to have about fifty minutes replaced by bar fights, and a soundtrack by the 1980 equivalent of Mojo Nixon And The Toadliquors.

The video transfer is good.

The audio transfer is okay.

The extras are limited.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Dean McIntosh (Don't talk about my bio. We don't wanna know.)
Friday, November 22, 2002
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba 2109, using S-Video output
DisplaySamsung CS-823AMF (80cm). Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 576i (PAL).
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony STR DE-835
SpeakersYamaha NS-45 Front Speakers, Yamaha NS-90 Rear Speakers, Yamaha NSC-120 Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Active Subwoofer

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