The Screening Room
days of thunder
Seems like Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman have been around forever and a day. Their shining star power seems to have never faded. Except it did in 1990 with what was called "Top Gun on Wheels," "Days of Thunder."

"Days of Thunder" is now available on Blu-ray disc.

Tom Cruise was at the height of his '80s star power when he teamed back up with director Tony Scott, producers Jerry Bruckheimer & Don Simpson, and Nicole Kidman. Cruise could do no wrong as far as the public was concerned. "Top Gun" firmly placed the actor at the top of the Hollywood acting food chain. Even 1988's "Cocktail" couldn't keep the Cruise down.

Bruckheimer & Simpson were two of Hollywood's hottest producers. The media was lavish with spreads on how the duo was changing the movie making machine. Kidman was relatively unknown except as Tom Cruise's future wife. Director Tony Scott had recently directed "Top Gun," so this dynamo combination of cast and crew was sure to be a hit with audiences. Combine the world's biggest movie star with a movie about NASCAR, boy, you got yourself a hit!

Cruise plays a character against his type, a cocky young racecar driver with the unforgivable name of Cole Trickle. He also goes against most of his previous roles by playing not only a cocky kid, but a kid who realizes what a fool he is. He redeems himself at the end of the movie by not only winning races, but winning the heart of his true love. Of course I'm being a bit sarcastic. Cruise almost always played the young cocky guy who needed to be taught a lesson.

"Days of Thunder" rolled into theaters in the summer of 1990 with high expectations. Audiences expected lots of thrilling car races, hot PG-13 romance, a killer soundtrack, and mindless entertainment. Theater owners were expecting their coffers to be filled, as did Paramount. What everyone got was indeed a mindless piece of entertainment.

The general feeling about "DOT" is that it's "Top Gun" redone, and that's a pretty good assessment. The entire look and feel of the racecar movie takes most of its cues from the 1986 film. The flimsy plot, the "I never met a zoom lens I didn't like" cinematography favored by Tony Scott, the blaring but forgettable (in this case) soundtrack, and the overacting by Cruise crashes this movie into the wall. 

Had "DOT" been made in 1987, while Cruise was sailing on the success of "Top Gun," I believe the movie would've done better no matter how poorly it was made. By 1990, there was change in the air as far as style was concerned. And I don't mean clothes. American society was ditching the '80s excess for more downbeat and street oriented entertainment. Rap/hip-hop was coming into the mainstream, and guys with perfectly styled hair and movie soundtracks that sounded anything remotely close to "Top Gun" were laughable at that point. "DOT" was dated before it got to theaters. Once it unspooled from the projector to the screen, audiences were indifferent.

The movie arrives on Blu-ray with okay quality. I tend to remember the 70mm print of the film being grainy, so this transfer reflects that. Despite being shot with anamorphic lenses, which can yield sharp results on-screen, the film has always looked a bit soft to my eyes. Tony Scott also tends to employ smoke in his scenes which diffuses a lot of the sharpness. Don't go into this Blu-ray expecting ultra sharp imagery.

The sound quality is also okay, but nothing spectacular. Compared to two other recent Paramount Blu-ray titles, "Ghost" and "The Truman Show," "DOT" is actually subdued and a bit murky. The volume is low (I play the Blu-ray discs reviewed here at the same volume). It sounds as though the Blu-ray was mixed at a lower volume than the soundtrack master. I recall that the original 70mm Six Track Dolby Stereo mix was pretty loud. I can imagine that the Cinema Digital Sound (CDS) and Dolby SR 70mm versions of this film sounded very good. This Blu-ray, despite having a movie that was made after "Top Gun," does not sound anywhere close in quality to that 1986 film. This is a shame because even though the movie is mediocre, at least it could've been a great Blu-ray demo disc.

The film isn't all that bad, really. It's passable entertainment if you just go want to go numb. Some people like watching Cruise take on actor Michael Rooker in 1990s rental cars. Some people even dig the dark, shadowy mood lighting so present in this movie. I even think that Robert Duvall and Randy Quaid lend the most credibility to the movie. Yet, the movie is still a piece of flaming metal wreckage.   
Bill Kallay

Special thanks to Click Communications

Photos: Paramount Pictures. All rights reserved.
Blu-ray Quick Glimpse



"Top Gun" on four wheels

Director: Tony Scott

Cast: Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Robert Duvall, Randy Quaid  



Picture: Good
Sound: Good

Check out the '90s styles

Aspect Ratio (2.39:1)

Dolby TrueHD

December 30, 2008
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