DAYS OF THUNDER - Blu-ray review

If you liked Top Gun, you stand a good chance of liking Days of Thunder.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.

"You build me a car, and I'll win Daytona next year."

Here's another crowd pleaser done up in high-definition picture and sound. Star Tom Cruise and director Tony Scott made "Days of Thunder" in 1990 as a follow-up to their highly successful "Top Gun" of a few years earlier. Replace jet fighters with stock-car racers and you get the idea.

Somewhere, I remember reading that stock-car racing is one of the biggest spectator sports in America, maybe the biggest, which is surprising considering the popularity of football, baseball, and basketball. But there you are. With Cruise and Scott at the wheel and a solid fan base behind the stars and the sport, the movie had a lot of built-in support.

"Days of Thunder" is practically interchangeable with "Top Gun." You'll remember from the first film that it featured a cocky, young hotshot; an overbearing rival; a grizzled veteran; a love interest with a beautiful, well-educated woman; and a whole load of conflicts involving all of them in one way or another. So, now you know the plot for "Days of Thunder."

Personally, I've never seen the appeal of watching a bunch of cars driving around in circles. I can understand, though, how it would be easier than a road course for the spectators to see what's going on. With a Formula One GP event and most sports-car races, for example, you can only see a portion of the track. But what do I know. I don't like to watch baseball or basketball, either, and prefer football and boxing. To each his own. Like "Top Gun," "Days of Thunder" attempts to inject a heap of drama between the racing scenes, and it tries to make the personal lives of the characters at least as watchable as those in "Top Gun." Too bad the racing action in "Days of Thunder" doesn't match the excitement of the dogfights in "Top Gun."

Director Tony Scott is no stranger to adventure movies. Besides "Top Gun," he's done things like "Crimson Tide," "Enemy of the State," and "Man on Fire." This time, however, he collaborated with screenwriter Robert Towne ("Chinatown," "Personal Best," "Mission Impossible") and Cruise himself on the script. Apparently, it was too easy just to revise slightly the "Top Gun" scenario, which is what the resultant movie turns out like in any case.

In "Days of Thunder" the filmmakers continue to leave no cliché unvisited. Nothing happens in the story that we don't fully expect. Cruise plays a cocky, determined young rookie stock-car driver named Cole Trickle, who, naturally, has to prove himself to everyone, including himself. Cruise is good at doing cocky and determined whether it's "Top Gun" or "Mission Impossible" or "War of the Worlds." If you like what he does, you'll like him here. Robert Duvall plays an old racing-car engineer and crew chief, Harry Hogge, whom a local car dealer, Tim Daland (Randy Quaid), lures out of retirement to head up a racing team he's putting together. John C. Reilly plays their chief mechanic, Buck Bretherton. The early-on villain in the piece is a rival driver, Rowdy Burns (Michael Rooker). Did the screenwriters think these names sounded like Southern good ol' boys: Cole, Hogge, Buck, Rowdy? I dunno. The names just sound corny to me and poor excuses for creating real characters.

Cole seems to have the mentality of a six-year-old, and Rowdy is no better, so they go to it on the track, crashing their cars into one another as often as possible. According to the film, this is common practice in professional stock-car racing. Do drivers in real life nudge one another occasionally, either accidentally or on purpose, and are collisions a part of the sport? You bet. Do the drivers constantly behave on the track as though they're in a demolition derby? Hardly. They're professionals, after all. And in the movie, not a one of the 800,000 people watching them as they throw their cars at each another notices anything untoward. Well, at least no one notices except the racing commissioner, Big John, played by Fred Dalton Thompson. Thompson, you'll remember, is the guy who looked so much like a senator, he became one. Now he's back to playing big shots like his character in "Law and Order." Anyway, after half a racing season of Cole and Rowdy roughhousing on the track, Big John (I swear, that's what he's called in the film) finally orders them to stop. Good eyes, big guy.

Then, about midway though the movie, Cole gets into a near-fatal accident on the track, and in the hospital meets a beautiful brain surgeon, Dr. Claire Rewicki, played by Nicole Kidman. At first, he doesn't believe she's really a doctor because his friends have played practical jokes on him before, and, besides, Ms. Kidman was only about twenty-two when she filmed the movie and looks about sixteen. I guess we can excuse Cole's mistake. Cruise and Kidman's real-life romance began with this film, incidentally. I couldn't tell you where it ended.

Like the movie "Grand Prix," this one alternates an offtrack story with the racing sequences. The only difference is that the races in "Days of Thunder" all look the same, and the offtrack romance and intrigue are stereotyped. For instance, the youngster, Cole, and the oldster, Hogge, don't communicate well. Who'da thunk? When Cole loses his temper and gets himself fired from the team, they replace him with a jerk almost as arrogant as he is, a fellow named Russ Wheeler, played with villainous glee by Cary Elwes in a part that obviously influenced his later role in "Twister."

Claire calls Cole selfish, crazy, and scared, an infantile egomaniac. She got the "infantile" part right, and it taints the whole film.

Paramount video engineers remastered the picture and transferred it to disc in its original aspect ratio, 2.35:1, using a dual-layer BD50 and an MPEG-4/AVC encode. Remastering does not mean restored, however, so you will still see occasional age flecks and noise in the print. Outdoor footage shows a good deal of natural film grain, while indoor shots show quite a bit less. In neither case is this a bad thing; it is apparently what the film actually looks like. Because of the remastering and the high-bit transfer, though, the colors shine brilliantly, deeply, and solidly, with reasonably well-honed definition. Facial tones seem a bit dark, and there is sometimes a thin veil over the image, but it is minor at worst. With no evidence of edge enhancement or filtering, the video quality is mostly excellent.

The lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 lives up to its name by providing a truly awesome experience during the races. The audio sounds sharply etched, with plenty of oomph and a great deal of surround activity during the racing sequences. Although Han Zimmer's musical score is often loud and clamorous, it comes at the right moments, matching the noisy competition. In terms of sheer technical brilliance, impact, clarity, and rear-channel information, this TrueHD track surpasses that of "Top Gun." The sounds of the cars alone make the disc worth watching.

OK, give me room to explain all the extras. There's a widescreen theatrical trailer. Hmmm, that didn't take as long as I figured. In fairness, you also get twenty-three scene selections and bookmarks; pop-up menus; English, French, and Spanish spoken languages; English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired

Parting Shots:
If you liked "Top Gun," you stand a good chance of liking "Days of Thunder." They both provide a series of personal backdrops to a series of action sequences. The problems with "Days of Thunder" are that the background story is trite and melodramatic, and the action sequences are all alike, exaggerated. Frankly, nothing happens in this movie that we can't spot a mile on. But the picture and sound are good, and in high-def the movie passes 107 minutes harmlessly enough.


Film Value