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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Days of Thunder (4K Ultra HD) (Blu-ray)
Days of Thunder (4K Ultra HD) (Blu-ray)
Paramount // PG-13 // May 19, 2020 // Region Free
List Price: $27.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by William Harrison | posted May 28, 2020 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
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THE FILM:

Man, I miss director Tony Scott. The renegade younger brother of Sir Ridley Scott, Tony Scott is responsible for directing a number of stylish and highly entertaining films, including Top Gun, True Romance, Man on Fire and Enemy of the State. The filmmaker took his own life in 2012 after a lengthy and private battle with cancer, according to Ridley Scott. While his movies never received the critical acclaim of his older brother's epics, Tony Scott's filmography does not include a single entry that fails to entertain. Paramount continues to bolster its 4K Ultra HD catalogue, and has released a newly remastered edition of Scott's Days of Thunder, the 1990 sports drama starring Tom Cruise. While it does not match the spark of Scott and Cruise's previous collaboration, Top Gun, this NASCAR-centered film offers the popcorn entertainment viewers expect from Scott and dynamic producing duo Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson.

The film wastes little time getting down to business, and Robert Towne's screenplay, which Cruise helped develop, can at best be described as lean. Several years after crew chief and car builder Harry Hogge (Robert Duvall) left NASCAR to avoid an investigation into the death of a driver, he is pulled back to the track by team owner Tim Daland (Randy Quaid, when he could still hold it together on screen) and Cole Trickle (Cruise), a hotshot young driver looking to move from open-wheel racing to the Indianapolis 500. After impressing a skeptical Hogge with his driving skills, Trickle is allowed to race, but fails to finish when he ignores Hogge's guidance in his headphones. Trickle admits he knows nothing about car mechanics and NASCAR terminology and ultimately bends to Hogge's will, which results in big wins for the rookie driver. Trickle and veteran Rowdy Burns (Michael Rooker) feud on and off the track. After a violent crash at Daytona, both men wind up in the care of neurosurgeon Dr. Claire Lewicki (Nicole Kidman), who stands between them and racing again. The good doctor becomes a love interest for Trickle, who patches things up with Burns after a ridiculous street race to dinner. Days of Thunder knows what kind of movie it is, and it never shies away from its flag-waving, engine-revving, subtlety-free agenda.

The film's biggest weakness is its lack of dramatic heft. Despite all the crashes, clashes and brain injuries, Days of Thunder is relatively light on conflict and lacks a true villain. If Burns is supposed to be Trickle's nemesis, he certainly yields to the young driver quickly. That leaves Dr. Lewicki and the dilemma of whether or not to clear one or both of the men to race as a central conflict. Years before films like Any Given Sunday and Concussion tackled sports injuries, Days of Thunder sees a central character faint and stutter under the dangerous realities of a brain injury. This, coupled with the reality of what actually happened to Hogge's former driver, gives viewers some perspective on the inherent dangers of NASCAR and other revenue-driven sports. Even casual NASCAR viewers can still recall the fatal 2001 crash of Dale Earnhardt Sr., which was almost replicated earlier this year when Ryan Newman was slammed into a wall at the Daytona 500.

Trickle is not the most likeable character Cruise has ever played, and he is given only a thin backstory that involves a downfall due to the sins of his father. Haters be damned, Cruise always commands the screen, and his work in Days of Thunder is no exception. Hogge is the film's lifeline, and Duvall does an excellent job with this cantankerous character. The supporting cast works well with what the screenplay provides, though Kidman looks a bit miserable spending so much time in the film's boys club. Her introduction to Trickle would not have been shot in the #METOO era, but hey, it was the 1990s! The film offers just enough NASCAR lingo and peeks into the work of pit crews and team owners to feel authentic without bogging viewers down in unnecessary exposition. Scott keeps the story moving relatively well, and there are a number of exciting racing sequences that ramp up the tension, even for the uninitiated. Sure, Days of Thunder is cheesy and lacks a world-class script, but Scott, Cruise, Duvall and some fast cars keep things entertaining throughout.

THE 4K ULTRA HD:

PICTURE:

Paramount provides Days of Thunder a solid 2.39:1/2160p/HEVC/H.265 transfer in native 4K with Dolby Vision and HDR10. While the visual style is more restrained here than in some of Scott's later films, Days of Thunder is still impressively shot, with boldly saturated colors, searing highlights and heavy grain. This 4K release comes from a native 4K source and a remastered 4K digital intermediate, so I suspect this is a solid replication of the theatrical experience, and it certainly bests the previous Blu-ray release. Fine-object detail is abundant, and viewers should appreciate the texture and detail visible on costumes, the stock cars and in set pieces. There is some softer, warmer photography here than in modern, digitally shot productions, but that does not mean the image is lacking in detail. The image looks natural in motion (yes, the grain is heavy) and provides a nice three-dimensional presentation that immerses viewers in the world of NASCAR. The 4K drastically improves black levels and shadow detail, which is fortunate because Scott does use a lot of natural lighting, especially indoors, that results in long shadows. Colors are warm but nicely realized, and the HDR pass gives them increased efficacy and depth. Skin tones are also improved here and highlights, while bold and bright, never bloom. Wide shots offer plenty of depth, especially some of the shots during races, and close-ups are properly resolved. This is a pleasingly authentic image from Paramount.

SOUND:

The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is also impressive, though a new 7.1 or Atmos mix would have been appreciated. That said, the track is nicely immersive. Viewers are placed directly in the driver's seat as Trickle navigates the track. Engines rev, tires squeal, the pit crew hustles about, and crashes startle. These effects make use of the entire sound field, and the LFE is given plenty of room to respond. Dialogue is clear and well resolved, and the track impressively is not overcrowded given the number of competing sounds in these hectic environments. A few chattier moments lack surround presence, but these are rare. The score is appropriately balanced amid dialogue and effects, and distortion is not an issue.

PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:

This single-disc release comes in a standard black 4K case that is wrapped in a slipcover. A digital copy code is included. This movie has never been graced with abundant special features on home media, and this 4K release is no exception. The new Filmmaker Focus: Days of Thunder (6:39/HD) at least provides a few remarks from Bruckheimer about the production, and the disc also includes an Isolated Score Track under the languages menu for fans of Hans Zimmer's work here.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

This NASCAR-centered sports drama is not director Tony Scott's best film, but fans of 1990s action overkill should find Days of Thunder plenty entertaining. Paramount's newly remastered 4K Ultra HD release offers the film a nice technical presentation, but the disc is sadly lacking in bonus content. Recommended.

William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.

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