4K UHD Review: Days of Thunder (30th Anniversary Edition)

Editor’s Note: Elements of this piece appeared in a review for an earlier release of this film–RW]

Released just four years after Cruise’s mega-hit Top Gun, Days of Thunder follows largely the same premise–except here, the speed machines are race cars instead of jet fighters. 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 load of conflicts involving all of them in one way or another. So, now you know the plot for Days of Thunder.

Unfortunately, Days of Thunder doesn’t have the same level of excitement as its predecessor. Somehow, a bunch of cars going around a track at insanely high speeds doesn’t have the same excitement as fighter jets engaged in a dogfight. However, I know that’s a matter of personal preference.

Director Tony Scott made his living with action films. Besides Top Gun, he directed Crimson Tide (1995), Enemy of the State (1998) Spy Game (2001) and Man on Fire (2004) among others. For Days of Thunder, Scott collaborated with Oscar winning screenwriter Robert Towne (Chinatown, Personal Best, and Mission Impossible) which seemingly should have led to an original idea for a script. Presumably, pleased with the success of Top Gun, Scott and Towne were satisfied with retooling the Top Gun script to fit a racing theme.

Cruise plays Cole Trickle, a cocky, rookie stock-car racer out to prove himself to everyone. Cruise has always been good at playing cocky, and he does it well 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 villain in the film is rival driver, Rowdy Burns (Michael Rooker).

Cole and Rowdy take their hatred for one another out on the track, crashing their cars into one another as often as possible. According to the film, this is common practice in stock-car racing. Having watched a few Nascar races in my day, I know drivers do occasionally brush and nudge each other along. However, in the name of safety and the desire to actually win a race, drivers never use the track as a personal roller derby rink. Not one of the 800,000 people watching them as they throw their cars at each other, notices anything unsavory. Except that is, the racing commissioner, Big John, played by Fred Dalton Thompson. After half a season of Cole and Rowdy’s antics on the track, Big John orders them to stop.

Predictably, tragedy strikes. 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. Though Kidman turned out to be a fine actress, she is totally unbelievable in this role. Just twenty-two when Days of Thunder was filmed, she doesn’t look like she’s graduated from high school yet, let alone medical school. Of course, they fall in love, and the off-track drama takes a mushy turn.

If you liked Top Gun, you’ll probably enjoy 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 alike and exaggerated. Nothing surprising happens, but there are worse ways to whittle away 107 minutes.

The 2.39:1 HEVC 4K remastered picture is absolutely gorgeous. Backgrounds are remarkably clear. The opening shots of the film show racetracks beautifully shot in low light. Flesh tones look natural throughout. Colors are bright and vivid, and contrast is appropriate. The image itself shows no apparent errors. Viewers should be very pleased with this transfer.

The disc has the same lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 as the previous Blu-ray release. Not necessarily a bad thing, The audio sounds sharply etched, with plenty of oomph and a great deal of surround activity during the racing sequences. Although Hans 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 is solid. The sounds of the cars alone make the disc worth watching. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout. That said one hopes this film gets the Dolby Atmos treatment in the future.

English, English SDH, French, Portuguese and Spanish subtitles are included.

With Days of Thunder slated to get the Paramount Presents treatment on Blu-ray soon, no Blu-ray has been included here, and there isn’t much in terms of extras. Instead, you get an Isolated Score under the audio options a Digital Copy and Filmmaker Focus (SDR, 29:06) Jerry Bruckheimer recalls making the film with the late, great Tony Scott in this new interview.

Days of Thunder (1990)
Days of Thunder

Movie title: Days of Thunder

Country: USA

Duration: 120 min

Director(s): Tony Scott

Actor(s): Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Robert Duvall , Randy Quaid, Cary Elwes , Michael Rooker

Genre: Action, Sport, Romance, Drama

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