Remember what you were doing in 1990? I remember I was just getting out of high school, trying to figure out what I was going to do with the rest of my so-called life. But in 1990, Tom Cruise was doing a mix of big budget films and dramatically challenging roles. For instance, Days of Thunder was completed following work by Cruise in Born on the Fourth of July, but a few years after Cocktail. Tom still managed to get in some roles that allowed for personal indulgence as well. He was a fan of race car driving, no doubt after spending quality time with Paul Newman in 1986's The Color of Money, and he got a chance to do a film with race car driving as its main background, which is why the world has Days of Thunder.
Cruise came up with the story, and Robert Towne, who later managed to work with Cruise on Mission: Impossible 2, wrote the screenplay that Tony Scott (Domino) directed. Cruise plays Cole Trickle, a driving wild card who never raced the stock car circuit of NASCAR before, and is introduced to the circuit by Tim Daland (Randy Quaid, Midnight Express), a local North Carolina car dealer. Tim introduces Cole to Harry Hogge (Robert Duvall, The Apostle), a crew chief and car builder who was in self-imposed exile from the sport following the death of a driver. Subsequently, Cole's wide-open style of racing clashes with Harry's more conservative style, and the two eventually get along, resulting in some success for the rookie driver. Some of this comes at the success of Rowdy Burns (Michael Rooker, Mallrats), Cole's most frequent rival, but the feelings between the two cool when they get involved in a serious car crash in a key race in the season.
Enter Dr. Claire Lewicki (Nicole Kidman, The Golden Compass), who treats both Cole and Rowdy for their injuries. Cole falls for his Doctor, but after the accident, he seems to lose some of the killer instinct that mad him such a formidable driver. His safe driving doesn't get him racing any better, even as Tim replaces him as the main driver for his team with Russ Wheeler (Cary Elwes, The Princess Bride). But Claire helps Cole get his mojo back for the big race. She had to, or else Xenu would have had to step in on her behalf.
First off, it's amazing to see some of these guys before things changed for them. Cruise is doing this while he was still marketable and not as full of Scientology. Kidman appears to have her original nose. Fred Thompson plays the NASCAR Chief before he considered running for President. The only guy who seemingly hasn't changed since then is Duvall. As Harry, his southern drawl is immersive and absorbing, and you'd never know that he was a Yankee by watching him here. I think the other reason he's immensely cool is because he lives 20 minutes from me, but I digress. It's also nostalgic to see NASCAR as not really the NASCAR we know now, but as the Winston Cup. Yes, remember when tobacco sponsors were still on automobiles, and the circuit was a good ole' boy network? Yeah, me too.
Which is why Cole's invasion onto NASCAR brought on the end of the racing universe, in this peripheral NASCAR fan's opinion. Sure, the production values are great, and it's got a visibility now that few would have ever dreamed, but Cole is a guy from California who comes to North Carolina and shows the rednecks how to race. After seeing the California-born Jimmie Johnson just win the 2008 Championship, and he and fellow Golden State baby Jeff Gordon dominate the circuit over the last decade, Cole Trickle is the devil, and any sign of him should be eradicated. Consider the story itself, which is derivative of any newcomer who makes it big, and who says things that are less for a script and more for a trailer ("there's nothing I can't do with a race car"? Ugh.). Obviously, Cruise, Duvall, Kidman and most of the other cast and crew have moved on since then, but Days of Thunder remains a kind of like a gateway drug for aspiring drivers. But remember kids, Tom Cruise was scripted to do it, you aren't.
Presented in 2.35:1 widescreen with the AVC MPEG-4 codec, I'm a little torn on Days of Thunder. While the transfer rate seems to run high at many points during the production, the print itself isn't in good shape. There are many flecks and objects that run through it at times, and it appears that there might have been some DNR applied to the film in the early scenes, but I can't say for sure. Whites also tend to run a little bit hot in the opening and closing titles. Detail is hard to find in the tighter shots and even on the larger scenes, there's not a lot of depth or dimensionality to be had. Not having (or seeing) the standard definition version in a decade, I'm going to say that the Blu-ray is probably an upgrade over it, not a marginal one at best.
The Dolby TrueHD soundtrack is a little more active and surprising for a film of this age. Dialogue is a little on the weak side, though it does stay in the center channel for most of the runtime. Directional effects aren't abundant, though the speaker panning is clearly evident during the racing scenes, even from the opening sequence when Cole is trying out for Harry on the crowdless speedway. And in the big race at the end, when the "start your engines" command is uttered, you can even get a subwoofer punch in there when all forty cars flip the ignition switch. Days of Thunder gives you more than you would expect here, that's for sure.
Aside from the film's trailer? Not a thing.
Well, it's not 1990 anymore, it's 2008, heading into 2009. That means a lot of high definition and lossless soundtracks for films that might not necessarily be worth the extra effort. It's hardly a memorable sports movie, much less a movie that's worthy of spending a premium on. If you haven't seen in before, I wouldn't even recommend seeing it to be honest, because so much has changed in NASCAR and the story is silly. If you have seen it, the only reason to see it again on Blu-ray is for the lossless work on the racing sequences. Bottom line, skip is you're a newb, and avoid double-dipping if you actually admit to having this in your collection.