By the time Rob Cohen's "Daylight" graced theater houses, Sylvester Stallone was already a fading star. Aside from finding some success with "Cliffhanger" and "Demolition Man" in 1993, Stallone had suffered a string of less-than-stellar comedies and action films that had audiences forget the likes of Rocky Balboa and John Rambo. Stallone had slowly become a parody of himself and with each successive attempt at broadening his horizons and trying his hand at genres other than action; the action hero found himself falling further out of favor with American audiences. "Daylight" was one of Stallone's mid-Nineties action films that attempted to rekindle the success he had earlier as a muscle-bound action star, but the $80 million film grossed just over $10 million in its opening weekend and tuckered out at the $33 million mark.
In "Daylight," Sylvester Stallone is Kit Latura, a former Emergency Medical Service chief who was forced out of service after making a decision that resulted in the deaths of a few of his men. Kit has become a cab driver, but finds his former experiences as EMS Chief invaluable when a tunnel linking New York City to Northern New Jersey collapses. With a number of people still alive in the collapsed tunnel, Kit descends through dangerous fan blades to assist the survivors in finding some means of escaping. Among the survivors is a rock climbing legend (Viggo Mortensen), a beautiful young lady (Amy Brenneman) and a tunnel security guard, George (Stan Shaw). With no complete plan at delivering the frightened people to safety, Kit's ousting from the EMS and unexpected turn of events cause the survivors to question his leadership and their chances of escaping the slowly flooding tunnel.
Director Rob Cohen looked to the disaster films of the Seventies for his inspiration with "Daylight" and based the film upon an actual incident in one of the city's tunnels. Infusing the physically capable Sly Stallone in the film allowed Cohen to create a disaster film with a man who has near superhuman capabilities. We've all seen the amazing stunts and displays of strength that Stallone brings to his action films and "Daylight" is no exception. Compared to the classic disaster films "Earthquake," "Towering Inferno," "Airport" and others of the Seventies, "Daylight" has more action, pound-for-pound and the impending doom and dark drama that are hallmarks of disaster films take a backseat to Stallone's ability to survive and react to precarious situations.
The characters of "Daylight" suffer under Cohen's direction. Kit Latura is a likeable, but unbelievably knowledgeable individual. Thanks to Stallone, the character has the audience rooting for his survival and believing that he is a man who can save the survivors. The love interest, played by Amy Brenneman, suffers from Cohen's decision to make her as ‘girl-next-door' as possible. She is too common and too grounded in reality for the audience to really care about and to believe that somebody as above average as Latura would find a romance with the plain Jane. Out of all of the survivors, only Stan Shaw's character of George is a personality that the audience desperately wants to see survive. George is a humble and common man and has finally found a love in his life and the film leaves the audience hoping that George can return a gold bracelet to the object of his desire. It is a huge letdown when George is left behind to face a slow and painful death.
"Daylight" isn't a bad action film. It came about during the decline of Stallone and isn't nearly as entertaining as some of his better films. It is certainly a step down from either "Demolition Man" or "Cliffhanger." Much of the problem is the lack of any emotions towards the films characters. Another problem is the overly incredible escapes and saves made by Stallone's character. The disaster films of the Seventies required some suspension of disbelief, but there is hardly much to be found in "Daylight" that can easily be swallowed. With its two dimensional and uninteresting characters and the films continued reliance on Stallone's biceps to carry the film, "Daylight" suffers. Stallone keeps the film from completely submerging and there are a few entertaining moments, but in the end, it is hard to feel much for Rob Cohen's disaster film.
The 1.85:1 VC-1/1080p widescreen transfer of "Daylight" on HD-DVD contains moments that are both impressive and moments that are disappointing. The film features stunning moments of detail and solid coloring through many segments of the film. However, the hazy sequences and some of the underwater and dankly lit sequences suffer from serious posterization problems. Blobs of digital breakdown are present more than a couple of times. When there is a haze, it can often be found. When Kit and the other survivors swim through a submerged passageway, it is certainly there. I found this digital anomaly to be noticeable enough to be distracting. Part of it was due to a mix of film grain and visual haze, others was due to colors not being different enough in gradients to provide a nice surface for the compression to handle efficiently. For almost every moment where I was impressed with the sharp level of detail for this 1996 film, there existed a moment when the digital flaws lessened my excitement. The film's shadow detail and black level also suffered; again from the hazy nature of the photography.
"Daylight" may suffer from its dated source materials in the visual department, but the sound quality of the film is actually quite good. The aggressive sounding English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 mix features constant sound emanating from all six channels. The film's explosions and violent eruptions of water provide an audible palette where the .1 LFE channel rumbles with deep and powerful bass and each individual channel has a full plate of sound to deliver. The sound design of "Daylight" does force most sounds to be placed directly in one singular channel and the sound imaging across channels feels forced, but there is usually enough explosive sounds occurring, that it isn't distracting. Dialogue is generally good, but a few moments of ADR recorded dialogue from Stallone sounds overly soft and doesn't quite mix with the surrounding sound effects. Overall, I was pleased with the soundtrack and while it may not be as efficient or impressive as a modern mix, it sounded quite good for a film that is a dozen years old.
A handful of "Bonus Features" accompany Sly Stallone on his HD-DVD debut. Running at just over a half an hour, The Making of Daylight (33:25) features the cast and crew discussing their involvement in the film and intermixing the talking heads segments with action sequences from the film. Stallone is an extremely intelligent man, regardless of what is typically believed, and he is always good for an interview, but this making of doc feels overly dated and contained too much Rob Cohen. Speaking of too much Rob Cohen, the Feature Commentary with Director Rob Cohen is an overly technical and detailed commentary track that will delight hard core movie buffs and fans of the film, but is a difficult sit through. I've always found Cohen to take his films a little too serious and this commentary is no exception. A collection of Theatrical Trailers (4:48) are meshed together. The oddly titled The Featurette (6:26) is a promotional piece for the film and typical of most short EPK features. The Music Video is for the song "Whenever There is Love" by Bruce Roberts and Donna Summer.
Old Sylvester Stallone action films are a bit of a guilty pleasure for me. I love "Cliffhanger" and have watched that film more than a dozen times and had previously owned the pricey LaserDisc special edition. I even find entertainment value in "Judge Dredd." "Daylight" falls into the category of films that I find entertainment value in, but do not cherish it as much as I do "Cliffhanger" or any of the actor's older films. There is plenty of action, but "Daylight" suffers from having some of the most uninteresting characters you will every pay witness too. If it weren't for Stallone, this movie would be unwatchable. The HD-DVD has a detailed picture that is plagued by compression issues. The sound is aggressive, but shows its dozen years with sound design that isn't nearly as clean and fluid as modern action films. The bonus materials are for those who feel a deep need to delve deeper into "Daylight," but do not serve a purpose for most other viewers. A fun film, but not nearly as good as most other Stallone action films, "Daylight" could have been much better if I cared about more than two of the characters.