Set largely in Lawrence, Kansas and Kansas City, Missouri, in the vicinity of the Strategic Air Command’s underground nuclear missile silos, the first hour of the film spends time introducing viewers to various average Americans who find themselves facing the Apocalypse. As they attempt to go about their daily lives–work, school, preparing for a wedding–radio and television news announces the buildup of Soviet troops in East Germany and the American military response. Some follow the news with obvious concern, others brush off the threat. Dr. Oakes (Jason Robards, All the President’s Men) is trying to comfort his wife, Helen, (Georgeann Johnson), while processing the news that their daughter is moving to Boston. The Dahlberg family is tending to the needs of their farm, except for elder daughter Denise (Lori Lethin) who is preparing for her wedding to a University of Kansas student. Meanwhile, Airman First Class Billy McCoy (William Allen Young), reports for duty southeast of Kansas City, forced to leave behind his wife and child, as the nation prepares for full-scale war.
The nuclear attack sequence lasts about five minutes. Consisting of eighties-era television special effects and stock footage of nuclear devastation, two massive mushroom clouds rise into the sky as people and animals are vaporized. The special effects are disappointing by today’s standards, but the message isn’t any less affecting: Armageddon has arrived. It’s never made clear whether the Soviet Union fired first, or the United States was launching a pre-emptive attack. It’s quickly apparent that the casualties will be massive.
The last hour of the film deals with the survivors, as they face radiation sickness, depleted resources, and a nonexistent infrastructure. With no sense of order, those who died immediately may have been the lucky ones…Thirty-five years after The Day After originally aired, the scenes of mass panic and the nuclear attack itself, still had the power to leave me feeling very unsettled.
The unrated Blu-ray release contains both the 122-minute TV version in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio and the 127-minute theatrical cut in 1.78:1 widescreen format. Both transfers look good overall. The TV version looks a bit better because it’s not widescreen and it’s a bit more vibrant. Otherwise, both cuts offer an acceptable level of detail and contrast.
Kino Lorber provides DTS-HD Master 2.0 audio tracks for both versions. Bomb explosions sound authentic with a good sense of depth. The score by David Raskin (Bigger Than Life) has some patriotic tones that helps set the right tone. Dialogue is clean, clear, and concise throughout.
English subtitles are included for the Theatrical Version of the film.
The following extras are available:
- Audio Commentary with Film Historian Lee Gabin and Comic/Writer Tristan Jones
- Interview with Actor JoBeth Williams (HD, 12:41)
- Interview with Director Nicholas Meyer (HD, 28:06)
Movie title: The Day After (1983)
Director(s): Nicholas Meyer
Actor(s): Jason Robards , JoBeth Williams , Steve Guttenberg , John Cullum , John Lithgow , Bibi Besch
Genre: Drama, Thriller, War