Studio: Paramount Pictures
US Rating: PG-13
Film Length: 107 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1080p High Definition 2.35:1
Audio: English Dolby TrueHD 5.1, Spanish and French 5.1 (Dolby Digital)
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Portuguese and Spanish
US Release Date: December 30, 2008
Review Date: January 2, 2009
The Show - out of
1990 was the start of a new decade that would explode with computer generated imagery driven effects films and ever more summer event films that would grow bigger and bigger. Days of Thunder in many ways represents the beginning of the end of the pre-CGI era, where computer effects would become the staple of summer blockbusters. This film is a stock summer action film with a big name star in top billing and a tried and true plot line to hang its car racing world storyline on and populated with familiar character types doing exactly what they are intended to do, and nothing more.
Tom Cruise stars as Cole Trickle, a cocksure, premeditated winner with flaws of ego and persistence and a relatively steep learning curve to traverse in the world of stock car racing. He is hired by a businessman to help launch a start-up racing team along with a legendary crew chief. After an impressive initial test run for a doubting audience, Trickle quickly makes an impression following by a rocky round of initial races and a quickly established rivalry with the current top dog of NASCAR racing, Rowdy Burns. It isn’t long before Trickle’s talent burns through his initial inexperience and the work to win the Winston Cup at the Daytona 500 is on.
Days of Thunder is a silly film. It’s rounded into a pure cylinder of superfluous nonsense and for some reason beyond all understanding, it is a total blast. The film is designed entirely to be Top Gun on four wheels and a track, delving lightly into the surface world of NASCAR and existing there only to tell an all too familiar story about an outsider with talent who rises quickly, suffers emotional and professional setbacks before gunning to the close with a triumphant blaze of tire burning glory.
The plot trappings haven’t aged so well in the now nineteen years since this film roared into theaters. It was a common plotline even back then and in the intervening years, has been worn by even more films seeking to ride success by having the underdog triumph. Despite the less than engaging plot, Days of Thunder remains a well made film, exciting and action packed. The racing sequences hold up extremely well, thanks in large part to the attention to detail and taut editing style of director Tony Scott.
And the director once again brings excitement to a slice of male dominated action with his unique eye. Scott does for race cars in Days of Thunder what he did for fighter jets in Top Gun, getting the action to scream across the screen while respecting the venue that he is telling his story. He respects NASCAR but, despite being set amongst that world, it doesn’t really feel like a NASCAR related movie. I am not sure if that is a good or bad thing. Oddly enough, Will Ferrell’s Talladega Nights produced a more authentic NASCAR feel, cleverly mocking and celebrating that world. All in all, Days of Thunder is a movie that just happens to be set in that racing environment, but exists to really just be about male egos and driving fast.
The cast does well enough for the material. Tom Cruise shows signs of some good decisions for his character that are early indications of what he has to offer as an actor of stronger caliber. He allows his character to be foolish as much as talented which helps take the edge off the ego needed to explain many of the actions Cole undertakes. His is not an obviously likeable character, but with the interactions he has with Robert Duvall’s Harry Hogge crew chief, and the bond they develop, he opens up and becomes more likable. Duvall as the experienced, fatherly Hogge wears the character well, playing the role with ease and what seems like and embedded familiarity – perhaps this role closely mirrors Duvall’s natural sense. Nicole Kidman as the love interest is even keeled but a tad dull. There is a little chemistry between her and Cruise’s Cole Trickle, and the romance is treated as a plot ingredient rather than a focus and feels exactly like that throughout. Michael Rooker plays Rowdy Burns with the right level of smugness and ego to bring the character 180 degrees by the end the time he must ask Cole to drive his car for him and Randy Quaid as the businessman owner of the race team plays the self-centered character straight. Finally, Cary Elwes as the late addition foe to Cole Trickle is a little too smarmy and unlikable to be taken seriously.
Days of Thunder is soft in places despite its earnest attempt (and Hans Zimmer’s overcooked guitar laden score) to rev up the machismo, but still manages to be entertaining after nearly twenty years
As the movie begins, the signs are not promising. Dirt and flecks pop and speckle the image. The stock footage looks exactly like stock footage, with a lot of dirt. Things improve as the film progresses and the 2.35:1 widescreen image with an AVC MPEG-4 codec starts to better reflect its 1080p High Definition transfer, but weaknesses persist. Tony Scott’s signature style is on full display here, but the familiar extreme lights of dusk, dawn and early mornings and late afternoons show off issues with the transfer. Silhouettes and shadows aren’t as crisp as they could have been. Noise in the skies and a few other telltale signs of an unhealthy print don’t sink this Blu-ray but will no doubt not live up to your expectations of this next generation media format. This is a vast improvement over the non-anamorphic DVD version I had in my library, but I wasn’t blown away.
Paramount Pictures brings this Tom Cruise action vehicle (pun intended) to Blu-Ray for the first time with a slightly above average English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD audio track. The racing sequences are very strong in the front channels and sweep across the surrounds nicely. The bass is deep, but the subwoofer doesn’t rumble quite as rambunctiously as you might expect for the array of throaty engines, squealing tires and fender smashes that are offered up throughout. Dialogue in the center channels is clean but just very slightly soft. The audio track suits the film and despite missing an opportunity to thunder through the subwoofer and wrap around in the surrounds but it shouldn’t be too disappointing.
Theatrical Trailer - In HD
Days of Thunder is even sillier today than it was when I sat happily in the theater back in 1990 to enjoy the roaring race action and the star power of Tom Cruise. The film, which Cruise co-created the story for, seems calculating upon reflection, a safe move for a star whose cinematic success and draw is equaled by precious few actors. Enjoy it for its simplicity, escapism and well created racing sequences. Don’t let the tired plot dissuade you from having fun with it.